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.

Jul 30, 2015

Maybe December 25th actually is the day of Jesus' birth? Some thoughts on the recent article by Kurt Simmons in JETS

One of the strengths of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (a peer-reviewed, academic journal second only to Tyndale Bulletin in evangelical circles) is its diversity of topics. Consequently, I was extremely interested to see, in the latest issue, an article by Kurt M. Simmons entitled "The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ's Birth," JETS 58 (June 2015): 299-334.

Most of us are familiar with the prevailing "conventional wisdom" that December 25th was an accommodation by the church to pagan practices--since nobody knew when the Christ was born, why not just take a pagan holiday and let Christians party? [ok, that's a bit of an unfair simplification] An article from Bibliotheca Sacra over 150 years ago takes this position (Joseph Thompson's "Christmas and Saturnalia," BibSac vol. 12, January 1845). For some Christians, this is enough to prevent them from any celebration on this date. Another theory advanced by scholars is that 12/25 or 1/6 (depending on if you're the Eastern or Western church) is connected to the date of Jesus' conception, which would have occurred at the same time of the year as his crucifixion (a recent Biblical Archaeological Review discussed this theory, I believe).

Simmons examines both of these theories (the "history of religions" theory and the "calculation" theory, respectively), and finds them wanting. He then provides a somewhat complicated yet interesting discussion of the chronology of Jesus' life.

One of the more significant points that Simmons' thesis hinges on is that Herod actually died not around the lunar eclipse of 4 BC, but rather around a lunar eclipse which occurred on January 10, 1 BC. (NASA records confirm that there was a lunar eclipse on that day; click here and remember to add a +1 to the 0). This, personally, would be a calculation that I would appreciate, and here's why: as argued elsewhere (click here), I believe that Jesus' death took place on Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD. (Friday afternoon is the first day, Friday night would be the second day, and Saturday night through Sunday would be the "third day"--this theory is hardly new with me). Nevertheless, Luke says that Jesus began his ministry when he was "about thirty years old" (Luke 3:23). If this were AD 30, and if Jesus was born 4 BC, then he would actually be 34, which would be stretching it a little (I took heart in the fact that 34 would be much more likely than 35 to be called "about thirty"!) However, if Jesus were actually born roughly BC 1, then suddenly Luke is not at all stretching the bounds of approximation to say that Jesus was "about 30"!

Now it's quite possible that Simmons is trying to cut things just a bit too fine with his chronology (I'm especially skeptical of page 317 and his discussion of Jesus' baptism). Nevertheless, this is a thesis that deserves consideration, and time will tell how other evangelical scholars interact with it. Also, Simmons' article passes the two big tests of original scholarship: good interaction with primary sources and citation of foreign-language sources.

Whether or not to celebrate Christmas is a personal matter that every Christian must deal with At the very least, caution must be taken not to forsake the Infant in the manger for the man in the red suit. The latter, in this day and age, calls us to glitz, glamour, and material possessions (the real Saint Nick is turning over in his grave). The former, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when He calls us, calls us to die. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the old "Saturnalia" argument is historically inaccurate and thus insufficient as an excuse to exchange gifts, remember the poor, and sing "O Holy Night" every December 25th.

Jul 16, 2015

Choosing a textbook for a brand new "General Epistles" class

For a two-week block at the end of September/beginning of October, I have the privilege of teaching BI 429 "Introduction and Theology of the General Epistles" (minus Hebrews). This is the first time ever Baptist College of Ministry has offered the class (it's not even in our official catalog yet), and will be an upper-level class consisting of a mid-sized research paper and some other smaller projects.

I'm immensely excited for various reasons, not least because the class will naturally include 1 Peter. Also, the general epistles are the "generally neglected" portion of the canon (when was the last time you heard a sermon on Jude, 2 Peter, or 2-3 John?) However, until just yesterday I didn't have the time to choose a textbook. Good books covering all the General Epistles are vary rare, and in the end my choices boiled down to two books: Karen Jobes Letters to the Churches or Brandon Crowe's The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption.

While both books are worthy of purchase, and while Crowe has an easy-going, accessible style, I nevertheless had to go with Jobes for a couple reasons. First of all, Jobes' book is a true introduction. Whereas Crowe mostly covers theological themes, Jobes covers that and everything else (this means, however, that Crowe would be good supplementary reading at the undergrad level). Secondly, Jobes offers the reader a better introduction to the scholarly literature out there, which is what I want for my upper-level college students. Also, Jobes' book has pictures! (Any NT textbook is better with pictures! Best example of this is Burge/Cohick/Green's The New Testament in Antiquity).

One other minor note: since he teaches at Westminster, Crowe's Reformed theology does play a major role in his book. This means that it's simultaneously slightly less desirable for a Dispensational classroom but obviously an easy choice for a a Reformed one. Also, I do have to admit that Crowe's writing style is very accessible, even for non-college students, and might make a good choice for a church Bible study (even a non-Reformed Baptist church could benefit from it).

My specialty is first Peter, and I've blogged about it before, but let me quickly mention what I consider the top commentaries on 1 Peter:
1. Confessional:
Karen Jobes, Baker Exegetical--best, period, end of story.
Wayne Grudem, Tyndale--would be my pick for undergrad or a church Bible study on 1 Peter
Douglas Harink, Brazos theological--very provocative and practical!
Ben Witherington, Socio-Rhetorical--Witherington is always a good read for literary and sociological background
2. Broadly academic
Paul Achtemeier, Hermeneia--This is considered by scholarship at large to be the best ever.
John Elliott, Anchor Bible--I prefer Elliott slightly to Achtemeier, partially because I've bought into most of his argument re.: the background of the recipients.
Leonhard Goppelt, Kritisch-exegetischer--This is the foreign-language commentary to own.
Reinhard Feldmeier, Theologischer Handkommentar--A bit more accessible than Goppelt.

Jul 11, 2015

Apologies! Correcting a statistical mistake (footnote 45 of my FilNet article), plus some more thoughts on verbal aspect theory

Of all the peer-reviewed journals that focus on the New Testament, Filologia Neotestamentaria has pride of place for focusing on the technical details of the New Testament, namely Greek studies (grammar, lexicography, the verb tense debate,) and textual criticism. A few years ago I had the privilege of having a paper of mine published in this excellent journal; it wasn't until just a few days ago that I realized I had committed a rather glaring statistical error in a footnote--since it's obviously too late to correct it in print, I shall offer my mea culpa here in the blogosphere.

"The Use of the Aorist Imperative in the Pastoral Epistles," Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 23 (2010), page 83, footnote 45, makes the very odd (and incorrect statement) as follows: "The reader should note that 1 Tim only has a total of 4 aorists, regardless of mood (Accordance search, command line [VERB aorist] <AND> [VERB 2aorist]) as opposed to 203 occurrences of the present tense (command line [VERB present]). If anything, one could almost argue that the present tense is functioning as the background tense rather than the foreground tense." The mistake is in saying "4 aorists."

Now anybody familiar with search syntax can spot my embarrassing mistake. Instead of <AND>, I should have used <OR>. In other words, I ended up looking for only those verses that contained both Aorist and 2nd Aorist!

So my apologies to the editors of FilNet and any readers of my article (all 5 of you! :). This was sloppy.

Fortunately, my main point still holds, and I was not guilty of such sloppiness in the main data on page 81 (since I looked at every single imperative, regardless of tense).

Furthermore, I do believe my point in the footnote is valid, because when I used the <OR> in the command line, I found that present tense, regardless of mood, occurs 370 times in the Pastoral Epistles, roughly twice as many times as the Aorist and 2nd Aorist combined (182), which raises my original question on whether or not the "Aorist" functions as background while the "Present" functions as foreground, since I would think that the "foreground" would lose its "foreground status" by virtue of outnumbering the so-called "background" tense (though one could argue that this is a matter of idiolect of the PE, not general Koine or general NT usage). I do agree that the Aorist is the "default" tense (and I argue as much in this article), but in my opinion that's a different matter from calling it the "background" tense in contrast to "foregrounded" and "frontgrounded" tenses.

My curiosity was piqued, however--the Pastoral Epistles are definitely an anomaly in their ratio of Present to Aorist verbs (2-1). Within the NT as a whole, all Aorists number 11651 (both 1st and 2nd),while present tenses of all moods number 11547--so almost a 1-1 ratio. Likewise, in Josephus, 34,621 Aorists versus 35363 Present tense verbs, almost 1-1 again. Surprisingly, in the LXX, these translators used the Aorist much more, for a ratio of 49,410 to 21,888, so over 2-1 in favor of Aorist verbs!

So what does that tell us? Not sure, actually! But at least it's food for though. I still maintain that the Aorist is the default tense, the tense you use when you're not trying to make a point (building off of Stagg's key article "The Abused Aorist"), so preachers beware! (I.e., the Aorist tense does not in of itself mean "once-for-all" action. It may, if context indicates so, but it does not have to).

The Verbal Aspect debate still continues to rage. Recently Steve Runge launched a challenge against Stanley Porter in one of the newest issues of Novum Testamentum. Various authors continue to put verbal aspect theory to the test in a variety of journals with a variety of results. At this point, what is probably the main factor holding me back from going over to Dr. Porter's side on VAT is an excellent article by Jody A. Barnard, "Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? An Evaluation of Stanley Porter's Proposal with Special Reference to the Gospel of Luke," in Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 19 (2006), available here. For articles that can introduce you to the whole debate, click here and here. The one by Naselli is more readable, but Picirilli offers a better critique and dialogue with the literature out there.

One final note: an error that actually was not my fault! On page 73, footnote 2 of my article, it states, "Except for the statistics in the first parafraph . . ." Now "parafraph" sounds like something you'd order at Starbucks ("I'd like one hot caramel parafraph please!"), but this one was not my fault, and I have the article proofs to prove it! Still, misspelling a word is much less significant than giving the reader faulty statistics, so once again, mea culpa.