Purpose:

The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Jun 20, 2024

A Blog on Biblical Studies Salutes the Best Player in Baseball History (Willie Mays)

This is a blog about the Bible and theology, and I am a professor of Bible and Ancient Languages. However, I am also a die-hard baseball fan, and I wanted to briefly pay tribute to the man who is, in my humble-but-opinionated opinion, the greatest baseball player of all-time, Willie Mays, who just passed away this past Tuesday at age 93.

Any claims that somebody is the "Greatest of All Time" are, of course, fraught with controversy and open to rebuttal. I make no claim to be the final authority on this topic (or, for that matter, to be any authority on baseball matters. I'm a Bible professor, for crying out loud!) Having said that, the case for Mays' supremacy is well-documented (e.g., on mlb.com, Paul Casella, "Willie Mays' Best Stats and Accomplishments"). My own rationale for claiming that Mays is the best ever is simply that he was an extremely great 5-tool player (hitting for contact, hitting for power, speed, defense, and throwing arm), and he reached multiple milestones (e.g., 600 homers, 3,000 hits, 1,909 RBI) where even one would have been a reason for inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

If Babe Ruth had continued pitching at a decent level after his trade to the Yankees, or if Shohei Ohtani is able to pitch and hit at an equally elite level for another 7 years or so without season-ending injury (an unlikely prospect), then either of them could, perhaps, be the GOAT. But for now, I believe Mays stands at the top. (Also, unlike Ruth, Mays pitched in an era and a league where players of all ethnicities competed against each other; i.e., the competition was stiffer).

I'll close out this tribute by quoting the conclusion of Joe Posnanski's excellent book, The Baseball 100

"The only thing Willie Mays could not do on a baseball diamond was stay young forever. But even to the end, he sparked joy. What do you love most about baseball? Mays did that. To watch him play, to read the stories about how he played, to look at his glorious statistics, to hear what people say about him is to be reminded why we love this odd and ancient game in the first place. Yes, Willie Mays has always made kids feel like grown-up and grown-ups feel like kids. In the end, isn't that the whole point of baseball?"

Apr 29, 2024

Some quick thoughts on a biblical theology of Fatherhood

Having now, at the age of 43, become the first-time father of a baby girl, I have a new perspective on life filled with a whole range of different issues and questions! (Like: What will it take to get her to stop crying at 2am? And: How can I teach her to appreciate baseball and coffee?) Significantly, the fatherhood of God is a major theme in Scripture, peaking in the Gospel of John to such a great degree that Westcott could write in his commentary on John 1:18, 

"τοῦ πατρόςof the Father. The choice of this title in place of God (τοῦ θεοῦ) serves to mark the limits of the revelation made through Jesus Christ. Even this was directed to one aspect (so to speak) of the Godhead. The Son made God known not primarily as God, but as the Father. At the same time this title lays the foundation of revelation in the essential relation of the Persons of the Godhead. Comp. 1 John i.2." (The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, reprint of the 1908 edition [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980) 1:29.

Westcott here is not denying that Jesus revealed God the Father as God (note the word "primarily"), as D. A. Waite infamously accused him of doing (in The Theological Heresies of Westcott and Hort as Seein in Their Own Writings). Westcott is focusing on the theological emphasis of John, which at times seems to emphasize God the Father as father even more so than (though not at the exclusion of) His identify as God. Significantly, the Gospel of John uses the word πάτηρ (patēr, "father") 138 times, one more than all three synoptic Gospels combined (at least in the TR), and patēr occurs more often in John than even Theos ("God")!

Now, John is certainly not unique in emphasizing God's role as our father and our role as his children (see, for example, Heb 12:7; 1 Pet 1:17). Nor is this theme unique to the New Testament. Isaiah 63:16, for example, connects God's fatherhood with his role as provider (v. 15) and redeemer (v. 16b). Isaiah 64:8, on the other hand, links God's fatherhood with his role as Creator. Malachi 2:10 similarly links God's fatherhood to his role as Creator, but also uses this as the grounds for a rebuke of the disunity and sinfulness of the people of Israel.

All of that creates a solid foundation for our current understanding of God as Father. Yet going back to the Gospel of John and remembering Westcott's statement, the revelation of God as Father was not complete until the incarnation of the Son. Consequently, the more we study Jesus and his relationship to the Father, the more we understand our relationship to God.  And the more I understand God, the better I will understand how to raise my new daughter.

Mar 13, 2024

A (soon-to-be) commentator's comments on the top commentaries of 2 Peter and Jude.

I am privileged to have written the forthcoming 2 Peter and Jude entries for the Lexham Research Commentary series in Logos (1 Peter has already been published). To date, I only have one peer-reviewed journal article on 2 Peter and one contribution to a Festschrift that deals with 2 Peter, but nothing on Jude, so I most definitely do not qualify as an expert. Nonetheless, my work for Lexham necessitated burying myself in the secondary literature, and consequently I have gotten a feel both for the general quality of the various commentaries as well as how they are perceived by other commentators. So here, for what it's worth, is my opinion (keep in mind this post is written from an evangelical perspective, though I interacted with sources from a wide range of views).

Commentaries on 2 Peter 

(The following is adapted and re-written from my forthcoming LRC. Total commentaries on 2 Peter cited for the LRC: 47, which does not include monographs and theologies. Total sources cited for the 2 Peter LRC: approximately 380).

First of all, Richard Bauckham's Word Biblical Commentary (1983) is still king. This is based not only on the sheer amount of times he is cited by other works, but also the deep respect other commentators hold for him and the influence Bauckham had on them.  Even when a scholar disagrees with Bauckham, they are just as likely to have a word of praise in their disagreement.The takeaway, dear reader, is this: you cannot possibly write a paper on 2 Peter and expect it to be taken seriously if you have not, in fact, checked to see what Dr. Bauckham has to say! It is worth mentioning that a 2nd edition of this commentary in the works, with Darian Lockett as the revisor/editor (last I knew).

Now, after Bauckham, as far as traditional exegetical commentaries, both Peter Davids (PNTC, 2006) and Gene L. Green (BECNT, 2008) offer excellent value, though I believe Davids' 2 Peter commentary is better than his 1 Peter commentary. (Full disclosure: I am a bit biased towards Gene L. Green, because he was the outside reader for my dissertation on 1 Peter). In addition, among non-English scholars, Ceslas Spicq's commentary remains a classic (SB, 1966), in my opinion much better on 2 Peter than 1 Peter! Jörg Frey's contribution is one of the most important German commentaries, at least recently (THZNT, 2015).

Next, I would suggest that Jerome H. Neyrey (AB, 2006), together with G. Green and Davids, offer the best background studies in their commentaries. Neyrey and Andrew M. Mbuvi (NCC, 2015) seem to pay the most attention to ANE social thought, e.g., "honor-and-shame," though Terrance Callan (stand-alone, 2014), Acknowledging the Divine Benefactor: The Second Letter of Peter, is also worth mentioning. Mbuvi's commentary is also one of the most "counter-imperial."

For the layperson wishing for more accessible scholarship, I would highly recommend Michael Green (TNTC, 1987) and D. Edmond Hiebert (stand-alone, 1989). J. Daryl Charles  (2006, EBC 2nd ed.) is also good.

For the sub-genre of "theologically commentary," Catherine Gunsalus González (Belief, 2010) and Ruth Anne Reese (2HC, 2007) are both excellent, with Douglas Harink (BTC, 2009) also worth mentioning. In addition, let the record show that González has written what is in my opinion one of the most quotable commentaries on 2 Peter.

Finally, since a good commentary should also "preach" to the reader some, I would like to mention González, Harink, Douglas J. Moo (NIVApp, 1996), and Dieudonné Tamfu (AfBC, 2018) as being well-suited to practical application. In addition, I commend Moo and Tamfu for both giving a clear evangelistic message to their audiences.

Commentaries on Jude

(Total commentaries on Jude cited for the LRC: 56, which does not include monographs and theologies. Total sources cited for the Jude LRC: approximately 290).

I don't have as much to write regarding commentaries on Jude. Many of the observations made on 2 Peter apply to Jude. For example, Bauckham is still king (WBC, 1983). Again, whether you agree or disagree with him, his opinion is essential to grappling with the text or background of Jude. In addition, his monograph on Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church is a very important work.

I feel both Neyrey and Mbuvi did a much better job with 2 Peter than they did with Jude. I also feel that Watson E. Mills' entry on "Jude" in the Smyth and Helwys series is somewhat better than its 2 Peter counterpart by a different author (SHBC, 2010). As before, Frey remains a key German source. Moo and Tamfu, as with 2 Peter, offer practical commentaries that do not jettison scholarship.

Abbreviations:

2HC: Two Horizons Commentary

AB: Anchor Bible Commentary

AfBC: Africa Bible Commentary 

BECNT: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

BTC: Brazos Theological Commentary

EBC 2nd ed.: Expositor's Bible Commentary, 2nd ed.

LRC: Lexham Research Commentary

NCC: New Covenant Commentary

NIVApp: NIV Application Commentary

PNTC: Pillar New Testament Commentary

SB: Sources Bibliques

SHBC: Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary

THZNT: Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament

TNTC: Tyndale New Testament Commentary

WBC: Word Biblical Commentary

 



Feb 9, 2024

LRC 1 Peter now in Chinese!

Some time ago I had the privilege of writing the 1 Peter volume for the Lexham Research Commentary series. The commentary was a privilege to write and pulls together most of the relevant English scholarship (and just a bit of foreign scholarship) on 1 Peter to show the reader the wide range of interpretive options, including the pros and cons of many positions on a particular text. At the same time, it introduces the reader to the most relevant Petrine literature out there. The commentary has been fairly well-received (notwithstanding a solitary one-star review that based its judgment on one small section of my commentary and rather misrepresented me), and since then I have also completed 2 Peter and Jude for the same series (both due out in March).

My local church (Falls Baptist Church in Menomonee Falls, WI), has a very robust Chinese group of believers that has grown significantly over the last few years. Consequently, I was delighted to learn that my LRC on 1 Peter has now been translated into both traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese, and is now available as a digital resource! I believe the rest of the LRC is being translated, as well. I trust this will be a benefit to our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ (and to the translator[s], whoever you are, thank you for your hard work!).


Nov 22, 2023

Tweny-three things I am grateful for in 2023!

 1. I am born again by the blood of Jesus Christ, and belong to Him forever.

2. I married the wonderful Franziska Ritschel in June :)

3–15. I married the wonderful Franziska Ritschel :)

16. Did I mention that I got married to my wonderful wife Franziska?

17. We are expecting a baby girl, due in April!

18. My parents, my mother-in-law Petra, and my friends, especially those who were my groomsmen at my wedding.

19. I belong to a good church with good people and good leadership.

20. I get to teach all sorts of cool stuff at a good Bible college and seminary.

21. The Texas Rangers won the World Series! (I have waited 30 years for this, ever since I became a fan when my parents and I returned home on furlough from Japan in 1993).

22. Two peer-reviewed academic articles published this past Spring in solid journals: one in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism on 2 Peter 2:15, and one in Themelios on David's census.

23. Coffee (I really love coffee) 

Nov 10, 2023

Sometimes God cares about sports

Note: All comments are moderated before posting. It is the prerogative of this author to not post comments if he does not wish to. 

This post will be a bit out of the mainstream, in a sense, but one that is meant to be taken seriously. I am an independent Baptist, a fundamentalist (more emphasis on "fun" and less on "mental"), but somebody who does not consider himself to be on the front-lines of the "culture wars," e.g., by pushing for boycotts of Target or whatever.

Also, I should point out that what I'm suggesting in all seriousness has already been satirized by Babylon Bee, though in all fairness I was already suggesting this back on October 2nd while the Rangers were a long-shot to win it all (and I'm not criticizing the Bee, since they tend to satirize Christian trends that need to be satirized, like misapplying Philippians 4:13!)

On October 2nd, I published a post entitled "A New Testament professor cheers for the Texas Rangers." Now that the Rangers have won the World Series for the first time in history (an event which I have been waiting for 30 years, ever since I became a fan as a teenager in 1993), I am writing this follow-up post.

In 2023, the Texas Rangers were the only team to not host a "Pride Night" (see this Associated Press post here). Although generally I would be the last person to suggest that God intervenes in sports, nonetheless I believe this is significant.

Now, I will reiterate what I said in the October 2nd post. God loves everybody, including those in the LGBTQ community, and Jesus died to save everybody. Yet God created two genders, and marriage is intended to be the only legitimate expression of sexuality: man and woman, in a committed relationship for as long as both of them are still alive. This is anchored first and foremost in God's creative act (Genesis 1:27) and the words of Jesus about the origins and intended permanence of marriage (Mark 10:5–9, answering a question about divorce), though Scripture abounds with many other passages on this topic (e.g., Romans 1:24–27). Anything that deviates from God's intended norm for sexuality is a sin (this includes, of course, heterosexual lust and pornography, not just homosexuality). So for Christians that take God's Word seriously, there can be no doubt about the issue.

Now for another preliminary theological note. I do not believe that God foreordains every single invent that happens, though I believe He foreknows all things (for a lexical  argument about prognōsis and proginōskō as not meaning foreordination, see my revised dissertation, published by Wipf & Stock). Nonetheless, I do believe that God in His sovereignty reserves the right to do whatever He wishes (consistent with His character), including intervening in history. Consequently, I feel that Christians must acknowledge the possibility that God can answer prayers about even relatively insignificant matters such as sporting events, if it is in accordance with His will. I believe He has done so at least once before in history, the famous story of Eric Liddell withdrawing from the 100-meter dash at the 1924 Paris Olympics due to a matter of conscience, and going on to win the gold and set a new world record in the 400-meter dash.

There are two points of theological tension here. Point one is that, as much as many of us (including myself) enjoy professional sports, especially baseball, professional sports are ultimately irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and oftentimes a hindrance to a character development, whether it be the player or those cheering for him. Sports can even become an idol that can threaten to overshadow more important things in life. After all, how many die-hard sports fans have stuck with their team for 30+ years "for better or for worse," and yet divorced their wives? 

Yet the second point is that, as a general principle, God can indeed react positively to both individuals and even large-scale entities (e.g., nations) that do right (or abstain from doing wrong), even when lacking a specific covenant with Him. God, by His very nature, has a propensity to bless the good and punish the evil. Although this aspect of His character will not be universally fulfilled until all things on earth are put under permanent subjection to Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:24–28), nonetheless there is a principle that remains true until that point, that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).

So, did God directly determine or influence in some way the outcome of the 2023 World Series? (Keep in mind I am speaking as somebody who is not a Calvinist, for whom the answer might be a bit more straightforward!). Speaking as somebody who directly prayed for that result, on the basis of the fact that the Rangers in 2023 did not host a "Pride Night" like all other MLB teams, I have to say that yes, I believe He did, even while acknowledging my own biases towards the Rangers.

Now, I could be wrong, of course, and even if I were right this does not diminish the accomplishments of the Rangers, who throughly earned their victories. Yet there are always certain elements (like injuries, weather, crowd noise, etc.) that are out of the control of a particular team, and obviously God can providentially guide matters in such a way that human effort is included in the equation, not abrogated (though surely Ecclesiastes 9:11 is relevant here).

Nor am I suggesting for an instance that the Rangers were somehow a more "godly" team than any of the others. Far from it, I'm sure! 

The point is simply that as a corporate entity in 2023 the Texas Rangers abstained from celebrating a lifestyle choice that displeases God, they were the only MLB team to so abstain, and thus I believe it is no coincidence that they attained their first World Series victory in the history of their existence this same year.

Oct 5, 2023

Guest post: Devon Swanson reviews The Local Church: God's Plan for Planet Earth (by Jim Gent)

 As I (Paul Himes) continue to cheer for my beloved Texas Rangers in the MLB post-season, I am posting here a book review by my former research assistant Devon Swanson. The book is The Local Church: God's Plan for Planet Earth by Jim Gent of Garden State Baptist Church (North Fort Myers, FL: Faithful Life, 2012). We had received a free copy of this book a few years ago, and I figured it would be a good exercise for my research assistant to craft a book review. The following is Devon's work, with some editorial adjustments by me.

Devon Swanson’s review of THE LOCAL CHURCH: GOD’S PLAN FOR PLANET EARTH, by Jim Gent.

Published in 2012 by Faithful Life Publishers|112 pages


Introduction

Jim Gent is currently the senior pastor at Garden State Baptist Church in Old Bridge, NJ. He has a long history of both planting and developing churches, and his writings adequately reflect his experience. Besides The Local Church: God’s Plan for Planet Earth, Gent has also written another book entitled The Pilgrim and the Lamb. Even at a glance, these books radiate the author’s conviction and sincerity in dealing with key issues he considers important. In the case of The Local Church, Gent addresses the role of the church in completing God’s program in the world. As a pastor, he is a fitting spokesman for this topic. Gent describes the goal of his book as follows: “To assist believers in getting a Biblical view of the church by stepping aside and letting the Bible speak” (pg. vii).

Before the start of Chapter 1, Gent shares a helpful disclaimer in his opening introduction. He begins by describing himself as a “busy pastor” who makes no claims for “literary excellence.” Additionally, he assures the reader that his book is not “a complex theological treatise” nor is it “exhaustive” in its material (pg. vii). As it seems, Gent tries to distance himself as much as possible from being perceived as a scholar or any kind of leading authority on the local church. This honest introduction will prove to be invaluable as the remainder of the book is reviewed.

As far as the audience for The Local Church, Gent is very clear regarding whom he intends to reach. This is especially evident as he lists his various intentions for the book: to “help new converts get headed in the right direction, stimulate believers to realize the primacy of the church, foster Biblical thinking among Christian High School and Bible College students..., and incite Bible-teaching and Bible-preaching about ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’” (pg. vii). Gent does well here in identifying the scope of his book as being primarily a guide and not an academic resource. While his experience as a pastor gives him ample qualification to exegete and exhort, his distance from academia as a whole impedes his work from becoming a standard textbook on the subject of ecclesiology. The message that Gent’s book presents becomes much more powerful as it is studied in its proper context.

Content

The Local Church is 112 pages long with 16 chapters divided into 3 parts. Chapters 1–11 form Part I, which is entitled “Characteristics.” This section aims to describe what a biblical, local church should look like. Chapters in this section have titles such as “New Testament Church Members Were Saved” (ch. 1), “New Testament Church Members Had Spiritual Pastors and Supportive Deacons” (ch. 8), and “New Testament Church Members Were Persecuted” (ch. 11). Chapters 12–13 make up Part II, which is entitled “Importance.” This section addresses the significance of the church in God’s program. The names of the 2 chapters are “The Primacy of the Local Church” (ch. 12) and “The Local Church: God’s Only Program for Planet Earth” (ch. 13). Part III includes Chapters 14–16 and is entitled “Obligations.” These pages deal with a few of the church’s responsibilities that belong to each of its members. The titles of these 3 chapters are “New Testament Church Members Were Identified” (ch. 14), “New Testament Church Members Were Faithful” (ch. 15), and “New Testament Church Members Were Generous” (ch. 16). Gent addresses a vast array of themes in an already broad topic. As a result, his time spent on each one is considerably brief. Though some deeper thoughts exist throughout the study, The Local Church is predominantly a basic overview of the role of the church as seen in the Bible.

Evaluation

If the entirety of this review dealt only with whether or not the author fulfilled his book’s purpose, the answer would be a simple “yes.” As intended, Gent created a work that gives believers focused insight on the biblical teachings surrounding the church. It strongly points to the primacy of the church and is inspirational to both students and preachers alike. Even unbelievers can benefit from this book by reading the Gospel message found in the first chapter and learning how salvation is a requirement for church membership. Gent effectively achieves the desired goals of his book by biblically presenting the church in an inspiring light to both new and seasoned believers.

That being said, The Local Church is not without its share of mistakes. Although Gent’s disclaimer in the book’s introduction both forewarned and pardoned many of his technical oversights, a deeper inspection reveals there may be some more serious flaws. Before addressing these, however, this review will first look at the positive attributions and major successes of the book and also give examples of how the author excelled in his objectives.

Gent’s first success is his skill at connecting with his audience through his personable introduction and engaging illustrations. Generally, any author who seeks to inspire or compel his readers will benefit most by being relatable to them. In this same way, Gent effectively presents his book as being one that has value for everyone. He demonstrates this from the beginning in his personal bio found in the book’s introduction. Here, he describes himself as “a busy pastor wearing many hats” and as an “active preacher.” He also stresses that his book is written specifically “for the everyday average Christian” (pg. vii). Gent makes a point of putting himself on the level of his audience. His assurances will undoubtedly be a relief to any seeking to avoid complex, scholarly treatises. 

Another way in which Gent connects with his audience is by using illustrations to interest, inspire, and identify with his readers. In numerous instances throughout The Local Church, a discussion is briefly suspended in order to provide a relative example of the subject matter at hand. Gent uses a large variety of illustrations throughout his book, which all successfully support his main point. In Chapter 1, the historical story of George Wilson rejecting a pardon illustrates the necessity of accepting Christ’s forgiveness (pgs. 3–4). In Chapter 2, the biblical stories of Cornelius, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Philippian jailor illustrate the pattern of baptism following salvation (pg. 9). In Chapter 6, a current events story detailing the ‘homosexual tendencies’ of an Episcopalian priest illustrates the depravity of man in today’s society (pg. 28). And in Chapter 9, a personal story by the author of one of his acquaintances leading several of his coworkers to the Lord illustrates the significant responsibility that every believer has to reach the lost around him (pg. 56). These are just a few of the many analogies that the author expertly employed to reach his target audience.

Gent’s second success lies in the biblical support that reinforces each of his passionate beliefs.  From beginning to end, The Local Church is infused with the conviction of its author. As we shall see, Gent displays a significant measure of dogmatism that clearly shows his confidence in his own biblical interpretations. Although this does, at times, lead him to unfounded prejudices, Gent’s zeal, when based in Scripture, predominantly aids him in presenting truth. His determination to instruct with a biblical foundation may well be his most notable accomplishment in this book.

Examples of scriptural support are present in every chapter of The Local Church. One such example appears in Chapter 2 in a discussion on baptism. Here, Gent provides several occasions in which believers were clearly baptized after their salvation (pg. 8). These include the 3,000 Christians baptized at Pentecost (Acts 2:41), the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by the side of the road (Acts 8:36–38), and Cornelius, along with many Gentiles, baptized after hearing Peter’s presentation of the gospel (Acts 10:47). 

Another example of strong biblical support in The Local Church is one in which Gent uses multiple references of Scripture to reinforce his own bold statements. This is found on page 46, where he says, “The Bible does not teach that witnessing for Christ is a gift that is possessed by only a few choice people. The Bible never teaches that only those who have the gift to witness are to witness. Witnessing is not a gift; it is a command.” He continues, “Anyone who indicates that only a select few are to witness is simply not acquainted with the plain teaching of God’s Word.” Though this view may be controversial to some, Gent is quick to cite the source of his conclusions by referencing Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15; and 2 Corinthians 5:20. This pattern of prioritizing Scripture is exactly what the reader may expect to find throughout this book.

Gent’s third success is the source of his book’s true value. This is the culmination of his main points into practical applications for the readers. Considering that part of the goal of The Local Church is to “help” and “stimulate” its audience, application at some level is a necessity. Gent reveals his true intentions for writing by consistently providing ways in which each discussion can be beneficial for all believers. He does this in a number of ways—sometimes with a warning, sometimes with a challenge, sometimes with a question, and sometimes with a convicting illustration.

One example of application is located on page 21. Here, Gent issues a warning concerning the impurity of the modern world. He says, “If there was ever a day in which we need to be on guard and alert in order that we will not have permissive attitudes concerning the dirty, profane, depraved, salacious, and shameless: television programs, music, magazines, movies, and dress styles, that encourage and promote unbiblical behavior, IT IS TODAY!” 

A second form of application is presented as a general challenge to believers. This is found on page 61 and comes in the midst of a discussion on being a missionary-minded Christian. Gent writes, “Involvement in getting the Gospel out and establishing churches at home and abroad is God’s will for all believers and all churches.” 

Another application is in the form of a question. Page 101 provides a good example of this. Here, Gent focuses on how the unfaithfulness of parents directly affects their kids. He asks, “When we are unfaithful, what message are we sending to our children? The message that the Lord Jesus Christ, the church, the things of God, the work of the Lord, are really not important comes through loud and clear!” 

One final form of application that Gent utilizes is convicting illustrations. As this review has noted, these are a major tool that is used throughout Gent’s book to directly impact his audience. A fitting example of this is found on page 111. It reads, “IMAGINE IF GOD HAD BEEN LIKE SO MANY OF US AND HOARDED HIS WEALTH by keeping His Son in Glory! We would have all gone to hell!” (emphasis in the original) In summary, The Local Church proves itself to be much more than a conglomeration of proof texts for its author’s personal beliefs. Emphasized throughout its pages is the practicality of the Bible and the purpose it holds in each believer’s life.

Overall, Gent successfully pairs Scripture with his own specific burdens to present a convicting progression of ecclesiological truth. His book reveals his concern for the misunderstanding and neglect of the local church seen readily among believers today. As a whole, Gent succeeds in communicating his message and faithfully interpreting and applying the Scriptures to his audience. With its many triumphs, it’s easy to see how The Local Church will be a helpful guide in navigating biblical teachings on the church. For the sake of this review, however, a few of the book’s more significant shortcomings should also be noted. Though not adverse enough to negate its usefulness, the weaknesses of The Local Church definitely warrant mentioning. 

Three major concerns stand out in reading this book. First, Gent occasionally uses overgeneralization, assumptions, and sometimes even untrue statements within his arguments. Although his intentions are always in the best interest of the reader, his methods are not always quite as sound. Most of these errors seen throughout the book are fairly harmless and can easily be forgotten. Others, however, are much more significant and deter greatly from clear biblical teaching.

On page 13, Gent makes a claim that is ideal, but simply untrue. He says, “It is difficult to Biblically and systematically observe the Lord’s Supper and remain in a backslidden condition. The Lord’s Supper will help any Christian be a better Christian.” Though this may be the result for some, it is not realistic to say every believer that has ever taken the Lord’s Supper has done so with a heart that lends itself towards growth, and if Gent were correct, then one wonders whether or not 1 Corinthians 11:28 is superfluous. Page 30 provides another unrealistic claim. Here, Gent writes, “The most likely place to find a demon is behind a pulpit!” Although this may get the attention of the readers, it is in the very least an unverifiable statement, entirely impossible to prove. While Gent’s concern to combat false doctrine is commendable, such statements are more than likely to cause some believers to look with suspicion on their own born-again pastors who may not cross every theology “t” or dot every theological “i” just as they would like.

Another interesting example comes in the form of a misleading question. On page 94, Gent asks, “Do we ever learn about any converts in the book of Acts who did not become identified with a local church?” It’s very clear from the context that Gent meant this to be a rhetorical question with the assumed answer of “no.” However, in Acts chapter 8, the Ethiopian eunuch clearly believes the gospel without any further reference to him joining a church. Another similar example is found on page 99. Here, Gent passionately writes, “There are many people (some well known and popular) who actually call themselves Christians and seldom attend church!” It’s easy to see here how that Gent was attempting to emphasize the shame of a Christian not attending services, but his statement seems to imply that we should automatically doubt such a person’s claim to be a Christian. However, the Bible clearly teaches that the requisites for being a Christian have nothing to do with works, including one’s faithfulness to church (Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5). Therefore, a true believer may very well call themselves a “Christian” without faithfully attending a local church (however shameful that may be). Gent adds to this idea on page 99 when he asks, “Is it a sin if I do not faithfully attend church every time the church door is open?...Yes, it is a sin!” Once again, this is another claim that supersedes the laws of Scripture, specifically his statement “every time the church door is open.” Although the Bible does challenge believers to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25), nowhere do the Scriptures specify which services or how many services are required.

One final example of wayward statements in The Local Church is one which is referenced more than once in the book and is likely the most concerning of them all. The first mention is found in the opening introduction where Gent states that God “has no other plan or program to carry on His work in this world apart from His church” (pg. vii). He continues this thought on page 84, where he says, “The local church was God’s only unit on earth for propagating the faith and the disciples were content to work only within that context. Certainly, God has a wonderful plan and program for the family; He also has a definite program for civil government; however, He has no other plan or program to carry on His work in this world apart from His church.” Gent is insistent that the church is God’s only plan in reaching the world. He fails, however, to mention God’s original plan (Isaiah 49:6) and future plan (Revelation 7) for His people Israel. Whether Gent forgot, minimized, or rejected the role of Israel in God’s soteriological program, he missed a very significant piece of biblical history and prophecy. Although, it may be inferred from portions of Gent’s writings that he favors replacement theology, that assumption cannot be confirmed from this book alone.

The second major concern worth mentioning is Gent’s occasional tendency to focus more on his personal beliefs rather than on what the Bible actually says. Much of The Local Church is filled with the author’s passion for communicating truth. This is both commendable and convicting. However, when this fervor centers more around his own personal convictions rather than his discovery of definite truths, then the book begins to err from its intentions.

A significant example comes from pages 85–88. This section of the book is entitled, “Christian Organizations And Parachurch Groups of Human Origin.” In these conviction-filled paragraphs, Gent makes his position on these groups very clear. While elaborating on the dangers of operating apart from the church, the author provides several Scripture references supporting his position. However, Gent appears to deviate at times and become so preoccupied with the vulnerabilities of parachurch organizations that he enters into assumptions and accusations that are unfounded, unnecessary, or simply untrue.

On page 86, Gent writes, “Not a few Christian organizations are parasitic, because they encourage people to use their God-given gifts in an unscriptural place. According to Ephesians 4, God gives gifts to His church to be used for its edification.” This strong accusation is an unfortunate limitation that goes beyond Scripture. God never limits His gifts to be used only in the local church. Even in Ephesians 4, just because believers are encouraged to use their gifts in the church does not mean that they are restricted elsewhere. Also on page 86, Gent uses sarcasm to jab at parachurch groups. He writes, “According to Matthew 28:19, 20, the first thing we are to tell a convert is to get in a sound church and be baptized. Maybe Matthew 28:19, 20 and the book of Acts are no longer in the Bible, or at least, not in the Bible of some of our parachurch friends.” Even if Gent’s point contains truth, his negative method of delivery was neither helpful nor necessary.

 Gent continues his criticism of Christian organizations on page 87. Here, he writes, “In regards to finances, man-made alternatives to the local church certainly are parasitic! It takes enormous, vast, exorbitant sums of money to keep these organizations going!...Think of all the money that is not being used in a Biblical way.” This is another example of Gent stepping beyond the Bible and ultimately declaring his own truth. First, his claim of all parachurch organizations being “parasitic” in their finances is surely unfounded. The somewhat exaggerated description of their cost fails to negate the impact that these ministries have on millions of people. Christian camps and addiction ministries are a couple examples of successful outreaches. Of course, there certainly can be significant cost in operating these, but the reward in seeing people saved and lives changed should definitely outweigh any financial burden. To say that this money is being used in an unbiblical way is to limit God’s working in those organizations and cheapen the eternal difference being made. Although Gent proves himself to be a strict adherer to the Scriptures throughout his book, his proclivity towards personal bias in this section greatly weakens the message.

One final concern from Gent’s book is undoubtedly the least significant of the three. This is in regard to the grammatical errors, typos, and stylistic peculiarities of the writing itself. The author’s disclaimer in the introduction of the book that “No claim is made for literary excellence” further minimizes the gravity of this point (pg. vii). Nevertheless, a quick evaluation of the work’s literary level may help potential readers determine the best setting for the book.

As has been mentioned, Gent writes with incredible passion and intensity, especially when discussing the issues he considers most important. Subsequently, readers should expect to find bold text and uppercase sentences used liberally throughout the book. While these are helpful techniques in emphasizing specific points, the extent they are used in The Local Church may become a distraction to some. 

Another possible distraction is the numerous pages of Scripture that accompany certain of Gent’s points. In a few different sections of the book, Bible verses fill several succeeding pages as they act in support of a previously stated idea. In Chapter 13, three pages of Scripture follow just two sentences at its opening (pgs. 81–83). In Chapter 11, only a single heading at the very beginning proceeds eight pages of verses (pgs. 63–70)! Half a page of text at the end of the chapter provides its only original content. Chapter 4 is similar with the author contributing only seven sentences of his own material amidst four pages of Bible references (pgs. 15–18). While Scripture is necessary in confirming truth, perhaps fewer references or abbreviated examples would better aid the flow and thought progression of Gent’s book. Readers are, after all, capable of looking up Bible verses on their own.

A few other instances of stylistic or grammatical issues include redundant reasons to leave the liberal church (examples 1, 7, 8, 11 on pgs. 23–31), the obscure sentence “The Word is clear; it wasn’t abnormal” (pg. 70), and a double negative in the phrase “Not a few, never take a clear stand...” (pg. 86). Once again, in the grand scheme of this book, these mistakes and ambiguities remove very little from the work’s overall value. However, the level of writing will likely have an impact on where and how this book may be used as a guide to ecclesiology.

Conclusion

In summary, The Local Church succeeds in its mission to clearly distinguish and promote the biblical teachings on the church. Gent’s writing is both convicting and inspiring, while predominantly focused on the words of Scripture and not personal bias. Though in places points are weakened by a lack of thoroughness or understanding by the author, no errors endanger the powerful message of this book. 

As the author intended, The Local Church would best serve as an individual’s exegetical guide to a scriptural understanding of the church. Since it is neither comprehensive nor scholastically designed, this book would likely not be a good fit as a college textbook. Whatever its use, however, readers are sure to benefit from the author’s sincere burden and careful biblical study. In a day where the church is constantly under attack and false teachers abound, The Local Church is a timely addition to the fight for truth.



Oct 2, 2023

A New Testament professor cheers for the Texas Rangers

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I am ecstatic that my beloved Texas Rangers are in the MLB playoffs despite all odds and an extreme number of injuries. I grew up in Japan, in an environment that cherished baseball, and when I was six years old a pastor from Texas sent my parents a gift box from his church that included a team set of Texas Rangers baseball cards from 1985 (I remember Buddy Bell was shortstop then). When my parents and I returned home to America for furlough in 1993, I immediately latched on to the Texas Rangers as my team, despite never having lived in Texas (this was Nolan Ryan's last year). The two highlights of my fandom were in 1994 when, at a Rangers-Tigers game in Detroit, the great Juan Gonzalez autographed his 1990 rookie card for me, and October 2010, when the Rangers won the ALCS for the first time. The low point of my fandom was David Freese's walk-off homerun in the 2011 Word Series (with all due respect to all you Cardinals' fans out there!).



Now for a point of a more serious nature. In all honesty, this is the first time in my life that I have felt justified in actually praying for a particular sports team to win. The Texas Rangers are, apparently, the last team to not capitulate by celebrating Gay Pride month. To be clear, God loves everybody, including those of the LGBTQ persuasion, and Jesus died to save everybody. Yet God created two genders, and marriage is intended to be the only legitimate expression of sexuality: man and woman, in a committed relationship for as long as both of them are still alive. This is anchored first and foremost in God's creative act (Genesis 1:27) and the words of Jesus about the origins and intended permanence of marriage (Mark 10:5–9, answering a question about divorce), though many other scriptural passages abound on this topic. Anything that deviates from God's intended norm for sexuality is a sin (such sin, of course, includes heterosexual lust and pornography, not just homosexuality). So for Christians that take God's Word seriously, there can be no doubt about the issue.

Now, does God care about sports? Well, perhaps sometimes (exhibit A: Eric Liddell). I am claiming no prophetic word about how far the Rangers will go in the postseason. All I know is that sin grieves God, and that not capitulating to an idealogical worldview steeped in a sinful anthropology is a good thing, and that God said, "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30). Consequently, I am praying for the Texas Rangers, and I can do so with a clean conscious that I am not bringing a superfluous matter to my heavenly Father.  Whatever He wants to allow or not allow for the MLB playoffs is His business, but at least I know that my request has been heard.

Sep 12, 2023

In praise of the more "literal" translation style

I get it, I get it--the term "literal" has been overused, misunderstood, and often abused. No translation is perfectly "literal," not even the King James (as demonstrated by how the translators translated mē genoito in Paul's letters). I am not a novice here on Bible translation. I grew up speaking Japanese as a second language, I have formally studied eight languages to some degree, and I have a peer-reviewed article published in The Bible Translator. Plus I have been a consultant on a Bible translation project into Japanese. So before your roll your eyes and say, "Here we go again, another NIV-bashing hyper-fundamentalist wanna-be expert who thinks a daghesh lene is a type of Middle Eastern pastry . . ." well, please hear me out.

When we say "literal" in regards to translation in general (not just Bible translation), there is a spectrum of correspondence in structural form and lexical choice that we are referring to. For example, take the Japanese proverb Saru mo ki kara ochiru. A coherently literal (or "formally equivalent") translation would be something like, "Even a monkey falls from a tree." A more incoherent literal translation would be something like, "A monkey, even that, from a tree will fall," which mimics the Japanese sentence structure but loses so much in terms of smoothness that it stops being useful. And even that last example is not as literal as one could get, since in Japanese the preposition (kara, "from") actually follows the noun (ki, "tree").

Conversely, way on the other side of the spectrum, a functionally equivalent translation (previously known as a "dynamic equivalent" translation) could in theory be content with "Even an expert fails at something." This gets across the meaning of the Japanese proverb quite nicely, though obviously it looses the vivid imagery.

Now for a biblical example. When the Gospel of John has apekrithē Iēsous kai eipen autō (John 3:3), a formally equivalent (i.e., "more literal") translation would have "Jesus answered and said unto him" (KJV) or "Jesus answered and said to him" (LSB). A functional equivalent translation will have "Jesus replied" (NIV). Even a generally more literal translation like the ESV has "Jesus answered him." Obviously nothing gets lost theologically; i.e., we are not the poorer in regards to doctrine itself. But we do loose something, as I shall argue.

To be clear, functionally equivalent translations such as the NIV are not evil. I reject wholeheartedly KJV-only attempts to deny that other translations are the Word of God, and the KJV translators are on my side; read "From the Translators to the Reader," the section entitled "An answer to the imputations of our adversaries" (you can read it for yourself with the above link). In fact, I will dogmatically assert, on the basis of the words of the brilliant KJV translators themselves, that hyper-KJV-onlyism is incompatible with the views of the KJV translators, since they declare, "Now to the latter we answer, that we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest [i.e., "inferior in rank or status"] of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King's speech which he uttereth in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King's speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, every where" (emphasis added).

Now, having said all that, a translation that strives for formal equivalency, at a reasonable level, is a superior translation, in my opinion. Besides arguments for avoiding ambiguity and letting the reader determine the probable meaning of a difficult phrase for themselves (which applies to parts of a translation but not all of it), I would like to bring out two points.

First, a formally equivalent translation is somewhat more likely to be working with the assumption that every single word in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic was supernaturally inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now, to be fair, a lot of those who prefer the NIV or other functional equivalent translations agree with this point and can still defend a functionally equivalent translation as expressing the intent of the Holy Spirit. However, those on the functionally equivalent side are also less likely to agree with this point, as evidenced by the recent dialogue in Themelios between Bill Mounce and Dane Ortlund. Mounce, who clearly believes in the supernatural inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, nonetheless states that "The authors write, and God ensures that what they write is not only true but that it is what he wanted to communicate. But that does not require me to believe that God controlled every word choice that was made. If that were the case, then we must all abandon any sense of mystery and accept the dictation theory of inspiration for all biblical texts. . . . To say that God chose every word, in essence imitating the author's style, removes all mystery; . . ." ("Do Formal Equivalent Translations Reflect a Higher View of Plenary, Verbal Inspiration?" Themelios 44, no. 3 [2019] pages 480–1) This is not the place to respond to Mounce, whom I respect (and Ortlaud has already provided a solid response: "On Words, Meaning, Inspiration, and Translation: A Brief Response to Bill Mounce," Themelios 45, no. 1 [2020]; I require all my Greek students to read Olrtlund's article). I will say that I think Mounce creates something of an "either-or" fallacy with the idea that either one eliminates "every word" from our view of inspiration or one becomes a dictationist, since surely God in His providence can guide the author, according to his own style, to nonetheless produce exactly the specific word that God wanted (and surely this would maintain the very "mystery" that Mounce suggests we must not lose!). But that's another discussion for another time.

Also, we acknowledge Mounce's point that no translation can or does translate every single word that exists in the Greek, etc. (not even the King James). Again, we are talking about degrees of formal equivalency, not absolutes. When it comes to Bible translation, it is generally not "light vs. darkness," as if the "literal" is always pure good, while the "less literal" is pure evil. Sometimes a less literal translation can actually have some solid theological preaching points that is lacking in a more literal translation. I am thinking here of the NLT in Malachi 2:16. I'm not a fan of the NLT overall, but I admire them for their bold stand in this verse against divorce!

Second, in light of the first point, "choice implies meaning," a well-known axiom repeated by specialists in discourse analysis. If an author has a choice between two words that usually mean the same thing, and he choices one over the other, there may be a reason for that choice that goes beyond just the meanings of the two words in isolation. There may be something being attempted by the author that is not about the ideas behind the statement so much as the effect the statement is meant to create, an effect that goes beyond what can be determined merely by looking at the meanings of the words. Discourse analysts call this "pragmatic effect," and Steven E. Runge gives the following example: "Imagine that my wife asked me how our kids behaved while she was out. If I began my answer with 'Your children . . .,' it would have a specific pragmatic effect, based on the context. . . . . Calling them my kids or the kids is the expected norm. When I depart from this norm, a specific pragmatic effect of 'distancing' is achieved, even though what I said was completely truthful" (Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 7–8).

Applied to Scripture, I would suggest that the specific choice of words can have an affect beyond simply the meanings of the words in isolation. In other words, the sum is not equal to the total of all the parts. The potential exists, then, that a less formally equivalent translation can inadvertently miss the triggering of a pragmatic effect, even if it faithfully conveys the meaning behind the words themselves.

Ortland, in his dialogue with Mounce, gives an excellent example of how this could be the case. In Acts 11:22, more literal translations render ēkousthē de ho logos eis ta ōta tēs ekklēsias tēs ousēs en Ierousalēm as something like "Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem" (KJV) or "The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem" (ESV) whereas a more functionally equivalent translation would translate this as something like "News of this reached the church in Jerusalem" (NIV, which is actually a bit more literal then the NLT, "When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened . . ."). Now, the NIV (and the NLT, for that matter) gets the point across, so nothing is lost from the story. Accurate information is still transmitted. Yet as Ortlund points out, there is a potential for an intra-textual and inter-textual pragmatic effect here that may be missed. What if Luke intended us to remember the other places that the specific word "ear" is used in Acts (7:51, 57; 28:26-27, citing Isaiah 6:9–10), since "The other four are not merely bland references to physical ears but spiritually and theologically loaded uses" (Ortland, page 102). In other words, is it possible the Holy Spirit intended a pragmatic effect (the reader connecting the dots to those other passages in Acts, plus Isaiah), an effect that could only be achieved by translating a specific word consistently in a certain way? (The point, as Ortland states, is not whether or not this is the correct understanding of why Luke used ōta, "ear," in 11:22; the point is that it's a possibility that must be considered; also, as the KJV translators themselves noted, words should not be translated consistently the same way all throughout the Bible; that's not the point. The point is that sometimes they should because their may be an intended intra- or inter-textual link).

Now, back to the more difficult example of John 3:3. Granted, "Jesus answered and said" is redundant and a bit awkward in English. Yet John, when writing this Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had a choice. He could have just said "Jesus answered" and left it at that (as in John 3:5). Yet since "choice implies meaning," there is some reason John uses this pattern frequently. We may not know what it is, and it almost certainly does not have the potential to convey the level of significance that Luke's use of "ears" in Acts does. John may have written that way for purely aesthetic reasons (he liked the sound of the pattern, perhaps?). Nonetheless, it is still part of the inspired authorial style, it possesses some degree of significance (if, indeed, every single word is inspired), and so should be retained if it can be done without seriously compromising the coherence of the sentence when translated into the target language.

A counter-argument would be that readability and/or smoothness in the target language should trump the form and structure of the originals, and to a certain degree that is true. Not even the King James perfectly imitates the word order of the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. So what I (and others) argue for regarding a more literal style is not some sort of bizarre hyper-wooden translation that makes no coherent sense in English. What we are arguing, however, is that reflecting authorial style and deliberate lexical choice, when legitimate choices existed, justifies at least a little bit of awkwardness in the English (or other languages). That's a discussion that could span hundreds of pages, however.

In conclusion, words often convey more than what is reflected in their semantic range. Specific words in specific contexts can produce effects, trigger allusions, and even create emotions that go beyond the meaning of the word itself. This means that specific words, not just the ideas they and their synonyms reflect, matter. As an aside, this does not rule out the possibility that sometimes a literal translation could potentially eliminate an intended pragmatic effect, via the messiness that involves transferring words and phrases from one language to another; nonetheless, I believe the basic point stands.

Jul 29, 2023

The New ICC on 1 Peter by Williams and Horrell: Positive Initial Impressions

First Peter is no longer the "Exegetical Stepchild" that John H. Elliott once labeled it. The last decade has produced a plethora of monographs and commentaries dealing with this epistle, including but not limited to the Ruth Anne Reese's New Cambridge Bible Commentary, Craig Keener's stand-alone commentary for Baker Academic, Dennis Edwards' Story of God Bible Commentary, my own Lexham Research Commentary, and Catherine Gunsalus González's Belief theological commentary. In addition, Baker just put out Karen Jobes' 2nd edition of her Baker Exegetical Commentary, which remains (in my humble-but-opinionated-opinion) the commentary of choice for any minister's library.

This past year also saw the publication of the new, massive, 2-volume International Critical Commentary Travis B. Williams and David G. Horrell (T&T Clark). This replaces the previous ICC on 1 Peter by Charles Biggs, a volume which also contained 2 Peter and Jude (in my opinion, Biggs' commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude were better than his commentary on 1 Peter).

I intend here to give a few positive initial impressions of Williams and Horrell's epic tome ("epic" in the sense of "It's got 800+ pages per volume!!"). First, a couple caveats:

1. Notwithstanding the immense value to be had from this ICC (despite its hefty price tag), Jobes' commentary still remains the best for pastoral work, and should be the first one to be purchased by any seminarian or minister seeking to preach on or develop a Bible study on the topic (for second place, I would suggest Wayne Grudem [Tyndale], Reese, or perhaps Keener for the wealth of his background material). For my reflections here, I am dealing with the value of this ICC for academic study.

2. I am a bit biased towards this commentary, because I have enjoyed a cordial correspondence with Dr. Williams regarding 1 and 2 Peter and NT scholarship in general, and also because their commentary cites my work a number of times (not always in agreement, but always fairly). It is worth noting that Williams studied under Horrell at the University of Exeter, and in fact it seems to me that Horrell has been mentoring a relatively high number of Petrine scholars in the past couple decades compared to other professors at top-tier universities. In other words, a lot of interesting work on 1 Peter has been coming out of Exeter. 

With that in mind, here are a number of positive observations regarding this commentary:

1. First, this ICC can probably claim to be the most well-researched commentary ever written on 1 Peter (though Keener's commentary has an immense number of primary/ancient sources). Williams and Horrell have put together a bibliography with over 2,500 sources (the bibliography runs from pages 657–816, and I am "guesstimating" about 16 sources per page).

2. Second, you can rest assured that the authors represent some of the best in the field of Petrine scholarship. I confess that one of my pet peeves is when a scholar who has written virtually no peer-reviewed material on a particular book of the Bible ends up writing a commentary on it in a major series. Such authors are usually (though not always) at a disadvantage in regards to understanding the secondary literature, and thus their commentary is usually (though not always) subpar, in my humble-but-opinionated opinion (and yes, I have a specific example in mind, albeit on a different book than 1 Peter). No worries here, as both Williams and Horrell are already easily in the top-10 of Petrine scholarship, at least where English is a primary language. Williams, the junior member of the team, by himself has published two full monographs on 1 Peter, each in a different prestigious European series, not to mention eight peer-reviewed articles specifically on 1 Peter, four of which are in tier-1 journals (and Williams' article in ZNTW significantly influenced my own thinking on 1 Peter).

3. Third, even a cursory glance indicates that Williams and Horrell interact with the Greek text in a very detailed manner. (This is not a a commentary for casual perusal!) For the record, the commentary flows verse-by-verse and clause-by-clause, making it much easier to find a discussion on a particular point of the text.

4. Fourth, the authors do an excellent job of discussing competing viewpoints. And yes, for those of you who were wondering, there is an entire excursus of 7 pages (2:215–221) devoted to the "history of interpretation" of the phrase "preached to the spirits in prison," with 18 pages (2:221–238) that actual exegete the text and discuss the various viewpoints. Interestingly, the commentary takes the minority view that the phrase refers to "disembodied human souls" rather than fallen angels.

So there you have it, the next big thing in Petrine scholarship. These positive comments should not be taken as an endorsement of all the views held to by the authors, of course (and my own position is that Peter himself wrote the book, while allowing for the possibility of an amanuensis), but this is a commentary that libraries and serious Petrine academics need to purchase.


Jun 8, 2023

Another article on "saved through childbearing"!!? (R. Gregory Jenks in the latest JETS)

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This will be my last blog entry before my marriage and honeymoon (so, for anybody attempting to post a comment, I won't be able to moderate it for a while), but I noted with interest the latest issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 66, no. 1 (March 2023). R. Gergory Jenks' article "Eve as Savior of Humanity? From the Genesis Narrative to Paul's Comments on Childbearing in 1 Timothy 2:15" adds to a constantly growing list of articles dealing with this crux interpretum

Jenks' basic premise is that the 3rd person pronoun derived from sōthēsetai should not be translated "she" as most translations have it, but rather "he," in reference to Adam (and thus all of humanity), and the "they" refers to both Adam and Eve. Thus, Jenks writes, "Humanity is saved from extinction through the woman's role of mother with the condition that the couple, that is, men and women in the church, maintain the godly attributes listed."

The benefits of Jenks' article is that it avoids the knotty, and greatly understated, problem of having the Apostle Paul promote a works-salvation based on a lifestyle that is not even meant for every woman (1 Cor 7:8, 25–40), even if it is more of a "eschatological-judgment-salvation," or whatever. More on this below (see especially Knight's apropos quote). Also, Jenks does well to dig deep in the OT background here (as does Andrew Spurgeon's article back in 2013).

The million dollar question, of course, is whether or not the fact that "Adam is the subject of the previous passive verbs in verses 13–14" (p. 156) would mean that he would also be the subject of sōthēsetai. I remain skeptical, and I wish Jenks had spent more time developing his argument here. Nonetheless, the possibility is worth considering. 

[One more caveat: I'm surprised to read that, in Jenks' words (page 138), "The idea of postmortem existence or judgment is foreign to the Genesis narrative and to the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole. Apart from the rare and obscure mentions of Sheol; the story of Samuel, . . .; and images of collective salvation of the nation of Israel as a whole, the Hebrew Scriptures do not speak of a postmortem existence, and certainly no postmortem judgment." I beg to differ; Daniel 12:2–3 clearly speaks of postmortem existence and judgment, as well as resurrection, and there are some passages in the Jewish Scriptures that seem to point towards a resurrection, e.g., Hannah's prayer, 1 Sam 2:6 (specifically how "causes to come up" is in contrast to "causes to go down to Sheol/the grave").

So where does this now leave us among the various positions held to within evangelical circles? I'm glad you asked! Here's a summary (and feel free to recommend other perspectives that I might have missed; I'm only concerned with perspectives that take seriously 1 Timothy as inspired Scripture, however):

Position #1: A woman is saved spiritually by adhering to her God-given role. This view can be found in many conservative commentaries, e.g., William D. Mounce's World Biblical Commentary (p. 146, emphasizing the role of "perseverance"). I am least favorable towards this perspective, as I believe the theological issues raised are insurmountable. In the words of George W. Knight III, in his NIGTC, "It would be contrary to Paul's teaching elsewhere and to the emphasis of this letter and the other PE (1:15, 16; 2:3–6) to understand sōthēsetai as referring to spiritual salvation if dia tēs teknogonias is taken as referring to childbearing in general. This would make salvation for women conditional on a work, and specifically a work not all are able to perform."

Position #2: Physical deliverance through the difficulty of childbearing. This view is well-articulated by Moyar Hubbard, "Kept Safe through Childbearing: Maternal Mortality, Justification by Faith, and the Social Setting of 1 Timothy 2:15," JETS 55, no. 4 (2012): 743–62. This position is strengthened by the excellent and fascinating background work done by Sandra L. Glahn on Artemis in the 1st century in Ephesus (BibSac 172, no. 687–688; also a forthcoming monograph), though I do not remember if Glahn herself takes this position.

Position #3: Teknogonias ("childbearing") is actually referring to the Childbearing, i.e., the Incarnation. Knight, in his NIGTC, holds to this position, as well as the recent article by Jared M. August, "What Must She Do to Be Saved? A Theological Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:15," Themelios 45, no. 1 (2020). A very attractive position, IMO, though weakened a bit by the notorious scarcity of teknogonia in Greek literature before Paul wrote 1 Timothy.

Position #4: The "she" is Eve, the "they" is Adam and Eve, and they are reconciled together through the promise of Gen 3:16, which prevents the extinction of the human race. This position is defended by Andrew B. Spurgeon, "1 Timothy 2:13–15: Paul's Retelling of Genesis 2:4–4:1," JETS 56, no. 3 (2013).  I like this position because of Spurgeon's exegesis of Genesis 3, but I am skeptical that sōzō can be stretched to mean "restore." Nonetheless, Spurgeon's article is a very interesting read.

Position #5: The woman will be rescued from Satan's snares, by embracing her role of as mother and steward of the household. This position is articulated by Andreas J. Köstenberger, in "Ascertaining Women's God-Ordained Roles: An Interpretation of  Timothy 2:15," BBR 7 (1997). I am open to this possibility (and I greatly respect and admire Köstenberger, a former prof. of mine at Southeastern), but I think it's too much to smuggle in an implied "from satan."

And to that, of course, we can now add Jenks' article. "Of the making of articles about 1 Tim 2:15, there is no end" (with apologies to Qoheleth). 



Apr 28, 2023

Write outside of your comfort zone (lessons from a NT specialist publishing an article in Themelios on David's census)

A funny thing happened when I, as a newly minted  New Testament PhD with a top Greek scholar as my mentor, interviewed to teach at Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, WI.

"Can you teach Hebrew?" they asked.

"Of course I can teach Hebrew! No problem. Duh!" was my response [ok, I didn't quite put it that way, but you get the point that I tried to project confidence]. Inwardly, however, I was experiencing a slight panic, since to my shame I had neglected my Hebrew Bible during my years pursuing a doctorate at Southeastern.

As it turns out, in addition to teaching two semesters of Biblical Hebrew, grammar and syntax, on a two-year rotation, they also asked me to teach Hebrew History every Fall, another class totally outside of my specialty. (It would be another year before I would get the opportunity to teach a New Testament class! This is proof that the Lord has a sense of humor, or at least irony).

Yet I can confidently say that all three of those classes grew on me, and in turned helped me grow academically and spiritually. My first time teaching Hebrew was extremely rough (nothing like having your students correct your lectures from the textbook . . .), but I eventually began reading my Hebrew Bible more consistently as well as studying the secondary literature on the Jewish Scriptures with more gusto.

In addition, this gave me an opportunity to pursue an issue that had bothered me since I wrote a paper on it during my college years: the oddity of David's census.

The result, after years of publishing material on the New Testament, is my first ever published article on the Hebrew Bible: "Failure to Atone: Rethinking David's Census in Light of Exodus 30," Themelios 48, no. 1 (April 2023): 47–62 (I had presented an earlier draft of this paper at the ETS regional meeting at Moody Bible Institute a few years back). The entire issue of Themelios can be downloaded here (it is an interesting issue, and I would heartily recommend Jonathan Cheek's article on Genesis 3:15 and Kevin DeYoung's well-written, critical review of S. Wolfe's The Case for Christian Nationalism). Scroll down for the abstract of my article.

So, dear reader (especially those of you who are academic nerds like me), here are some practical lessons from all that:

1. Don't neglect your Hebrew Bible, even if you specialize in Greek! All Scripture, not just the New Testament, was supernaturally inspired by God in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and if you have the ability, then you should read all of it in the original languages.

2. In addition, for those of us who aspire to be professors, you should not neglect your Hebrew Bible because you never know what you're going to be asked to teach, especially when working for a smaller college and/or seminary. Whether adjunct or full-time, you should be willing to be flexible. (And it goes without saying that you should anticipate occasionally preaching from the OT, as well)

3. Be willing to study areas of biblical studies and theology that you are not as comfortable or proficient with. God can use the lacunae in your curriculum vitae to grow you!

4. If you find a topic that you are passionate and/or curious about, don't be afraid to pursue it, even if it lies outside of your specialty. With humility, of course, because you are treading on ground where others, not you, are specialists. But still, many of the same principles that apply to writing a NT article apply to writing an OT article. You just have to overcome a disadvantage in regards to your familiarity with the secondary literature (and, of course, you have to ensure that you have adequately brushed up on your Hebrew syntax!).

Thank you to Themelios, the anonymous reviewer(s), and editor Brian Tabb for allowing me to publish in their journal.

By the way, for any Hebrew scholars reading this, can anybody tell me why MS Word keeps wanting to rearrange my Hebrew words to create gibberish? I've used both Tyndale and SBL unicode fonts, and I think I've downloaded all the drivers, but this is still occasionally a problem!

Abstract of my article: "Various interpretations have been offered on how David sinned in taking the census of 2 Samuel 24, but too few have seriously grappled with the implications of Exodus 30:11–16 or the structure of 2 Samuel 21–24. Taking Exodus 30:11–16 as the starting point, this article argues that David was supposed to take the census, and that, as with the situation with the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21, David’s role was meant to be that of one who atones for the nation’s sins, turning away God’s wrath. The final section answers potential objections such as the role of Joab."



Mar 31, 2023

Is China in the Bible? R. Eichler's forthcoming article on מארץ סינים in Isaiah 49:12.

 Once in a while you run across an article that is just too interesting to pass up, regardless of whether or not its thesis will prove true in the long run. Such is the case with Raanan Eichler, "China Is in the Bible," Vetus Testamentum, forthcoming in 2023. The pre-print version of the article can be accessed from Brill here, for free.

And no, this is not some tribulation-eschatology article in the theological sense (though Isaiah 49 certainly deals with eschatology). The author's argument is strictly lexical and geographical. Here is the abstract:

"Isaiah 49:12 mentions 'the land of Sinim.' Gesenius and most nineteenth-century scholars identified this place with China, but virtually all scholars today identify it instead with Aswan (Syene) in southern Egypt. It is argued here, based on the literary context, the wording 'the land of [plural gentilic],' and the phonetics of Sinim, that the term means China."

It is worth repeating Eichler's point here that arguments for the phrase מארץ סינים meaning "from the land of China" existed over 100 years ago (so this article is not advancing a brand-new thesis). The article contains a helpful survey of scholarship on the issue. Also, Eichler devotes a significant portion of the paper to discussing ancient references to China and nearby places, suggesting that "It seems likely that knowledge of China would have spread westward north of the Tibetan Plateau along what would later become the Silk Road, and perhaps by other routes." Naturally, Eichler spends a lot of time raising objections to the predominant interpretation of "Aswan."

All-in-all an interesting read! I am not a Hebrew specialist, sadly, so I cannot even begin to offer a critical analysis. Yet I am requiring my Hebrew Syntax students to read it (yes, as proof that the Lord has a sense of humor, or at least irony, as a NT specialist I teach two semesters of Hebrew every other year 😀).

It is worth pointing out that Vetus Testamentum is in the top-10 of journals that publish material on the Jewish Scriptures. So kudos to Dr. Eichler on proving that quality scholarship does not have to be boring! 



Mar 4, 2023

Textual Criticism and an Aramaic pun in 2 Peter 2:15 (my article in the latest issue of TC)

 I am grateful that the latest issue of TC: Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism has just published my article "Lectio Difficilior Potior and An Aramaic Pun: Beor vs. Bosor in 2 Peter 2:15 as a Test Case for How a Classic Rule Might Be Refined." The article can be accessed here.

The abstract is as follows:

Lectio difficilior potior (“prefer the more difficult reading”), while still in use in recent scholarship, has been criticized for being overly subjective and of relatively little value as a canon of internal criteria. These criticisms have not been adequately addressed. Yet 2 Pet 2:15 provides a fertile testing ground for the refinement of this rule absent text-critical bias. Since every single current edition of the Greek New Testament,and almost all commentators, agree with Βοσόρ due to overwhelming external support, the rule is not needed to prove the superior reading of Βοσόρ. Rather, the near-universal agreement on the reading gives us an opportunity to develop a methodology for determining whether or not Βοσόρ is the lectio difficilior compared to Βεώρ, a methodology that would hopefully be free from bias. This methodology, which draws from Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort’s distinction between “real and apparent excellence,” could then assist in rehabilitating lectio difficilior potior as a helpful, if secondary, principle in textual matters.


Jan 13, 2023

Douglas Kennard's new Petrine Theology

True Petrine theologies are few and far between, whereas one cannot throw a rock without hitting a dozen Pauline theologies (or Pauline theologians, for that matter!) As somebody who has contributed a little bit to this neglected field, I am excited to have received a copy of Douglas W. Kennard's Petrine Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2022).

Kennard is a professor at the Houston Graduate School of Theology, and in his previous writings he has specialized in biblical theology and hermeneutics. Along with Petrine Theology he has published a companion book entitled Petrine Studies (also with Wipf & Stock).

Kennard's Petrine Theology is about as holistic a "Petrine theology" as one could ask for, and that's a good thing. He utilizes 1 and 2 Peter, along with the Petrine material in Acts and the Gospels, to cover a variety of topics. These include broader theological categories ("God," "Christology") as well as more specific Petrine emphases ("Suffering," "False Teachers"). All of this is developed from the important premise that "The early church considered Peter to be the foundation for apostolic Christian tradition" (p. 1), and thus the modern church should not neglect the Apostle Peter's own specific perspectives.

The book is well-researched and well-thought out, with an excellent level of interaction with both primary and secondary sources. [Allow me, though, to express my irritation at having my own name misspelled as "Hines" in the bibliography; actually, he cites two works of mine, one of them as "Himes" and the other as "Hines." Another top-notch Petrine scholar, Benjamin Sargent, also misspells me as "Hines"; oh well. I'm sure I've done the same to some other author somewhere in my published works--my apologies if that is you, dear reader! And I'm happy that Kennard at least mentions my work. End of rant! ☺]

At times the book reads more like a systematic theology, e.g., chapter 2 on "God," which has a tendency to state a description about God and then bolster it with Petrine material, rather than tracing a Petrine theological theme per se). Even so, it is immensely valuable since it points us to the Apostle Peter's specific perspective while demonstrating how it is congruent with the rest of Scripture. Also, Kennard aptly embraces the important role that Old Testament theology plays in Peter's theology.

Books on the Apostle Peter's theology are rare, and books that take seriously the Petrine material in Acts and the Gospels as part of that theology are extremely rare. I am pleased to announce that Kennard joins the distinguished ranks of Larry Helyer (The Life and Witness of Peter), Pheme Perkins (Peter: Apostle for the Whole Church) and Gene Green (Vox Petri: A Theology of Peter) as an important advocate for the Apostle Peter's theology.