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.

Jan 30, 2011

How to be a "singles-minded church" (without necessarily having a "singles ministry")

Over the past two and a half years I have been blessed, as a single guy, with great fellowship and edification at my local church, despite the fact that they are too small to have a "formal" singles ministry (and, indeed, very few singles my age). Despite this, based on my experience there and what I've seen of how they treat others, I consider them to be a "singles-minded church." While singles are certainly not the only demographic that the church needs to pay attention to, it is certainly an important and often neglected one (and hey, let's face it, we singles can get pretty lonely, especially when we're away from our immediate family members). In light of this, I hope the following brief list can be an encouragement for those with singles in their church who don't know what to do with them:

       1. Treat them as family. As I've stated in a previous post, since my parents are in Japan and I have no family of my own, my local church is my family in many ways. This is because they treat me as a brother in Christ by fellowshipping with me, encouraging me, helping me, feeding me, etc. (I cannot count the times members of the church have taken me out to eat)
       Of course, there is a balance here that must be maintained. You don't want to "smother" the singles in your church with attention, because that just makes us uncomfortable. And singles are often quite busy and may not be able to take you up on your kindness. Neverthelss, singles get lonely and appreciate it when people acknowledge our existence. Attention in the form of kindness reflects a Christ-like character, especially because singles are often not in a position to reciprocate your kindness. Indeed, if I may paraphrase Christ's words, "to the extent that you have shown kindness to a single, you have done so to me")

     2. Keep them busy. Offering ministry opportunities to a willing single shows him that he is as much a part of the Kingdom as a married couple.  Furthmore, it may have the added benefit of keeping him or her out of trouble! (idleness is, after all, the devil's workshop) Of course, if I might offer a word to singles: it helps to let them know you're willing to help out in ministry. I can definitely say that the ministry opportunities I have been able to take part in as a single have not only helped me grow spiritually but have assured me that I'm where I belong for now, helping build the kingdom of heaven.

3. Pray for and show an interest in them. The old proverb holds true, of course: "Ask not a student about their dissertation, for they will surely tell you (and bore you to tears in the process)." Nevertheless, I cannot count the times that somebody from the church has asked me how my studies are progressing, what I was writing on, etc., and then told me they were praying for me. I doubt that many of them care about social-scientific criticism in 1 Peter, but it doesn't matter; the fact that they take an interest in my life and pray for specific parts of it demonstrates to me that they truly are my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ (to a certain degree, I can thank my parents for their upbringing and interest in my life; it's due to them that I have a general idea of what a good family should look like).

While I certainly do not desire to remain single for too much longer, my time as a single adult has been made considerably less burdensome by my brothes and sisters in Christ, and for that I am greatful.

In a future post, I hope to point the reader to some excellent work done by Dr. Andreas Köstenberger and Barry Danylak and discuss a "biblical theology of singleness," especially in the church age.

Jan 21, 2011

Review of Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in Theory and Practice, by Toshikazu S. Foley (part 2 of 2: critique)

Foley has written an academic masterpiece that nevertheless could use some improvement in certain areas. To begin with, on the positive side, Foley has established himself as a linguist of the first order. Not only does Foley have an excellent grasp of difficult concepts (including VAT à la Porter), he demonstrates clear proficiency in multiple languages even beyond English, Greek, and Chinese.
Secondly, the sheer amount of research that went into Foley’s book completely staggers the mind. Any author who can reference English, Chinese, Japanese, French, German and Russian sources, all within the space of two pages (70-71) is worthy of respect (and may have even set a record). In addition, when one considers the incredible number of primary and secondly sources that Foley examined, one must acknowledge that Foley possesses both a natural ability as a linguistic researcher and incredible diligence.
Thirdly, certain sections of the book stand alone in value even for those not interested in Foley’s thesis. Foley’s section on the history of Chinese Bible translation, for example, was both interesting and informative. Likewise his translations of John 18-19 and 1 Corinthians 15 would be worth their weight in gold even for those uninterested in verbal aspect theory.
Fourthly, Foley’s book remains, to this writer’s knowledge, the only book to actually apply modern VAT to Bible translation in any language other than English. Obviously a plethora of authors have written on VAT, but Foley’s contribution is that he has made VAT practical—not an easy task! Similarly, regardless of any misgivings about Foley’s adherence to Porter’s version of VAT, at least one has to admit that Foley is consistent in his methodology, especially in his distinguishing between Aktionsart and aspect (whether or not Foley is correct, of course, is a different matter altogether).
Finally, as to Foley’s thesis, at the very least one can declare that he has succeeded admirably in doing his part to bridge the gap between Biblical Greek and Chinese. Foley has without a doubt made a genuinely valuable contribution to the field of linguistics and Bible translation. Indeed, this is somewhat of an understatement; to say Foley has “made a contribution” is akin to simply saying that Payton Manning knows how to throw a football. Beyond merely “making a contribution,” Foley’s work is unprecedented and unparalleled.
Despite my admiration for Foley’s work, some concerns remain. Most importantly, Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek has no author index, subject index, or glossary of terms (though it does have a Bible verse index and a bibliography). These absences are completely inexplicable for a technical work of this nature. The glossary of terms is especially needed because Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek deals with multiple languages, and it was quite easy for this reader to forget what exactly a “four character set phrase” or a “ø morpheme” was. The subject and author index also remain a staple for books that will be utilized in research. By neglecting these three things, Foley has rendered his book very “user unfriendly” for the researcher.
Secondly, Foley’s book presupposes from the beginning that the reader has a grasp both of VAT and of Mandarin grammar and syntax (the ability to read Chinese characters would also help, but is not essential). Foley extensively covers aspect in Mandarin, but barely, if at all, discusses Mandarin sentence structure, verb forms, etc. Most readers, like this writer, may be left floundering. Foley is more concerned with laying out the history of Mandarin VAT than he is giving the reader the tools to actually understand it.
Similarly, while Foley does give an all-to-brief overview of Greek VAT on pages 58-63, he spends the rest of the chapter comparing and contrasting the various contributors to VAT rather than actually explaining how it works. His explanation on pages 58-63 does a good job of describing the difference between Aktionsart and aspect, but otherwise its usefulness and clarity is fairly limited. The reader without a preliminary knowledge of Porter’s works may still experience confusion regarding what exactly is meant by “binary oppositions,” for example. Furthermore, it is difficult to see where Foley’s discussion shifts from being “prescriptive” to “descriptive.” In other words, Foley spends too much time discussing various contributors and schools of thought and not enough time explaining his views on VAT and backing them up with clear illustrations from Koine Greek.
Thirdly, Foley assumes his particular version of VAT, but never adequately defends it. Both Daniel Wallace and C. C. Caragounis have mounted significant challenges to Porter’s VAT, and while Foley does cite these two authors, he never responds appropriately to their challenges. Foley’s presentation of VAT, then, leaves many unanswered questions. For instance, on page 192, Foley declares that the “traditional views [of the aorist and present imperatives] are no longer convincing” but makes absolutely no effort to demonstrate what is wrong with the “traditional” (i.e. the Aktionsart) approach. Instead, he simply declares that “the difference between these two tense-forms in the imperative mood is best explained by verbal aspect, which means that the present imperative is a more heavily marked form than the aorist imperative” (192). Yet one is forced to ask whether or not this concept even makes sense for imperatives. It is difficult to imagine the Apostle Paul or any other speaker or writer of Koine Greek stopping to think whether or not to “foreground” or “background” the very urgent and passionate command he is about to give his audience!
Indeed, at times the whole “frontground,” “foreground,” and “background’ paradigm seems rather strained. For instance, on page 336, Foley argues that
the aorist tense-form acts “as the backgrounding device at the discourse level
and occurs 45 times (40%) in the exposition. The present tense-form functions as the foregrounding device, and occurs 45 times (40%) in the exposition. Yet one is forced to ask, however, how the aorist can function at the background level when it is outnumbered by the present tense? Would not the aorist, by virtue of being outnumbered, thereby carry more weight in the discourse? In other words, if there is more “frontgrounding” material than there is “backgrounding” material in a discourse, in what way can the “backgrounding” material truly function as it is supposed to? (this is in contrast to a verb being the “default” or “generic” choice; a generic verb tense still remains a generic tense even if it is largely ignored; in contrast, I would think that a backgrounding tense, though, could only function in the background if it outnumbered the other tenses. Otherwise how could one possibly determine what functions as background and what functions as foreground?)  Also, on page 373, Foley’s argues that in 1 Cor. 15:50-57 the aorist is used to “lay down” certain “assumptions” while the present is used to “call attention to a number of significant details,” yet the difference between the “assumptions” and the “details” seem rather arbitrary. Why, for example, is “the defeat of death (v. 54)” necessarily considered an “assumption” while “thanksgiving to God’s grace (v. 57)” is one of the “significant details”?
         Furthermore, in his zeal for furthering Porter’s VAT, Foley is often too heavy handed in his critique of translations that do not measure up to his standard. He assumes the validity of his particular view of VAT and is fairly dogmatic about it. Thus, for example, in the middle of page 338, he states “such additions are inappropriate, since auxiliary verbs in Mandarin are reserved for the translation of the non-indicative moods in Greek,” and at the bottom of page 362 he declares, “[the particular Chinese expression] is not preferable because four-character set phrases are reserved for translating the stative aspect in Greek.” In both cases Foley would have been better off declaring “x is best [or “should be”] translated by y” rather than “x is translated by y,” and so forth.
         Foley on the Japanese Language
(Mostly irrelevant to the overall review)
         For the following section, I am indebted to my father, missionary John R. Himes, for his assistance (although any mistakes or faulty argumentation is the sole responsibility of this writer)
         While it seems almost unfair to critique Foley on something he barely discusses, nevertheless Foley’s interaction with Japanese verbal aspect demonstrates just how slippery and difficult the concept of aspect is and how easy it is to misrepresent the issue. Furthermore, this writer’s own background as a missionary kid in Japan (who grew up speaking Japanese) compels him to interact with Foley regarding his discussion of Japanese.
         On pages 67-71, Foley describes Carlota S. Smith’s views on verbal aspect. To help him illustrate Smith’s views, Foley uses his own illustration from the Japanese language (he clearly states on 68 n 42, “The example of Japanese is mine”). Foley states,
Smith argues that viewpoint types are realized in many languages by means
of verb inflection For example, the English perfective viewpoint is signaled
by the simple form of the main verb. In Japanese, it is signaled by attaching
the auxiliary verb ta to the main verb . . . the imperfective viewpoint, on
the other hand, is signaled by the auxiliary be + ing in English and by
attaching the auxiliary verb te iru て いる to the main verb in Japanese.”
         In response to Foley, this writer is compelled to point out the following: first of all, neither ta nor te  can be called “auxiliary verbs” by any stretch of the imagination (though iru, by itself, can be considered auxiliary verb). Neither ta nor te could be called verbs in their own right, and both are more comparable to case endings in Greek (or the English -ing) than they are to an English auxiliary verb such as “be” (or to German auxiliary verbs such as “werden,” “sein,” etc.) The Japanese ta and te iru function to indicate tense, much like the Greek case endings. Thus the Japanese [kare wa] hashitta (はしった) means “he ran” (past tense) while [kare wa] hashitte iru (はしっている) means “he is running” (present continuous (As mentioned above, iru may be called an auxiliary verb, but te is not; also, kare = the masculine personal pronoun while wa = the auxiliary verb. The reader should also note that the te form [] nevertheless has a wide variety of uses and is even called a “gerund” by Samuel E. Martin in his A Reference Grammar of Japanese [Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, p 479]; yet the te form is never, to this writer’s knowledge, used as a verb on its own)
         Indeed, aspect does not seem to be a primary feature of the Japanese verb tenses, at least not in the way that it functions in Chinese. Hashitta, for example, would never be used of a present or future action, but hashiru could be either a generic present tense, an infinitive (kare wa hashiru koto ga suki = “he likes to run”; the infinitive, if it could be called that, actually needs an auxiliary noun [koto] here), or future (kare was hashiru = “he will run”). Hashite iru, however, could never be used of a past or future action (except in very rare literary exceptions, e.g. the historical present, just like in English).
         Thus Foley is incorrect when he pairs ta with te iru as the perfective and imperfective, respectively. If anything, ru (as in hashiru はしる) should be paired with te iru; the former is more generic (and, hence, perhaps could be viewed as “perfective”) while the latter might possibly be construed as imperfective (ru is not an auxiliary verb, but rather a case ending). Yet even so, this may be somewhat misleading. At the very least, Foley’s description of verbal aspect in Japanese is unsatisfactory. Unlike Chinese, the past and present (but not necessarily the future) tenses in Japanese are clearly marked with case endings.
         On page 250 n1, Foley notes that in chapters 6 and 7 he will be consulting a variety of Japanese Bibles when working on his Chinese translation. He consults six different versions due to the fact that “the Japanese writing system employs Chinese characters” (called kanji in Japanese) and because “the tradition of biblical translation in Japan has its roots in China.” Yet Foley’s admirable show of multi-lingual scholarship runs the risk of being misleading. While the semantic range of many kanji and kanji combinations are the same in Japanese and Mandarin, many are not. As my father told me in an e-mail, “A rule of thumb is that a fairly simple word (‘new,’ ‘fast’ and the like) will be very close in meaning, but a word with cultural overtones will change meaning as it crosses into Japan,” though he also notes that theological terms generally tend to be the same (but not always; e.g. the word for “Bible” itself). At the least, one can question whether or not Foley’s inclusion of Japanese versions really assists in his translation or whether or not it might potentially be confusing.
         Usefulness for Research
         Despite the fact that Bible Translation in Chinese and Greek is slightly user-unfriendly due to its lack of a subject and author index, Foley’s work still remains an essential work for students of Bible translation. The book remains invaluable both for those interested in Chinese Bible translation and the relationship of Greek verbal aspect to Chinese verbal aspect. Those interested in a history of Chinese Bible translation will benefit from chapter two, whole those desiring a survey of scholarship of either Greek or Chinese VAT will definitely want to read chapter three. However, those hoping for a simple introduction to VAT or for an effective defense of Porter’s and Foley’s VAT will be sorely disappointed.
         Foley’s research and hard work render Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek an absolutely essential source for those doing serious work in Bible translation. While not without some problems, Foley’s work nevertheless makes an invaluable contribution to linguistic scholarship and, if the subsequent books in this series approach the level of Foley’s work, Biblical academia will be truly blessed.

Jan 18, 2011

Review of Toshikazu S. Foley's Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in Theory and Practice (part 1 of 2: summary)

Although I have already posted a favorable review on Amazon.com, I felt the need to provide a more extensive view of Foley's work for those who might be interested. The first section will consist of summary; the second section, to be posted later in the week, will consist of critique.

Review of Toshikazu S. Foley, Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in Theory and Practice ( Linguistic Biblical Studies 1; Leiden: Brill, 2009).

Toshikazu S. Foley’s Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in Theory and Practice, the inaugural work in the new series Linguistic Biblical Studies (ed. Stanley S. Porter), represents a major contribution to the fields of Chinese Bible translation and verbal aspect theory. More importantly, Foley’s work remains one of the few, if not only, attempts to apply verbal aspect theory (hereafter referred to as VAT) to the realm of non-English Bible translation.
While Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek is not a perfect book and is of less value for those who do not accept Stanley Porter’s views on VAT, it nevertheless stands out as a thoroughly-researched contribution to the field of Biblical linguistics and translation. It excels in attempting to bridge the gap between the theoretical and practical and thus endures as an absolutely necessary resource for those seriously contemplating work in Bible translation.
The reader should heed the following warning, however: Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek is a highly technical work that interacts with multiple languages (often on the same page) and presupposes that the reader possesses a rudimentary knowledge of VAT and Mandarin Chinese.
The following review will provide an extensive overview of Foley’s work, offer a critique, discuss Foley’s brief interaction with Japanese (not to be confused with his interaction with Chinese), and then finish with an analysis of the overall usefulness of this book.
(Those interested only in the critique should skip to the middle of page 4)
Foley, who received his doctorate at McMaster Divinity College (2008), opens with a brief discussion of “Typographical Conventions.” In this section he discusses how emphasis, chapter breaks, etc. will be rendered with the Chinese font. He also mentions the controversy surrounding the Chinese rendering of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, concluding that “Nuótá seems to provide a plausible remedy to the current terminological debate for God in Chinese” (xxii). He concludes by stating that he will be using the Mandarin personal pronouns in reference to God rather than divinity pronouns, since the former are more consistent with Biblical Greek and Hebrew.
In chapter one, “Introduction,” Foley sets out the outline and thesis to his book. He laments the fact that much translation work in Chinese has relied on a knowledge of English and Greek with only a rudimentary familiarity with the Chinese verb system. Foley declares, “The obstacles in Chinese Bible translation persist today not because of a lack of interest in the subject, but rather because of a vacuum in the scholarship of direct interaction between Greek and Chinese” (2). In contrast to most works, Foley seeks to facilitate the “grammatical translation of New Testament Greek aspect into Mandarin aspect at the discourse level” (2).
Chapter two provides an extensive overview of the various attempts to translate the Bible into Mandarin Chinese. Foley begins with the early work of the Nestorians, providing a wealth of information both on their literature and on their translation of key theological terms (especially interesting is his discussion of how the Nestorians utilized Buddhist terms in their work). He next discusses the early Roman Catholic work, beginning with Giovanni da Montecorvino in the 13th century but also giving special attention to Jean Basset as “the most significant and influential” translator (17). He next provides a history of Protestant translation work before proceeding to discuss the various styles of translation (classical vs. literary, etc.), the controversy over how to translate the Greek βαπτίζω , the major Bible versions in Mandarin, and Chinese Bible versions by native speakers.
The second section of chapter two provides a brief overview of Bible translation work in general, focusing especially on the contribution of Eugene Nida. He is mildly critical of Nida’s work and argues that “Nida introduces mutually exclusive categories of formal and functional equivalence and by so doing exaggerates the traditional dichotomy between literal versus free translation, a problem that is most conspicuous in his handling of figurative speech” (39). Foley points out that in Chinese (in contrast to English), a literal rendering of “bowels of mercy” (Philippians 1:8) actually makes sense since the Chinese expression Xicháng, which, as a compound, “generally means heart” and is composed of the two Chinese characters for heart and intestines (39). Thus, “in this case, a literal translation of the Greek word into Chinese is actually consistent with Nida’s principles of functional equivalence,” and those Chinese versions (e.g. the TCV) which do not consider the literal expression in Greek are in error (39).
Foley proceeds to discuss various contributions to discourse analysis in Chinese before outlining his own methodology. Foley argues that “Greek aspect can be translated into Mandarin solely by grammatical means” and that “Greek and Mandarin both grammaticalize three aspects: perfective, imperfect, and stative aspects” (48). He then points out some key grammatical and syntactical differences between Biblical Greek and Mandarin. He also argues that ambiguous texts in Greek and Hebrew should be kept as ambiguous as possible (e.g. Acts 24:19, where “the decision of determining the exact conditional type should be left to the reader”). Foley closes with a very brief discussion of the role of the Bible translator, arguing that it “resembles that of a spokesperson of ancient authority, whose voice can only be heard through faithful and diligent study of the biblical texts” (56).
Chapter three provides an overview of VAT in Chinese and Greek. He begins with a brief conceptual overview of VAT, taking care to distinguish it from Aktionsart (aspect being the subjective view of the speaker/writer and Aktionsart being an objective description of the type of action taking place [e.g. iterative, punctiliar, etc.]). He also discusses the concept of “binary opposition” in aspect, where the perfective aspect is paired opposite the imperfective. At this point, Foley begins to focus his discussion on key contributors to VAT in Chinese, especially Carlota Smith, Zeno Vendler, Robert Morrison, and Wang Li.
After reviewing a plethora of scholars and their methodology, Foley briefly discusses the methodology he adopts which “assumes that Mandarin does not have tense, but rather operates on a well-developed system of aspect” (102). The “+ perfective” aspect is paired in opposition to the “- perspective” aspect, and under the latter “the imperfective aspect is paired opposite the stative aspect” (103). Foley also emphasizes the concept of “markedness,” arguing that “the notions of lexical and grammatical markedness are pertinent to Bible translation” (103). Indeed, “foregrounded and frontgrounded prominence are achieved by lexical markedness in Mandarin” (104). Foley further proceeds to explain and demonstrate how exactly Mandarin expresses aspect.
In the second half of this chapter, Foley examines modern contributions to VAT in New Testament Greek. He notes all of the major contributors to the field (e.g. McKay, Porter, Decker, Fanning, Mateos) and provides a more-or-less fair discussion of each, though it is clear from this section that Foley himself heavily favors Stanely Porter’s (and Rodney Decker’s) views, and Foley unapologetically critiques the other contributors through the lens of Porter and Decker. Foley, by his own admission, “follows Porter in his application of the markedness theory to New Testament Greek aspect.” The aorist tense is the least marked (and hence provides the background), the present and imperfect tense provide the foreground, and the most heavily marked perfect and pluperfect act to “frontground” discourse elements (138). Also, the reader should note that for Foley (and Porter), the aorist tense is the perfective aspect, the present and imperfect are the imperfective aspects, and the pluperfect and perfect are the stative aspects.
In chapters four through seven, Foley builds on the previous chapter and makes his most significant contribution. In chapter four, Foley demonstrates how he proposes to translate the three Greek aspects into Mandarin in the indicative mood. The perfective aspect is realized in Mandarin through “four morphologically expressed (single) morphemes and one morphologically unmarked form, the ø morpheme” (146). The imperfective and stative aspects, however, are expressed in Mandarin via “four morphologically expressed tense-forms,” and Mandarin does not demonstrate the concepts of “remoteness or immediacy” that Greek tenses do (160).
In chapter five, Foley discusses the translation of non-indicative moods and conditional clauses from Greek to Mandarin, being careful to point out the differences between the two languages. He takes care to discuss the difference between aorist and present imperatives, the various uses of participles, and the difficulty of translating conditional sentences into Mandarin (pointing out that “translating the nuances between different classes of Greek conditional sentences into Mandarin is only possible by lexical means,” 237). Regarding the classification of conditional sentences in Greek, Foley once again follows Porter’s methodology.
In chapters six and seven, Foley culminates his work with a verse-by-verse translation of John 18-19 (the passion narrative) and 1 Corinthians 15, respectively. In these two chapters (spanning a total of 135 pages), Foley offers his translation (building on the work of his previous chapters) while interacting with a significant amount of Chinese translations (and a few Japanese translations, due to the fact that Japanese uses kanji, or Chinese characters along with its two alphabets). Foley consistently applies his (and Porter’s) version of VAT while paying special attention to backgrounding, foregrounding, and frontgrounding, the readability of his translation, and the need to translate certain terms consistently whenever possible (e.g. Paul’s use of ὤφθη in 1 Cor. 15:5-8). Foley concludes both chapters with an in-depth comparison of his translations with other Chinese translations in regards to verbal aspect.

Jan 17, 2011

The Church as Community, the Church as Family: Some thoughts stemming from reading John H. Elliott’s A Home for the Homeless

It has been roughly 21 years since John H. Elliott first published his influential treatment of 1 Peter entitled A Home for the Homeless: A Social-Scientific Criticism of I Peter, its Situation and Strategy. Elliott’s social-scientific approach to 1 Peter basically argued that “the addressees of 1 Peter were paroikoi by virtue of their social condition, not by virtue of their ‘heavenly home.’ The alternative to this marginal social condition of which 1 Peter speaks is not an ephemeral ‘heaven is our home’ form of consolation but the new home and social family to which the Christians belong here and now; namely, the oikos tou theou” (Elliott, 130; all citations from Elliott taken from the 2005 publication of Home for the Homeless).
Elliott’s approach to 1 Peter has, of course, resulted in many critics, most notably Moses Chin, “A Heavenly Home for the Homeless” (Chin’s discussion of the terminology in the LXX is excellent, though I believe his emphasis on Philo is significantly less relevant since Philo’s lexical usage can hardly be the norm for Koine Greek, even for Jewish authors). Furthermore, I am not totally convinced of Elliott’s thesis, and, together with Chin, would see considerable more overlap between the paroikoi and parepidemoi of 1 Pet 2:11 (see Chin, 110).
Nevertheless, in my opinion there is much practical good that can be drawn from Elliott’s work, regardless of how accurate his thesis is and despite the over-emphasis on a comparative religion approach later in his book. Elliott’s focus on the church’s social identity in 1 Peter is integral to a proper understanding of the church. On p. 118, Elliott states, “In 1 Peter various aspects of this issue [“the nature of their distinctive communal identity”] are given particular attention: (1) the distinctiveness of the Christians; (2) their communal structure and common commitments; and (3) the status of these strangers in respect to society on the one hand and God on the other. All three aspects of the issue of identity are related” (emphasis is Elliott’s). Elsewhere he states that 1 Peter “speaks of the recipients as members of a clearly defined, divinely prescribed community: the elect and holy people of God brought into being by the activity of God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. To the public they were known as the ‘Christians.’ Separated from the rest of society through a voluntary termination of, and conversion from, past family, social and religious ties, theirs was a familial-like community or brotherhood defined by a unique faith in Jesus as the Christ, as the agent of the salvation for which they hope” (p. 75).

Naturally Elliott’s statements are tied closely to his belief that the audience of 1 Peter consisted of those who were socially displaced before conversion, a thesis of which I am not totally convinced, although I agree with Karen Jobes when she states, “The nature and extant of the ‘foreigner’ metaphor in 1 Peter are better explained if it was triggered by a real event or experience instead of just being pulled out of thin air” (Jobes, 39). Nevertheless, as a missionary kid from Japan who has never truly had a settled home in the United States, I can appreciate his emphasis on the social identity of a body of believers as well his apt title for the book, A Home for the Homeless. The local church has, to a very real extent, become my home while in America; indeed, ecclesiological identity has, to some degree, eclipsed both national and family identity.

Here, then, is how I believe the modern Christian can benefit from some of Elliott’s insights on 1 Peter (insights which, I believe, appropriately reflect the inspired author’s intent). Too often the focus in Christians circles has been “the world is not my home, for heaven is my home.” Should not, instead, the focus be, “This world is not my home, for the church is my home”? Consider the grand terms of social identity used in 1 Peter 2:9—“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (NET; and yes, we’ll get to the second half of that verse in just a minute), terminology that applies to the here and now rather than the future. Granted, Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven” (NET), but as Paul indicates in the very next line, he still has in mind both our current state (we are still currently awaiting a Savior) and the future (we will be transformed). Thus the point remains that we currently possess a citizenship, and our fellow citizens are in our local church. It is with them, fellow believers in Christ, that we form this “holy nation” while on earth. Thus the local church becomes the primary social construct for every believer and should naturally take precedence over all other forms of relationship. It is not insignificant that Christ Himself said that his true brothers and sisters consisted of those who do the will of the Father rather than blood kinship (Matthew 12:46-50).

Practically, then, the church should be more than a “club” and certainly more than merely a place of worship as we so often treat it. The church is a place where we mingle with our fellow citizens in Christ, fellowshipping, edifying, encouraging, and even rebuking. The local church should represent a family gathering (a good one!) more than anything else.

Naturally, we cannot stop there. The whole purpose of being “a holy nation” is so that we might “may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (NET). This alone should be enough to keep us from the “fortress” mentality of many churches that fail to adequately reach out to those around them. The point of 1 Peter is not “us against the world” but rather “us, a community in Christ, and let’s try to get some more to join us.” The church is indeed, to hijack Elliott’s title, a “home for the homeless,” and one can only join when one realizes how truly “homeless” they are without Christ.

One more point: a proper view of one’s local church as community or family puts church discipline in its proper perspective. I believe I can truly state that currently one of the greatest punishments I can think of for any unrepentant sin I might fall into would be the state of being isolated from my family, being treated as a true outsider (cf. 1 Cor. 5:11-13).

There are, of course, legitimate reasons for leaving one’s local church (a new job in a different state being one of many), but the act of leaving one’s church should essentially feel as if one were leaving their family.

In conclusion: although no church should exist completely isolated from the world, secure in its fortress, and though I believe all churches should be active in assisting those in need (both locally and oversees) and proclaiming the Gospel wherever there is an opportunity, there is a very real sense in which, to use the words of Stanely Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, “it is the nature of the church, at any time and in any situation, to be a colony . . . in the middle of an alien culture” (p. 12) Any time the church has become too associated with the secular state, any time the church has become indistinguishable from a larger national culture, any time the church has become “too mainstream,” in those instances the church has suffered an identity crisis. The church on earth, both local and universal, remains a nation, a family, and a society distinct from any secular creation. As Elliott points out, without denying the eschatological focus of 1 Peter, “This home and the communal experience of salvation which it signifies . . . are already in the community which is ‘in Christ’ (3:16; 5:10, 14) . . . the achievement of [the Christian’s eschatological] future reward (5:4) is everywhere linked to, and dependent upon, the believers’ maintenance of the bonds of their brotherhood here and now” (p. 130)

Works cited: 
Chin, Moses. “A Heavenly Home for the Homeless: Aliens and Strangers in 1 Peter." Tyndale Bulletin 42 (May 1991): 96-112.        
 Elliott, John H. A Home for the Homeless: A Social-Scientific Criticism of I Peter, its Situation and Strategy. Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf&Stock, 1990.
          Hauerwas, Stanely and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1989.
           Jobes, Karen H. 1 Peter. The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005.
         New English Translation. Online@http://net.bible.org/bible.php

Jan 13, 2011

The most difficult part of teaching 1st year Greek (for me, at least)

This past semester I got my first taste of teaching at the grad-level. I have the privilege of grading for textual/NT scholar Dr. Maurice Robinson, who unfortunately suffered from an illness half-way through the semester (he is now recovering well). Right at mid-term, Southeastern asked me to take over his 1st year Fall Greek class, so basically I administered the mid-term and taught for the rest of the semester.

To begin with, I have to thank my class (32 students, in all!) for their great encouragement and generally good spirit. They prayed for me, encouraged me, and did a great job paying attention and interacting in class. It wasn't easy on them, either, switching teachers in the middle of the semester, but I salute their hard work and wish them the best for the Spring semester.

There's nothing like actually teaching a subject for the first time to make you realize how woefully unprepared you are! Leaving aside my tendency to speak first and think later when answering questions from the class, there were a couple issues in 1st semester Greek, in the language itself, that absolutely drove me nuts. First and foremost of these is the issue of vowel contractions and lengthenings, and this was one area that I went in relatively unprepared (out of the many years I took Greek, vowel change was probably the one area I cared least about and so took less time to study).

Here's an example of Greek vowel transformation that took me by surprise: according to the "Top Two" of 1st year grammars (in my opinion Mounce, 1993; Black, 2009), ε+ο will contract to form ου; thus ποιεω in the 1st plural = ποιε + ο + μεν = ποιεομεν, but the vowels ε+ο contract, so we get ποιουμεν, as in 1 John 1:6 (see Mounce, 135-137, esp. 135; Black, 133-134, esp. 133). This rule, of course, is meant strictly for contract verbs and the connecting vowel of the verb ending. When the same vowel combination is recast in terms of an aorist or imperfect prefix, however, the result is quite different. Note, for example, the very same ε+ο at the beginning of ομολογεω. Here, the imperfect prefix ε combines with the original ο to form ω (which is what we'd expect if the omnicron were merely lenthening), as in the 3rd plural imperfect form ωμολογουν in John 12:42, rather than something like ουμολογουν. In contrast, an imperfect or aorist ε+α at the beginning of a word behaves exactly like it does in the middle of a contract verb (and exactly like one would expect if the α were merely lengthening). Of course, Dr. Black has cast the rule for such prefixes in more appropriate terms: for short vowels such as ε, α, or ο, the prefix ε does not actually contract with the short vowel per se; rather, it "lengthens the short vowel ot the corresponding long vowel" (Black, 51) Still the fact remains that we essentially have an ε + ο in two different places resulting in two different vowel transformations, and this drove me nuts!

Ultimately, I believe I had more trouble dealing with vowel transformations in Greek than I did any other topic for this class. Part of the problem, in retrospect, is that I treated vowel transformations as universal principles applying equally to all parts of a verb; what I should have done is focused narrowly on contract verbs, and later treated the aorist and imperfect prefixes as a completely separate topic.

Other difficult areas, of course, included those nasty imperfects that take present endings, trying to explain the function of middle verbs (interesting note: check out how the verb τικτω, in Matthew 1:21, 23, and 25, goes from future middle to future middle to aorist active! Apparently, there are no future active forms of that particular verb in the NT, Josephus, or Philo), and explaining the difference between an aorist and a present tense when they seem almost interchangeable in some Gospel narratives (and no, 1st year Greek is not the place to get into a discussion on verbal aspect theory, whether pro or con!!)

Despite all the trials and tribulations of actually teaching the topic for the first time, I am greatful for the opportunity and look forward to the day when I can do this full-time!

Jan 8, 2011

Missionary John R. Himes on Relevance Theory

(my father, John Rice Himes, has been a faithful missionary to Japan since 1981 and is currently involved in, among other things, a new Japanese translation of the New Testament from the original Greek. In addition, at one point he taught Japanese ministers-in-training beginner-level Greek in Japanese, which is not something many Greek scholars can boast about! Here is his brief take on Relevance Theory)

Relevance Theory
By John R. Himes

This is one secular theory that is currently enjoying wide evaluation among Bible translation scholars. Ernst-August Gutt, a British Bible translation researcher and consultant who has worked as a Bible translator in Ethiopia, is the first to begin applying the relevance theory of communication to Bible translation. (See his website at: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/ernst-august.gutt/) He is the author of Relevance Theory, which has the subtitle, “A Guide to Successful Communication in Translation.” (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1992).

Relevance theory is actually a linguistic theory rather than strictly a translation theory. Thus Gutt in a sense follows in the footsteps of Eugene Nida, who also based his dynamic equivalence on linguistic theories such as transformational grammar and code linguistics. On the other hand, relevance theory is a rival communication theory to the code linguistics used by Nida. It was first set forth by Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson in Relevance: Communication and Cognition (1986). Gutt developed his translation theory based on relevance theory soon after, beginning in 1991.

Interestingly enough, in his book Relevance Theory, which is actually based on transcriptions from his lectures sponsored by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (normally Nida territory), Gutt directly disagrees with Nida’s version of code theory in Chapter One (pp. 10-13), “The Nature of Communication,” saying, “There are many aspects of human communication for which the code model simply cannot account” (p. 11).

Stated clearly, relevance theory teaches that communication “is seen to result from the interplay between the context, or the ‘cognitive environment’, of an utterance and the processing effort required to infer meaning from that utterance” (Key Terms in Translation Studies, by Giuseppe Palumbo, New York: Continuum, 2009, p. 100). Stated simply, successful communication depends on how the communicator phrases things based on his knowledge of what the listener knows. “Thus, according to relevance theory, unless the sender of a message knows something about the recipient’s expectations, situational context and cognitive experience, the message cannot be formulated in an optimally relevant way” (ibid, 101).

Advocates of relevance theory like to use illustrations to explain this. Here is mine. Let’s say you overhear a conversation in which a man says, “No, that’s way too big.” That’s all you hear. The statement could mean that a monetary figure is too big, and he won’t pay. Or a house is too big, so he won’t buy it. Or a piano is too big to fit in his apartment. You lack the necessary information to make complete sense of the statement. If you then hear an answer, “Okay, look at this one, because it only has two bedrooms,” then you can assume he is talking about a dwelling place. The more information the recipient of the message has about the speaker’s subject, the more depth the communication contains.

So how does Gutt apply this to translation? He writes, “Its main concern is to provide translators and others interested with a cause-effect understanding of translation as an act of communication: given the way the human mind goes about communication, what will be the likely effects of particular solutions, or what solutions are needed to achieve particular effects? The overall scientific domain within which these explanations are sought is cognition” (“Applications of Relevance Theory to Translation—a Concise Overview,” from his website). In other words, the translator will choose his renderings of the source text according to how much information the reader has about the original situation. So he may even paraphrase some to add more information to his rendering, such as “wicked city Sodom” in Luke 10:12 instead of just “Sodom.” Or if he is a more theologically conservative translator, he’ll add lots of explanatory notes and footnotes.

So where does this leave us? In a chart, Stanley Porter puts relevance theory even further away from a strictly literal method than functional equivalence, functionalism (skopos theory, etc.) and discourse analysis, which is saying a lot (Translating the New Testament,  Stanely Porter and Mark Boda, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009, p. 139)! A Bible translator sticking strictly to a relevance theory of translation would end up paraphrasing a lot.

Gutt is no doubt a splendid linguist and translator, but he is not a theologian. His resume at the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) website (http://www.sil.org/SIL/roster/gutt_ernst-august.htm) shows that both his MA and PhD are in linguistics. So it is possible that he does not realize the theological implications of the relevance theory, whether or not he is conservative in theology. The Bible is not a normal book. It is the inscripturated revelation of God! Thus it matters not what information the reader of the Bible knows or does not know about what he is reading, it is still Truth (with a capital T)!! It behooves the translator who believes in verbal inspiration to stick closely to the original meaning and even the grammatical form of the original texts of the Bible. However, the conservative translator can benefit greatly from relevance theory as he considers footnotes and other supplementary material. And the missionary can certainly learn from relevance theory as he considers discipleship and other training material.

Jan 6, 2011

More resources for students

Many thanks to Nick Norelli for directing me to the "Student's Corner" portion of his blog which includes a very extensive list of resources, including various research databases! Readers are encouraged to check it out at http://rdtwot.wordpress.com/scholars-corner/

Jan 5, 2011

My kingdom for those dissertations . . .

One of the challanges of dissertation work is seeking out and acquiring previously defended dissertations that deal with your own topic. In reality, the "seeking out" part is fairly easy, with the advent of modern search engines and a little help from your school's librarian. The "acquring" part, however, is extremely difficult, especially when a key dissertation is unpublished, exists only in two schools in the entire world, both of those schools are on different continents from your own, and neither of those schools is willing to lend you a copy! This is exactly the situation I am finding myself in with one particular dissertation on 1 Peter.

In light of that, I'd like to direct the reader to two schools that make their dissertations free and available to any researcher (they are, of course, only for personal use, and copyright laws apply; they may not be reposted without permission). The first, the University of Edinburgh (http://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/) has an impressive array of dissertations in New Testament Studies, some of the more interesting include Holly Carey's dissertation "Jesus' Cry from the Cross: Towards a First-Century Understanding of the Intertextual Relationship Between Psalm 22 and the Narrative of Mark's Gospel"; Margaret Gavin Sim's dissertation "Towards a Relevance Theoretic Approach to the Particle 'ina" in Koine Greek"; and Hon Lee Kwok's dissertation "Use of Isaiah in the Pauline Letters with Special Reference to his Conception of being an Apostle to the Gentiles." I would encourage any students researching these areas to check out these dissertations.

The second school, Virginia Tech (http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/findetd.html), is not really as useful for Biblical Studies  per se, but may still be helpful for Christian students researching ethics, science, communication theory, etc.

This raises the question: why don't more schools make their students' dissertations avaiable for research? Granted, all doctoral candidates want to publish their work eventually, but for every thesis published, there remains quite a few more that are not published that nevertheless make a genuine contribution to scholarship (else they would never have been approved). Perhaps I am missing something here, but the University of Edinburgh's approach seems to makes sense for 3 reasons: first, it promotes the school. Due to my access to U of Edinburgh's dissertations, the school has risen to prominence in my mind. Granted, I'm no expert on British universities, and I'm hardly in a position to recommend a British school to any prospective students. Nonetheless, simply through my interactions with their website, U of E has still has suddenly become the only British University that I know anything about.

Secondly,  those who have successfully defended their dissertation would naturally want their research accessible to scholarship. A dissertation that exists in only two copies, sitting on a shelf in the library of a lesser-known school, can hardly be termed "accessible." It is quite possible that many decent dissertations lie neglected, collecting dust, while scholarship is deprived of of their work. An electronic database, such as that of U of Edinburgh, solves that problem.

Thirdly, there are those like me who cannot afford to fly to South Africa, Germany, and Paris (three countries outside of the US that contain dissertations I desperately would like to get my grubby hands on) any time soon and who fear that they may miss out on a valuable work of scholarship. For dissertations in the US, of course, one solution is ProQuest (http://www.proquest.com/en-US/products/dissertations/disexpress.shtml), provided you're willing to shell out 40 dollars or so. Still, it's most likely cheaper than taking a trip to the other side of the country to get ahold of a dissertation (I've purchased valuable dissertations through ProQuest and can attest that it is definitely a useful outlet).

One other thought. I would think that having these dissertations available electronically would actually deter plagerism, for it would seem that it would be easier to plagerize a source that only exists in or two libraries than a source that exists online (as a grader, I can speak with experience that it's fairly easy to catch plagerism in papers if the source is online, even in pdf format; simply enter a couple lines of text in "Google" and see if anything matches)

I encourage my readers to be on the lookout for any other schools that provide easy access to their dissertations or research. Drop me an e-mail, and that schools' website will be posted, along with other helpful resources, on my "Resources for Students" sidebar.

Jan 3, 2011


Congratulations to my fellow Ph.D. student under Dr. Black, Alex Stewart, who has just published his first article in Tydale Bulletin (vol. 2 of 2010) on salvation and works in James.

Jan 1, 2011


In celebration of the new year, I've finally created my own blog, what I hope will be a useful academic resource. I'll mostly be focusing on New Testament, Koine Greek, and translation studies, but might branch out into some other areas as well. In addition, I'm hoping to add posts from others who wish to contribute (first up in a couple weeks will be my father, missionary John Himes, with a short essay on Relevance Theory in Bible translation. For more information on me, please see the sidebar. Please scroll down to see my first official post, a discussion of John H. Elliott's influential book on 1 Peter, A Home for the Homeless.

My reasons for this blog are mainly two-fold: 1. I have a tendency towards laziness, and this blog will force me to write on a fairly consistent basis, and 2. I love biblical studies, especially the NT, and hope to become a useful resource for other like-minded Bible students (if not in what I write, then at least in other resources I refer to!) With that in mind, thanks to all of you who take time out of your busy schedule to give this blog a look.

"Paroikos," by the way, is the term used in 1 Peter 2:11 to basically refer to one who is socially (and, perhaps, nationally) displaced; the KJV renders the plural "strangers," the ESV as "sojourners," and the NET as "foreigners" (for further lexical discussion, see the works by Elliott and Chin, discussed in my first post).