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.

Dec 21, 2013

The Ultimate Paroikos

Paroikos: “A stranger, foreigner, or resident alien; one who is displaced from his or her home; one who is treated as a stranger by those residing in his or her vicinity” [Source: The PAH Lexicon for Rare Koine Words Used in the NT, soon to be published in 2050 (maybe!)]

“He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11, NET Bible)

“But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4, NET Bible)

I know what it’s like to be a “Paroikos,” as do many of my readers. At its best, you experience exciting new cultures, new foods, new adventures, new friends. Playing alongside my Japanese friends, accepted as one of them, constitute some of the best memories of my childhood. At its worst, however, your own foreignness is thrown back into your face in the form of insults, discriminatory actions, and the state of being simply ignored.

Yet even for the most displaced Paroikos, there are times when you can feel “at home.” For me it was with my parents, with my closest Japanese friends, or even at the local Japanese Ramen noodle shop—Japanese service is the best in the world, and even a foreigner is made to feel like royalty in the average store or restaurant! Furthermore, there is a sense in which the common band of humanity binds us all: language, skin color, and mannerisms may all be different, yet at the least we all shame the same basic features and can reason rationally. Direct communication can take place, food is always edible (yes, even “squid on a stick”) and our basic needs remain the same. In light of that, there may even be something romantic and adventurous about being away from home. Thus Plutarch, when trying to comfort a friend who has been exiled from his homeland, argues that the exiled man, rather than being bound to a single city, now has the air itself as his sole boundary and is truly free to go where pleases! (see Plutarch, On Exile, 1-12).

Hold that thought, however; we are, of course, talking about humans among other humans, humans on earth where they were born to be. The whole concept of “Paroikos” is taken to another level now when we dare to talk about the Incarnation. Here it is not a matter of simply “leaving one’s homeland” or “moving to another country” or even “being around people who are different than you [and who eat squid!].” Now we are forced to grapple with the idea of a whole different type of being (indeed, the Supreme Being) being sent to a whole other plane of existence, if you will. In other words, the second Member of the Creator/Trinity Who, like the other two Members, existed outside space and time without regard for any of the laws of matter and energy (indeed, He created them!), now voluntarily becomes part of the physical universe in the form of a human baby some. So that eternal Being who existed outside of space and time now exists as part of space and time.

Many of my readers will, perhaps, be familiar with the expression “culture shock.” This occurs when you visit a new culture and find out that things are different than what you expect, and your brain has trouble grappling with it: what for you is a simple wave in your home country may actually mean “yes, I will marry your daughter and bring the bride-price of a live goat” in your new culture. Furthermore, whatever expectations you have armed yourself with fly out the window when exposed to reality. Thus, for example, when my parents first went to Japan they more-or-less expected Japanese men to be walking around in traditional robes armed with Samurai swords (compounding their “cultural shock” was the irony that the very first place they ate at in Japan was a “Denny’s”). Likewise many Japanese, based off of their exposure to Hollywood, assume that American urban life is a constant mish-mash of gunfights, exploding helicopters, and high-speed car chases involving unrealistically thin supermodels (this is, of course, only true in Los Angeles and certain parts of Chicago).

Now I would not be so bold as to suggest that the second Member of the Trinity experienced “culture shock”; after all, “shock” implies being exposed to something that surprises you, and God cannot be surprised, at least cognitively. Nevertheless, for all of our theological adherence to the immutable nature of God, we must stress that God certainly experienced something different in the transition to human flesh in our space-time continuum. It is one thing to go from the skylines of New York to the mountains of Switzerland. It is another thing entirely to go from being outside of space and time altogether to being voluntarily confined to 4 dimensions (or 12, if you’re a String Theorist). It is one thing to never know the need for food or drink; it is another thing entirely to suddenly know hunger and thirst, and, in the early stages of the Incarnation, to be totally dependent upon others to provide it. It is one thing to see new sights and hear new sounds in a different culture; it is something else entirely to actually experience sight and sound, in the limited human way, for the very first time. And this, of course, included pain, suffering, and temptation, various concepts totally foreign to the nature of God himself because it was brought on by Adam’s sin! Thus even in something as simple as the tears he shed when first exposed to planet earth’s light and sounds and temperature outside the womb, Jesus experienced something entirely different as a human, a new world, a new existence where he, the King of the Universe, was destined to live as a stranger.

My friends, can we truly wrap our mind around the true “strangeness” of the incarnation, especially in the early stages? Take whatever “strangeness” you may experience in a foreign culture, among foreign people, and multiply that by infinity. Yet this “strangeness” represents the great (and only) hope for humanity; the fact that, in the apt words of J. Houghton, “the God out there has entered our world in the person of Jesus” (page 158 in Houghton, J. ‘Where is God? Thinking in More Than Three Dimensions,’ in Stannard, R. (ed) God For the 21st Century, Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation, 2000)

One more thought: Jesus, the Son of God, did not come to earth to only temporarily experience humanity and then leave this plane of existence, shedding his human body. Rather, his transition to this state of existence was permanent. He did not leave his humanity behind when he descended into heaven (albeit it is a glorified human body, a precursor of what is in store for his followers). No, he remains human, a part of his creation, and someday he will reign on the literal earth from the literal city of Jerusalem, once more literally existing as Immanuel, “God with us.”

Yet what, then, is the immediate result of the incarnation for Christians? Why, namely this: “Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16, NET Bible).

So Merry Christmas, my friends! Oh, and while you’re at it, this holiday season be kind to the foreigners living among you, for Jesus Christ was once one of them.

Postscript: Whenever we describe the Trinity, we naturally fall short of the exactness of language and clarity that most scientific disciplines would demand. I reject any form of polytheism on the one hand and modalism on the other: God is “three persons, one essence”; yet sometimes the language I or others might use may seem to come close to either of those heresies. This is not my fault; if God had wanted to us to better understand the Trinity, he would have described it more clearly for us through the writers of Scripture! Nevertheless, I beg the reader’s forgiveness for any inexact language or descriptions of mine in this (or any other) discussion.

Dec 7, 2013

Reasons to attend the ETS national meeting

 (From November 19th-21st, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Although I did not present this year [the deadline for submissions was right in the middle of the “final stretch” of my dissertation work!], I greatly benefited both from other presentations and from hanging out with friends. Also, please note that there were plenty of non-PhDs there as well, including many pastors; you don’t need to be a professional academic to benefit from it!)

The annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) can, at its worst, be a confusing maelstrom of harried and exhausted 500-meter dashes to various conference rooms, overspending on massive tomes of arcane theology (but hey, they’re half off!), and needless amounts of pedantic bickering and debating. But all-in-all, the three annual meetings I have attended have “done me good,” and I would wish to discuss why and how one can benefit from attending.

But first of all, there’s been plenty of blog posts about attending ETS, etc., and I just want to point you to a few. Mike Bird, as Australian evangelical NT scholar, has posted his thoughts here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2013/11/reflections-on-ets-and-the-conference-theme-of-inerrancy/  Though I disagree with him on inerrancy, Michael Bird is always one of the most enjoyable reads you will find.

On the far other end of the spectrum, Mark Snoeberger, from one of the more scholarly independent Baptist/fundamentalist schools (no, “scholarly” and “fundamentalist” is not an oxymoron) posts his thoughts here: http://dbts.edu/blog/some-random-thoughts-about-ets/   I especially appreciated his comment that “I have made peace with the fact that the ETS doctrinal standards are not denominational subscription standards or ‘fundamentals’”;  yet nevertheless Snoeberger states that he “come[s] back each year thoroughly refreshed, with new books to read, new ideas for teaching/research, and a generally renewed resolve or ‘vision’ for what I can accomplish for the cause of Christ and of God.” It’s worth pointing out that at this year’s ETS there were attendees from at least 4 (and probably more) self-professed independent Baptist/fundamentalist institutions, an encouraging sign!

So anyways, here’s the reasons I go to ETS:

1.    First of all, ETS annual meetings represent cutting edge evangelical scholarship that is well-engaged with broader academic scholarship. This is the place to hone your own skills, pick up leads for further research ideas, and gain an understanding of which books you should read next. An individual presentation may or may not be profitable, but at the least it should introduce you to a few keys sources and the current trends within scholarship. Also, all the major theological issues will be addressed in some form or the other, and generally the annual meetings focus on one key topic to discuss (e.g., this year focused on inerrancy; past years have focused on justification, Open Theism, the Christian and the environment, etc.)       
2.    Secondly, the ETS meeting is a great time for fellowship. I drove up with my friend Chuck, both of us stayed at my friend Aaron’s house in southern PA, and we enjoyed great theological (and other) dialogue between the three of us. In addition, I saw plenty of former professors and former fellow class mates, and I had a great lunch and conversation with the outside reader of my dissertation.
3.    Thirdly, ETS is a great opportunity to hear the “heavy hitters” of conservative theology and academia. Now hero worship is always a danger, of course (and I can lapse into it occasionally), but the meeting’s most prominent speakers, as well as those giving the key note addresses, are popular for a reason: they’re great teachers, writers, expositors, theologians, and they challenge your thinking better than most!. This past meeting at Baltimore featured D. A. Carson, John Frame, and Ben Witherington, who collectively have done for evangelical scholarship what the Miami Heat have done for the NBA (and, to continue the analogy, each of them can be just as polarizing! I could call D. A. Carson the “LeBron James of conservative scholarship” and just leave it up to the reader as to whether or not that’s a compliment!)
4.    Finally, the ETS annual meeting does not just showcase the academic side of scholars but occasionally their spiritual side as well. My first annual meeting in Valley Forge, PA, I was as lost as a sheep in a blizzard, and a Canadian professor, whom I didn’t know from Adam, out of the blue invited me to eat lunch with him. At the recent meeting in Baltimore, I was privileged to share a lunch with and receive encouragement from the Wheaton scholar who had acted as the outside reader for my dissertation. Furthermore, in the midst of all the bickering and some academic posturing, occasionally you see glimpses of genuine humility. Once again at my first national ETS in Valley Forge, I sat in on a presentation on the role of Elihu (Positive? Negative?) in the book of Job. This was done by an older professor in front of a decent-sized crowd (possibly about 30), including a significant number of his own students. The QA session at the end was surprisingly . . . “robust” (as in, “there was a rather dominant sentiment of disagreement with the presenter’s position, expressed rather more strongly than you would expect for such a minor issue”). The presenter, however, handled it perfectly, respectfully fielding his audience’s questions (“comments,” in some cases) while noting the wonderful freedom evangelicals have to disagree on relatively minor issues such as Elihu’s role in the book of Job while still remaining on the same side. This professor (don’t remember who; I think he taught in a school in California, though) became a role model for me in that instance. Someday in the future, when I’ve been teaching for decades and my position is strongly criticized by others (and right in front of my own students!), will I be able to keep my composure and answer respectfully and fairly as this gentleman did?

Now a couple of observations on how best to enjoy ETS:
1.    You get a lot more out of the sessions if you’re well-rested! This wasn’t really my fault, since I drove up all evening/early morning before ETS started, but I struggled staying awake during the presentations I attended on Tuesday and even during John Frame’s interesting address! Wednesday was much more profitable for me since I slept fantastically Tuesday evening (and a good thing, too, since I was privileged to be granted a job interview Wednesday afternoon).
2.    Try to go with friends. Fellowship is key; it’s not fun being by yourself at such a large conference (and I was privileged to be with friends for most of this trip). Also, it’s much easier to share a hotel room, gas money, and toll money than pay for it all yourself.
3.    Once in a while, go to a session completely unrelated to your main field of study. It’s good to know more about theology and Biblical studies in general, especially as it might pertain to counseling and practical theology. Although I may focus on New Testament studies, I realize the value of the Old Testament and theology in general, as well as the need for me to be knowledgeable about more issues in practical theology.

So, for what it’s worth, there’s some info and thoughts on the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings. It’s not the only outlet for evangelical scholarship (e.g., the Institute of Biblical Research is worth its weight in gold), but it may be the largest. Next year’s meeting will be in San Diego, CA. I may not make that one, but I’m definitely looking forward to 2015’s meeting in Atlanta, GA (been there once, sort of know my way around). The theme for 2014 in San Diego is “Ecclesiology” while the theme for 2015 in Atlanta is “Marriage and Family.”

Nov 27, 2013

The Heart's Desire

Generally, I don't write blog posts based off of something else that I read online, e.g., an article that piqued my interest (else I would never get anything done!) Recently, however, I ran across a quote that I just could not pass by without some theological commentary.

In an online article [click here] in the Huffington Post entitled “Couple has open marriage so complicated, it’s hard to keep track,” author Jenny Block, when interviewed, had this to say: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others,” said Block, who has been in an open marriage for the past 10 years. “You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.” [emphasis added; online: accessed 11/27/2013, could not find the author for this particular article. Note also that Jenny Block is not part of the particular "marriage" being discussed in the article]

Keep those words in mind: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others.” Now, the sad thing is that Jenny Block is absolutely correct for those who do not have the Spirit of God. In other words, the unbeliever truly cannot control his or her own desires; he or she remains a slave to sin. Thus Scripture can describe unbelievers as “slaves . . . of/to sin” (Romans 6:16 and 17 NET Bible)  Furthermore, “. . . the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8, NET Bible). Thus Jenny Block’s words, applied to an unbeliever, are absolutely correct: “We cannot control our own desires . . . . The heart wants what it wants.” Unlike J. Block, however, this is not a cause for celebration (much less an excuse for a polyamorous lifestyle), but rather proof of how fallen the human race is, and how much in need of redemption we are.
Yet how, then, does the Christian differ? For some theologians, there really is no difference and the Christian still cannot control his or her desires. In other words, for some theologians, Christians truly have no say in the outcome when faced with temptation at a particular point in time (i.e., the result could not have gone otherwise). Yet if that is the case, then Romans 8:2 is absolutely meaningless when it states, "For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you  free from the law of sin and death” (NET Bible). How can we truly be free from sin if J. Block’s words apply equally to Christians and unbelievers alike when faced with temptation?
Furthermore, as I have argued elsewhere (see the bibliography below), 1 Corinthians 10:13 clearly states that Christians have an “escape route” for each temptation they face, an escape route that is lacking in an unbeliever. In other words, when the Corinthian believers faced the temptation via social pressure of participating in idolatry, they could not say “my desires caused me to sin” or “the peer pressure was just too much for me.”

What, then, makes the difference? It is nothing less than the indwelling Spirit of God Who becomes the great Enabler to do what is right. Consequently, Galatians 4:6-7 states, "And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God" (NET). Indeed, it is this very fact that causes the Apostle Paul to soundly rebuke the Galatians in 4:9 for reverting back to their old ways! They cannot claim that they were unable to resist the siren call of temptation, for the Holy Spirit provides a powerful force that enables the Christian to pull away from beckoning temptations. [note: in a response to my JETS article, the objection was raised that this means Christians could live an absolutely perfect life, successfully rejecting every single temptation they run across [thus attaining sinless perfectionism, more or less; it was implied, though not explained, that this was theologically incoherent]. My response was to raise the analogy of a hitter in baseball. A good hitter is entirely capable of hitting every single pitch in the strike zone for a home run; in reality, however, this never happens. Potential and actuality are two different things. Yet even if a Christian could reach a point where he or she successfully resists temptation for an entire year (or two, or three), I would find that a much more theologically coherent state than positing a God who does not allow Christians to resist a particular temptation at a particular point in time, perhaps even foreordaining his own child to sin]

So what, then, is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever? The unbeliever truly cannot resist a life of sin, whatever his or her heart is bent towards. They may exercise a certain degree of restraint, of course (and I am not arguing that unbelievers are as bad as they can be!). Yet without the Holy Spirit’s influence, they remain incapable of permanently resisting sin. For the believer, however, it is the Spirit’s influence that becomes the competing force against our sinful desires. With the Spirit, we can truly chose the good and reject the evil. The heart may indeed “want what it wants,” but fortunately with the Spirit’s presence, the heart also wants to please the Lord. Thus the Christian must deal with competing sources of desire: the remnant of our sinful past vs. the new heart given to us by the Spirit’s regenerating work. In my opinion, one of the best articulations of this difference between believers and unbelievers is the following quote by Hae-Kyung Chang: “In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that ‘being free under sin’ and ‘being free from the law of sin and death’ are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true” (Chang, p. 268; emphasis added).

To return to the original article: ultimately, then, one who names the name of Christ yet lives, without chastening or remorse, in an “open marriage” such as described in the HuffPost article truly demonstrates that he is not a Christian, for clearly the Spirit has no part in him. God will not allow a Christian to consistently choose the evil and demonstrate no sign of the Spirit’s power in his or her life, for God Himself has a vested interest in us! 

[one final note: I am even OK with the idea that God can “overrule” the Christian's will in certain circumstances; simply because the Christian always has the ability to resist sin does not mean he or she always has the ability to accept sin; the converse of a law is not always true]

For further reading:

1.   Hae-Kyung Chang, “The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7–25 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum vol. 49 (2007). In my opinion, this is a fantastic article, and it has heavily influenced my views on Romans 7.
2.   Paul A. Himes “When a Christian Sins—1 Corinthians 10:13 and the Power of Contrary Choice in Relation to the Compatibilist-Libertarian Debate,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54 (July 2011).
3.   Steven Cowan, “Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply to Paul A. Himes,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).
4.   Paul Himes: “First Corinthians 10:13: A Rejoinder to Steven Cowan,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).

Nov 9, 2013

Some Thoughts on Missions

 This is a somewhat less academic post than usual, but I wanted to challenge both myself and my readers with something a bit more practical (not that there should necessarily be a dichotomy between the academic and the practical!) I grew up on the mission field, and both my parents have served the Lord in Japan for roughly the past 30 years. Recently, I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for Becky Black, the wife of my doctoral advisor. I was very touched by the fact that featuring prominently at this event was her heavy involvement in foreign missions, both proclaiming and living the Gospel in foreign countries, as well as organizing missions trips overseas when she herself could not go.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in one sense, the measure of a Christian’s life is the contribution he or she makes to the spread of the kingdom of God. This can take many forms, of course, and includes both service in the local church and involvement in missions.  Furthermore, circumstances may limit one’s contribution, though I would suggest that even those with significant health problems will still find ways to contribute. One lady who had Osteogenesis could barely leave her house, yet still prayed frequently, wrote a tract, financially supported my parents, and witnessed to the delivery boy who brought her groceries.

Thus I believe that everybody, in way or the other, can and should contribute to missions. Broadly speaking, missions could probably be defined as “the furtherance of the Gospel both in proclamation and in lifestyle, with the intent of pointing souls to Christ” (my own definition, for now; I’m positive there’s numerous better ones out there). Assumed here is the importance of both proclamation (preaching, witnessing, teaching) and living (good deeds, social action, kindness). Both go hand in hand. As defined thus, missions is the role of every Christian. In his recent booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? (Gonzalez, Florida.: Energion, 2012), Dr. Black aptly states, “Don’t think for a moment that it is more honorable to go to seminary and become a pastor than it is to serve God faithfully as a nurse or a salesperson. Missions is the intended vocation for the whole people of God, no matter what your occupation may be” (p. 2; emphasis added).

In addition, mission beyond one’s immediate environment should also be a concern for every Christian. In other words, since it is through the Offspring of Abraham that all nations are to be blessed, since the nations (plural) are to benefit from the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 22:2), and since Christ commanded the first disciples to “make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19, my translation), this is something that all Christians should be concerned with. Thus the Apostle Paul’s cry in Romans 10:14, “But how will they believe on the one they have not heard about? And how will they hear without a preacher?” should be a rebuke to all of us.

So how, then, does one participate in missions? It is, of course, worth pointing out that somebody who shows little concern for those around them, in their present location, can hardly expect to be effectively led by the Spirit to contribute to missions anywhere else! Thus Dr. Black writes, “We need to learn to view our employees, our co-workers, and our fellow students as our mission field” (p. 5). In addition, “immigrants and international students” also provide immense opportunities (p. 5). (And, may I dare suggest, that if we Americans spend less time whining about illegal immigrants and more time learning Spanish so we can speak to them about Christ, the church would greatly benefit?)

Having demonstrated a concern for those around you, there are a number of ways you can contribute to missions elsewhere. First of all, you can simply go. Not necessarily for your lifetime (though you should definitely be willing to do so), but take a missions trip and contribute, not as an “American” (or any other citizen) helping nationals, but as a fellow brother or sister serving alongside of Christians of another race (and a lot could be said here about the need for humility and willingness to learn from others!; the “ugly American” stereotype can sometimes rear its head amongst Christian ministers as well as tourists!) May I suggest that every Christian, at least once in his or her lifetime, needs to take a trip to some other country and serve alongside Christians of another race ministering to the lost? [as an aside, nationalism is an idol that has no place in missions; there is no such thing as a “American” missionary or an “Australian” missionary or a “South Korean” missionary; we are all representatives of that “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9, the church of Jesus Christ; may I suggest that Christians should be willing to sacrifice even their native citizenship if it means one more soul overseas can hear the Gospel?].

Secondly, prayer is extremely important and spoken of often in Scripture within the context of missions (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:10-11). This assumes, of course, that one is actually paying attention to what is happening on places other than your own home country, especially to fellow believers. Sorry for the strong emphasis, but this is more of a problem that you would think. I think there’s a sad case of “missions illiteracy” among many of our churches.

Thirdly, one can give (and give sacrificially). Every little bit helps, and the Philippian church was especially commended for their sacrificial giving to Paul’s missionary work. If the widow can give her mite to the temple treasury, I think all Christians can give something to the ministry of those laboring overseas, especially when it means sacrificing a little comfort in their own home country, whether at their church building or in their local home. (see Black, pages 8-10 for more on this).

So anyways, hope that’s food for thought. This challenges me, since I know I can definitely be doing more on my end. May the Lord grant that each of us contribute better to the spread of his Kingdom in the future!

Oct 12, 2013

The book some of us have been waiting for: review of The Life and Witness of Peter by Larry R. Helyer.

Throw a rock and you can hit a dozen Pauline theologies. I’m not denigrating the importance of the Apostle Paul’s theology, mind you! The man wrote a significant portion of the New Testament, and his inspired letters deserve the attention they get. Nevertheless, for those of us interested in Peter and his theology, there has been a significant dearth of scholarship. There is, of course, Martin Hengel’s Peter: The Underestimated Apostle as well as Markus Bockmuehl’s Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church, both significant books. Yet with Larry R. Helyer’s The Life and Witness of Peter (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012), we have a rare Petrine theology that also gives key consideration to Peter’s life and treatment in the early church. Its significance, in my opinion, can be summed up this way: I desperately wish to teach a class on Petrine theology (at any level!), and without a doubt this is the textbook I would use (and, in my opinion, it’s well-written enough that it could easily be used at the college level as well as in a grad class).

In the preface, Helyer gives a very brief overview as to his methodology and major focuses (after, of course, the obligatory comments on the relative neglect of Petrine scholarship!) Helyer makes it clear that he will focus on the material from Acts in addition to 1 Peter and 2 Peter (in my opinion one of the major strengths of the book). He will also utilize Mark as a source for a general understanding of Peter’s personal background, and consideration will also be given to some post-NT material, Patristic and otherwise. Especially significant for the content of this book is Helyer’s statement on p. 17 that “The overarching rubric that encapsulates Peter’s theology is the meaning and significance of the cross which shapes Peter’s first pastoral letter.”

Chapter 1 deals with the ‘Background of Simon Peter.” Here Helyer provides a brief discussion of Peter’s name and occupation, providing in the process a beneficial overview of the fishing industry in 1st century Galilee (complete with his own culinary recommendation footnote 35, namely that visitors to the area try the type of tilapia called “Saint Peter’s Fish,” fresh from the Sea of Galilee!). Helyer takes an unapologetic “harmonistic approach” when recreating Peter’s life and background from the Gospels, though he acknowledges the value of both redaction and narrative approaches (p. 30).

Chapters 2 and 3 deals with Peter’s appearances in the four Gospels. Naturally, Helyer devotes considerable space to Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:13-20 (and the parallels), as well as Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to Peter. Especially significant is the way in which Helyer ties events in the Gospels to Peter’s later ministry, noting its significance for our spiritual development today. On page 61, for example, he writes (regarding Peter’s three-fold denial), “Peter’s denial can never be taken back. It happened, and he had to live with the painful memory. But rather than letting his failure cripple him spiritually and emotionally, he used it as a means of building up the flock of God. . . . He becomes a living illustration of forgiveness and a second chance. He possesses a degree of compassion and understanding for wavering believers that others, sometimes rather self-righteously, are incapable of showing. We hear a tenderness in Peter’s first epistle that springs out of a bitterly disappointing failure in his own life (1 Peter 5:1-11).”

Chapter 4 deals with “Peter and the early church,” focusing on the book of Acts, while chapter 5 deals with the mention of Peter within Paul’s own epistles. Chapters 6-10 then basically represent a theology of 1 Peter, focusing on that epistle and its key themes. Chapter 6 functions more-or-less as a traditional introduction to the letter, focusing on authorship, genre, recipients, etc. I was especially glad to see Helyer giving due consideration to Karen Jobes’ thesis regarding the recipients, and also that Helyer concludes on p. 116 that the letter uses the concept “stranger” in both a literal and a metaphorical sense (with which I agree, though, like John Elliott, I prefer an initial focus on a literal sense, as I argue in my soon-to-be-published dissertation; it is from the literal that the metaphorical draws its force). Chapters 7-10 then discuss, in order, “Peter’s Christology,” “Christ and the Spirits, Christ and the Holy Spirit,” “Suffering for Jesus,” and “The People of God.”

Chapter 11 functions as an introduction to 2 Peter while chapter 12 deals with its theology. Chapter 13 focuses specifically on 2 Peter’s treatment of false teachers, and chapter 14 focuses specifically on 2 Peter’s eschatology. At this point, I need to mention one statement by Helyer that I greatly appreciated (and one that needs to be preached!): “Many Christians labor under a misunderstanding about their ultimate destiny. They conceive of their eternal state in ethereal (otherworldy0 terms situated in a celestial city ‘up there somewhere.’ The truth is our final destination is on a new earth. In short, ‘heaven’ comes down and does more than ‘fill my soul’; it takes up residence on this planet and fills the whole world with God’s glory” (p. 269).

Finally, Helyer devotes 3 chapters to “The Rest of the Story,” where he focuses on non-canonical treatments of Peter himself, including Patristic accounts of Peter’s life and death, pseudonymous works on Peter, and (in the final chapter), the “legacy” of Peter which concludes with Helyer’s “top ten contributions of the apostle Peter to NT theology.”

In my opinion, Helyer’s The Life and Witness of Peter represents both a significant contribution that fills in a gap in scholarship (the relative lack of work on Petrine theology) as well as a very readable and enjoyable treatment of Peter, his life, and his theology. While I will have a couple minor issues, I can definitely recommend this book for anybody interested in either Peter or biblical theology, or both.

First of all, does Helyer make an important contribution to biblical theology? In my opinion, absolutely. Treatments of this scope on Petrine theology are very rare, and Helyer does an excellent job of plugging that hole in scholarship (from an evangelical perspective, as well).

Secondly, Helyer is a good writer; without sacrificing its contribution to scholarship, The Life and Witness of Peter is both an easy and an enjoyable read. It’s worth pointing out that his Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period is a much more enjoyable read than equivalent books at this level of academia (I’m not claiming it’s necessarily better at the scholarly level than equivalent books, simply that it’s more enjoyable).

Thirdly, I like how Helyer does biblical theology. Rather than approaching the texts with set themes and topics, as I’ve seen some works do, Helyer mostly lets the texts themselves determine the themes. This is why, for example, we see an entire chapter on “The People of God” in 1 Peter but not 2 Peter, whereas we see an entire chapter on 2 Peter’s eschatology but not 1 Peter’s eschatology. Not because 1 Peter does not discuss eschatology, nor that 2 Peter does not concern itself at all with the church, but rather because each book of the Bible has its own emphasis and focus. In my opinion, biblical theology is at its best when it lets each distinct book bring out its own theology rather than approaching each book with a “grid” of theological topics. In other words, when doing biblical theology (as opposed to systematic theology), the question is not “What does [insert name of book] say about God, Jesus, the end times, etc.?” but rather, “What themes does this book explore, and how are they developed?” This, in my opinion, is what Helyer does well. Having said that, I do wish Helyer had provided a bit more  interaction between books on certain themes. Chapter 8, for example, could have dealt with the Spirit and the spirits in both 1 Peter and 2 Peter (in light of 2 Peter 1:21 and 2:4, 11), and I would have appreciated it bit more overview of Peter’s theology as a whole (although the final chapter covers that a little). Nevertheless, overall I am in favor of how Helyer handles Peter’s theology. In addition, I greatly appreciate how Helyer covers all the Petrine material in Scripture, not just 1 Peter and 2 Peter. This, in my opinion, is key to developing a true Petrine theology (as opposed to just a theology of 1 Peter or a theology of 2 Peter). Such an approach makes this book extremely valuable.

Fourthly, one of Helyer’s strengths is his knowledge of Second Temple Literature (he wrote an entire book on it) and how this knowledge contributes to The Life and Witness of peter. Numerous examples can be cited, but I’ll point especially to page 44 (what does it mean to “loose” and “bind” in Matthew 16:19? He provides some discussion of close terminology in the Qumran texts and the Mishnah) and p. 251 (2 Pet 2:4’s remarkably close parallel to 1 Enoch).

Fifthly, Helyer does an excellent job at making his work relevant for the Christian community. In other words, The Life and Witness of Peter is meant to be relevant theologically in the everyday life of Christians (e.g., see the quote above from page 61). Having said that, I did scratch my head at his odd sort-of allegorizing of the story of Peter in the boat from Matthew 14 (see p. 39).

A couple mild critiques. First of all, while this book does well to cover introductory matters, students should not rely on it for the best treatment of such topics as authorship, recipients, etc.. For example, although I like what he does with his treatment of the recipients of 1 Peter, he never mentions Moses Chin’s article “A Heavenly Home for the Homeless” in Tyndale Bulletin vol. 42:1 (1991), a significant and influential article (though I disagree with much of it). Similarly, there are some gaps in scholarship; when discussing both the eschatology and the false teachers of 2 Peter, for example, he never mentions two articles that directly deal with these issues: Gene L. Green, “‘As for Prophecies, They Will Come to an End’” in JSNT vol. 8 (2001) and Jerome H. Neyrey, “The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter,” JBL vol. 99 (September 1980), although he cites other sources by these two scholars. Having said that, I must express my gratefulness that he mentions a little-known article by yours-truly on Peter, an article significantly less important than the contributions by Chin, Green, and Neyrey, so who am I to complain?

Two more points. Even though this book is meant to be accessible to all levels, it still would have greatly benefited from a “survey of scholarship” on Peter and his theology. Secondly, I’m puzzled as to why the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter receives only a two-paragraph treatment (pp. 246-247), especially since this would seem to be relevant to 2 Peter’s theology.

Nevertheless, these moderate critiques should not diminish the value that Helyer’s Life and Witness of Peter provides. This is an essential book for studying both Peter and his theology, and one that I hope to use as a textbook someday.

Sep 27, 2013

"Under Your Wing"--Ruth Tosses Boaz's Words Right Back at Him!

Teaching a particular book of the Bible is the best way to learn it! The past few weeks I’ve had the privilege of teaching the book of Ruth to the youth at my local church (a very intelligent group of kids, I might add!) While my Hebrew is very rusty, I’ve read through the book in Hebrew while making use of some top-notch commentaries (Daniel Block’s NAC commentary is, in particular, outstanding. And that’s not just my opinion, either).

Studying Ruth for myself has been immensely rewarding. I’d like to share just one quick observation that brings out both the master-storytelling in this book and how our view of God should impact our actions towards each other. In Ruth 2:12, Boaz blesses Ruth, admonishing the Lord to pay her back for all her kindness and faithfulness towards her mother-in-law. He then describes her as having taken refuge literally under the wings [plural form of knph] of the Lord (ESV: “. . . under whose wings you have taken refuge” I think Block best describes Ruth’s relief in response to Boaz’s words: “Like a young chick frightened by the pouring rain, she has come out of her fears and found comfort and security under the wings of God. Those wings are embodied in the person of Boaz” (Block, Judges, Ruth, [NAC; Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman&Holman, 1999], 665).

Now, keep the word “wing” in mind. Fast-forward to Ruth 3:9. This Moabite widow is putting into action her mother-in-law’s plan. When Boaz wakes up, shivering, Ruth identifies herself, and then asks him to “spread your wing [Heb. knph, again!] over your servant”! (ESV) This was, of course, a marriage proposal (“knph” could also mean “robe/skirt,” and “to spread one’s skirt over” a woman meant to marry her; cf. Ezekiel 16:8). Yet certainly Ruth’s bold choice of words is significant! Had not Boaz wished upon her that the Lord himself would spread his wing over her? And now, Ruth herself asks that Boaz spread his wing over her, in essence throwing his own words right back at him, and demanding that he himself become the emissary of Yahweh in this matter!

It is to Boaz’s credit that he was willing to seize this role and act as the go-el, kinsman-redeemer, towards Ruth and Naomi. Yet what about us? Not that we should go out and find widows to marry, necessarily! Yet do we wish the Lord’s blessing on others and put little thought into how we ourselves might act as his representative in that regard? Are we willing to “cover others with our wings,” to shelter them, just as the Lord has done for us?  May we beware the sinfulness of blessing others with words but not actions, of wishing the Lord’s blessing on others and not lifting a finger to help bring about that blessing! As James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 2:16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 2:17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself” (2:15-17, NET).

Truly, both Boaz and the Moabitess widow exemplified the Chessed of the Lord in the book of Ruth, and their actions have transformative results for the entire nation. Ruth, then, is not a modern “fairy tale” romance with knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, glamorous gowns and evocative emotions! Rather, it shows us that true love is action—taking others and sheltering them under our wings from the harshness of life. Only when we live to the standard of Boaz and Ruth can we truly claim to be the Lord’s servants.