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.

Oct 15, 2021

Only a Sinner Saved by Grace: A Mini-Review of the New Autobiography of Ed Nelson

I am privileged to have recently finished the autobiography of evangelist and pastor Ed Nelson, Only A Sinner Saved by Grace, written with his granddaughter, Emilee Nelson (Castle Rock, CO: Mile Hi, 2020). The book can be purchased here, and is also available on "Audible.com"

This autobiography has three key things going for it: spiritual edification, enjoyable prose, and honesty about mistakes (this last point, in my humble-but-opinionated opinion, is an element minimized in all too many Christian biographies and autobiographies). I have a lot of praise for this book (it is definitely worth its weight in gold), though at the end I will also offer two minor critiques.

In addition, I would like to point out that this book serves as a valuable primary source on important figures and some key events of 20th century fundamentalism . Consequently non-fundamentalists researching these topics will find value in this book, even if they are not necessarily sympathetic to some of the theological commitments that marked Dr. Nelson's ministry.

Ed Nelson was born December 1923, and is alive today, approaching 100, as I type these words! He has been both a pastor and an evangelist, has ministered to the persecuted church in Russia (ch. 35), and has left quite the legacy within independent Baptist circles (our library, here at Baptist College of Ministry, is named after him). He is and has been a staunch fundamentalist, but one who is nonetheless critical of some elements of fundamentalism such as King James Onlyism (pages 365-7) and Jack Hyles (ch. 31). He was on "ground-zero," so to speak, of some conflicts within fundamentalism and broader conservative evangelicalism (the lines were not so rigidly drawn in the 50s and 60s). Chapter 20 details why he left the Conservative Baptist Association, which oversaw Denver Seminary (yes, that Denver Seminary). I will point out the obvious: this book has the potential to be very controversial, in some settings! Regardless, here are three key points that make this book very valuable:

Spiritual edification: The key word for much of this book is: Providence. From the gripping description of the farm accident that almost killed young Ed when he was 17 years old, to his profession of faith at the fourth night of Bob Jones' preaching (after swearing not to go back), to the circumstances (Bright's disease) that kept him in America as an evangelist rather than as a missionary to Japan--all this demonstrates God's sovereign guidance and direction in Dr. Nelson's life. Throughout the book you will also see Dr. Nelson's passion for souls, love for family, and faith in God's supernatural ability to intervene in the affairs of men, and you will be challenged accordingly.

Quality of writing: The book is well-written. This is a testament both to Ed Nelson's ability as a story-teller and Emilee Nelson's literary skill. The opening chapter (when a 14-year old Ed almost died) is a gripping way to start off the book, and the narrative flows easily. The book is definitely not technical, and yet it does not dive to an overly-simplistic or idiosyncratic level that one might occasionally expect outside of a major publisher. Furthermore, I experienced multiple "laugh-out-loud" moments (e.g., when a 94-year-old Dr. Nelson finally realizes why he shouldn't be driving anymore . . .).

Honesty: Compared to the rest of the staff here at my beloved BCM, I probably read less Christian biographies (though I've begun to gravitate to historical biographies: currently finishing Chernow's biography of Grant and Norman Schwarzkopf's autobiography with Peter Petre). When I do read a Christian biography, it's more likely to be that of a unique German theologian than somebody more from my own circles (e.g., James Edwards' Between the Swastika and the Sickle about Ernst Lohmeyer). One reason I do not read so many Christian biographies is that, rightly or wrongly, I feel that too many of them are "hagiographies." It seems that often the only negative thing one learns about the minister in question is some sort of lack of faith that they overcome, resulting in decades of glorious reaping of the spiritual harvest. Rarely, especially in autobiographies, is the person in question held accountable for real mistakes that had lasting impact. Case in point: C. T. Studd's separation from his wife for 13 years is rarely given more than a brief mention, when in my opinion such abandonment is the equivalent of divorce (for the record: I do not believe God would call a Christian minister to such deliberate abandonment of a spouse for the sake of ministry; God does not call us to sin for the sake of doing good, and such deliberate separation is utterly contrary to the whole purpose of marriage).

Now, I say all that to say this: Dr. Nelson's honesty is refreshing. He discusses two major  mistakes in his ministry: 1. Allowing his wife to reach the point where she suffered a mental and physical breakdown (which they were able to overcome, and learn from), and 2. Estrangement from his son (this latter issue is not dealt with as specifically, but Dr. Nelson takes much of the blame; still, it's hard not to sympathize with him somewhat on this one since his son has apparently refused all attempts at reconciliation to this day). This openness on the part of Dr. Nelson makes me appreciate his godly character more; his candor about mistakes does not detract from his character, it adds to it. I wish more Christian biographies and autobiographies were like this. Sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others just as much as their successes. This, after all, is why divinely-inspired Scripture does not hold back from showing us the mistakes of its heroes.

Two minor critiques: Only Scripture is inerrant, so any book review I right will gently offer at least some critique. These are minor issues, however, that do not detract from the enjoyment nor spiritual edification offered by the book. [And, for the record, I am not one of these profs. that refuses to give a student a 100% on the basis that nobody is perfect!]

(1.) First, on  the one hand this book at times offers a lot of clarity on the fundamentalist ethos (e.g., the criticisms of Billy Graham were appropriate without being overdone, imo, especially when considering what was essentially his betrayal of the persecuted church in Russia in 1982, though this is not the basis on which we should judge the entirety of his ministry). Having said that, there are times that the book could have offered more information to help the reader understand what, exactly, was going on, or perhaps briefly offered the other side of the story. The academic in me cringes a little bit in dismissing Denver Seminary as simply "A CBA school that was compromising" (p. 196). This is probably true to a certain degree from our fundamentalist perspective, but it is hardly the whole story. Even today Denver Seminary includes some evangelical "all-stars" amongst its faculty who, while hardly fundamentalist, have nonetheless taken strong conservative positions against modernism and have proven very helpful for my own studies (I'm thinking here especially of Craig Blomberg and Richard Hess).

(2.) Second, a book like this needs an index! [I am very opinionated about indices!!] An index would help a valuable primary source like this become more accessible to the researcher.

Conclusion: So there you have it! This book is a must-buy for: (1.) anybody interested in the story of a very important evangelist and pastor within independent Baptist circles in the second half of the 20th century; (2.) anybody who wishes to be spiritually challenged by a gripping and honest autobiography; and (3.) anybody researching fundamentalist history in the second half of the 20th century.



Sep 25, 2021

Teaching rhetoric as part of NT Exegesis: Some helpful sources.

I have the privilege of teaching the graduate course "Introduction to New Testament Exegesis" every two years. This year, I've decided to shake up my normal way of teaching the class and add in a part on "New Testament Rhetoric," which I've begun dabbling in, for better of for worse!

Now, "rhetoric" itself is difficult to define, and scholars do not always agree amongst themselves. Carl Joachim Classen provides us a good starting point: "The deliberate, calculated use of language for the sake of communicating various kinds of information  ini the manner intended by the speaker (and the theory of such a use)" (Classen 2002, 45). In a nutshell, the study of rhetoric assumes that how an author says something is important in addition to what he or she says. 

In modern scholarly treatments on NT rhetoric, the focus is often on macro-rhetoric, or the overall structure of a letter and its persuasive power. This was popularized with Hans Dieter Betz's commentary on Galatians (1979), where he mapped the structure of the epistle according to formal Greco-Roman conventions. This, however, is highly controversial, as seen in a recent issue of Bulletin for Biblical Research which included a debate between Ben Witherington + Jason Myers vs. Stanley Porter on this topic (see below). Interestingly, out of all the New Testament epistles besides Galatians, 2 Peter is perhaps the most likely to be analyzed in terms of formal Greco-Roman rhetoric (ever since Duane F. Watson published his highly influential monograph in 1988).

I'm a bit more interested in "micro-rhetoric," which deals with the minutiae such as word-order, word-play, alliteration, etc., as well as how such items impact or illuminate the social relationship between the author and his or her audience. To a certain degree rhetorical studies and discourse analysis overlap here, though virtually nobody that I know of discusses how the two intersect (except, intriguingly, Alan Kam-Yau Chan's 2016 monograph on Melchizedek Passages in the Bible, though all too briefly). 

Anyways, here are some resources I've found especially helpful for studying the topic. All of them are reasonably priced (we're not talking inaccessible $100 monographs here). I should also mention that I will require my students to read my Doktorvater, David Alan Black's Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, which has sections on both rhetoric and discourse analysis.

Helpful resources:

Black, C. Clifton. The Rhetoric of the Gospel: Theological Artistry in the Gospels and Acts, 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2013. C. Black's essay in the 2010 book Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation (2nd ed.) is also helpful.

Bulletin for Biblical Research 26 no. 4 (2016), with an initial article by Stanley E. Porter, a response by Jason A. Myers and Ben Witherington, and a rejoinder by Porter. For more on Porter vs. Witherington, see The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55 no. 2 (2012) for a critique by Porter of Witherington's work in social-rhetorical criticism, and then JETS 58 no. 1 (2015) for Witherington's defense of analyzing NT texts in light of Greco-Roman rhetoric.

Classen, Carl Joachim. Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament. Boston: Brill Academic, 2002.

Kennedy, George A., trans. and ed. Invention and Method: Two Rhetorical Treatises from the Hermogenic Corpus. Writings from the Greco-Roman World. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005. This is one of the key ancient sources on rhetoric, and we can thank Dr. Kennedy for providing a modern translation (I've tried to translate parts of this on my own from TLG; I didn't fare too well!). The reader should also be aware that Aristotle's The Art of Rhetoric is a much earlier Greek source on the topic.

Kennedy, George A. New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Martin, Troy W., ed. Genealogies of New Testament Rhetorical Criticism. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014. Personally, I found this book very helpful in explaining the various views out there on rhetorical criticism in NT studies.

Muilenburg, James. "Form Criticism and beyond." Journal of Biblical Literature 88 no. 1 (1969): 1-18. Notwithstanding its somewhat misleading title, this article (originally a presidential address) is considered a landmark source that reignited interest in rhetorical criticism in biblical studies.

Watson, Duane Frederick. Invention, Arrangement, and Style: Rhetorical Criticism  of Jude and 2 Peter. SBLDS 104. Atlanta: Scholars, 1988.

Witherington, Ben, III. New Testament Rhetoric: An Introductory Guide to the Art of Persuasion in and of the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009.

Wuellner, Wilhelm. "Where Is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 no. 3 (1987): 448-63. Wuellner helped facilitate a movement to pay more attention to the social dimensions of rhetoric.

Warning! Closing theological digression alert! As a final point, for those of us that  believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, we must take the issue of rhetoric a step farther: how the Holy Spirit says something is relevant, in addition to what He said in Scripture. More than just the choice of words, such things as structure,  word-order, word-play, etc., are all part of the inspiration of the original documents. Which is why any claim for perfection of a particular translation actually diminishes the doctrine of inerrancy: The Holy Spirit himself inspired the alliteration in Hebrews 1:1, alliteration which is lacking in the King James (and almost all English translations). This means that no matter how solid a translation might be on Hebrews 1:1 (and the KJV translators did an excellent job here), if it did not alliterate in the target language, it is not perfectly preserving all that the Holy Spirit inspired. End of theological digression!


Jul 30, 2021

Another Article on Phileō and Agapaō in John 21:15-17 (Talbert in JGRChJ)

 Last year (2020) I had the privilege of publishing an article in the Bulletin for Biblical Research on phileō and agapaō in John 21:15-17 as a possible allusion to LXX Prov 8:17. To my surprise, I recently found out that around the same time another article had been published with a similar focus, specifically:

Andrew R. Talbert, "The Synonymous Rendering of Aristotelian φιλέω with ἀγαπάω in the Gospel of John," Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 16 (2020): 9-29.

His article is accessible for free here. I believe Talbert's article and my article actually complement each other. Like me, Talbert sees the two verbs as basically interchangeable in John and, to my surprise, Talbert (like me) also sees LXX Proverbs as very relevant to the discussion (it's gratifying that I'm not the only person on earth that believes that!).

I think both of us would have benefitted by having knowledge of the other's work before publication, but both of us were probably going through a blind peer-review process at the same time. Talbert's sophisticated discussion of the "Aristotelian" phileō, and how John revises it, is completely lacking in my paper.  Conversely, Talbert does not interact with the recent articles by Shepherd and Böhler on the topic of agapaō/phileō in John as I do.

So, dear reader, if you really want to study up on phileō-agapaō in  John, there are now four articles written  in the last 12 years that you should read! Talbert in JGRChJ (2020), myself in BBR (2020), Dieter Böhler in Biblica (2015), and Shepherd in JBL (2010). 

Jul 8, 2021

Craig Keener's New Commentary on 1 Peter: Initial Impressions

As of June this year, we are all indebted to Craig S. Keener for yet another commentary on a New Testament book. Entitled simply 1 Peter: A Commentary, it is published by Baker Academic and showcases many of Keener's strengths in writing and research. Keener is one of my favorite NT scholars, and though I am an independent Baptist I even benefitted from his book Spirit Hermeneutics while I was working through, for my own benefit (and that of my Hermeneutics class), the role of the Spirit in studying Scripture.

I think what sets this book apart is the incredible detail given to primary and ancient sources, a specialty of Keener's (as those of us who have used his 4-volume  commentary on Acts know). To put this in perspective: the bibliography of primary sources is 23 pages of two columns, and his index of ancient sources, not including Scripture, is a jaw-dropping 61 and a half pages, including everything from Theon of Smyrna to Virgil to Phaedrus to Cicero. 

Also, in the midst of the commentary Keener consistently inserts "A Closer Look" segments that deal with background issues such as "Marriage Expectations in Greco-Roman Antiquity" or "Providence, Fate, and Predestination in Antiquity." Other commentaries have done this on a limited basis, but for Keener this is a main feature of the commentary.

A couple notes on content: Keener competently defends Petrine authorship (pp. 8-25), suggests that in 3:19 the reference is to fallen angels and that ". . . ancient audiences might take for granted that Christ's proclamation to the spirits was not an invitation to repentance, but rather a proclamation  of their complete subjugation" (p. 275), seems to tentatively prefer the view that eperōtēma in 3:21 means "pledge" (p. 283), and states regarding the crux interpretum of 4:17 that "In the OT, God was sometimes more strict with his own people first, since they knew better (Jer. 25:29; Amos 3:2; cf. Isa. 10:12)" and that "Believers may experience even unjust suffering as divine discipline in one sense (cf. Heb. 12:3-11), as something to make them better. But one could be assured that if even the righteous suffer, judgment will come far more harshly on those who disobey the gospel . . . ."

I would also note that a hermeneutical strength of this commentary is Keener's focus on how Peter's original audience would have understood something, based on primary sources from that time period.

The only critiques I have at this point are that Keener's use of primary and/or ancient sources may seem a bit excessive at times (e.g., page 239, where basically half the page consists of footnotes referring to ancient sources), and the "Closer Look" sections, while helpful, have a tendency to crop up in places where they disrupt the commentary on a particular verse. In addition, they can be somewhat lengthy, going on for pages and pages before one returns to the actual commentary.

Nonetheless, this is a milestone for Petrine commentaries. For academics (professors, grad students, and anybody trying to publish anything on 1 Peter), this becomes one of the essential commentaries up there with Paul J. Achtemeier, Karen Jobes,  Leonhard Goppelt, and John H. Elliott, definitely in the "top 5" most important commentaries. For pastoral work, both Jobes' Baker Exegetical Commentary and Wayne Grudem's Tyndale Commentary are more accessible, and thus maintain their position as the two essential commentaries for pastors or Bible-study leaders, in my humble-but-opinionated opinion, though Keener's would still be a very helpful addition to any pastor's library if their budget allows.

Having said all that, full-disclosure, one reason I am excited and positively inclined towards Keener's commentary is because this is the first commentary on 1 Peter to cite some of my own work on 1 Peter. But I trust my readers will forgive that personal bias.

Jun 22, 2021

Christians, Professional Sports, and "Pride" Month: "Meat offered to idols" as an ethical analogy.

Normally on this blog I focus on academic matters (albeit from an unashamedly theologically conservative position), with the intent to provide an academic resource for students of Scripture. Once in a while, however, I feel the need to speak on practical matters.

This year, the month of June has seen an unprecedented level of activity from major professional sports organizations, both in the US and Europe, celebrating June as the so-called "pride" month for the LGBTQ community. This raises significant questions about to what degree a Christian can in good conscience participate in professional sports entertainment, questions that must at least be discussed.

I will state at the outset that this brief discussion assumes the following:
1. Christ dies for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and He was seen of many witnesses (1 Cor 15).
2. All Scripture (which includes Romans 1:18-32) is authoritative for the Christian.
3. God loves all humans, including homosexuals, and wishes to save them (John 3:16, etc.).
4. Yet homosexuality is a sin, and an offense to God (Rom 1:18-32, etc.).
5. In the beginning, God made them male and female, one man and one woman in a committed relationship (Gen 2:21-25; Matthew 18:3-9).
(For those that disagree with one or more of those 5 points listed above, this is not a discussion board and I will only be posting responses that make a legitimate contribution to my main point here about a Christian's involvement).

Now, it is not enough that a Christian merely abstains from participating in a sinful act. Scripture also emphasizes the need to avoid association with sinful acts, as well. While space forbids a thorough discussion of "holiness ethics" here, I would like to briefly focus on the Greek word eidōlothutos, "meat  offered to idols," which is expressly forbidden by both the Apostolic Council (Acts 15:29, which interestingly has reworded the earlier "pollutions of idols" in Acts 15:20 [tōn alisgēmatōn]), and Jesus Himself (Rev 2:14, 20). The point being, it was not just the act of worshipping idols or sacrificing to them that was prohibited, but even something as otherwise-innocent as eating meat if, in fact, it was so closely linked to idolatry itself that the act of eating meat was seen as participation in an idolatrous event.

Now, the million-dollar question is: how close is too close?, i.e., at what point does something become so closely entangled with a sinful lifestyle (whether that be idolatry or homosexuality) that a Christian would be expected to abstain? Sometimes it is a matter of degree. Paul clearly prohibits pagan banquets in 1 Cor 10:19-22 (using that word eidōlothutos in v. 19), but then a couple verses later (v. 27-28) allows for eating of meat at a neighborly meal, meat that, hypothetically, may have at one time been involved in idol-worship, so long as eating that meat would not harm one's testimony.

Though I am not doing justice to all the exegetical issues in these passsages, nonetheless the principle seems clear: the more closely associated the meat becomes with idolatry (including the sort of pagan guild festival that Jesus is castigating in His letter to Thyatira), the more inappropriate it becomes for the Christian. Paul's rhetoric in 1 Cor 10:20-21 and 2 Cor 6:14-18 is especially helpful here). [see Hemer 1989, 107-9 and 120 for discussion of the trade guilds in Thyatira; see Himes 2020 for a discussion of the link between Jesus' letter to Thyatira and the Apostolic council].

Now, back to sports. Taking Major League Baseball (of which I am a huge fan) as an example, almost every single team has committed itself in some way to the celebration of "Pride" month to "honor" a lifestyle choice that is unbiblical. The two exceptions, to the best of my knowledge, are my beloved Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.

We understand that professional sports, like meat, is not inherently evil but actually good. We also recognize, however, that something that is "good" can be tainted. Furthermore, to the extent that my analogy with "meat offered to idols" is legitimate (and I believe it is), within this context a Christian's involvement with and enjoyment of professional sports can only be justified to the degree that it is not tainted by support of an ungodly lifestyle. Consequently, Christians should be at a minimum putting some thought into the issue of to what degree they can participate in/enjoy Major League Baseball. [That thought is not original with me, but the following is my own practical adaptation of it.]

Here is my own suggestion for proceeding (Christians should, of course, always follow their Spirit-guided conscience, but this is my personal "action step" going forward). In a nutshell: "Abstain from June." Let me explain:

On the one hand, at this point I do not believe the MLB has, as a whole been tainted enough to necessitate withdrawing completely from listening to games or purchasing merchandise (though if an emphasis on the LGBTQ community continues in other months, I will rethink that statement). Having said that, on the other hand I am now going forward under the assumption that the month of June, since it is being promoted as "Pride Month" by most of MLB, is problematic. As a Christian, then, going forward, I will abstain from MLB-related entertainment or purchases during the month of June. I currently have a month-by-month subscription with MLB-audio, and in future years  I will see if I can "unsubscribe" just for this month (too late for this year). At a minimum, I will not listen to any more games this month (starting today; right now, I would normally have a game live-streaming in my office from MLB.com).

On the other hand, once we hit July, if my beloved Texas Rangers have not capitulated to pressure to formally/officially have a "pride" day or team uniforms or anything like that, I intend to offer my support via hard cash by buying something from the official Rangers website (in full disclosure, it won't be much, I'm hardly rich, but it will be something).

I would also challenge all evangelical Christians to not attend, watch, or listen to any specific game that focuses on the LGBTQ community, and (obviously) not to purchase any merchandise that promotes that lifestyle. 

At a minimum this is a discussion that needs to happen amongst evangelical Christians, within the broader context of "Christ and culture." Specifically, more thought needs to be put into this question: "At what point can my enjoyment of something cause my loyalty to Christ to be questioned?" How we handle this question (and the answers will not always be clear-cut) will have implications for shopping, entertainment, and even business assocations. Come to think of it, in this regard a Christian in the 21st century does not differ that much from a Christian in the 1st century!

Sources mentioned:
Hemer, Colin  J. The Letters  to the Seven  Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

Himes, Paul A. "Did Jesus Quote the Apostles? The Possible Intertextuality and Significance  of Revelation 2:24." Southeastern Theological Review 11 no. 1 (Spring 2020): 31-52.

Jun 3, 2021

A Classic Example of Semantic Change (Thanks to Bugs Bunny)

 I have the privilege of teaching "Hermeneutics" twice each year, and when I do, I always spend a significant amount of time focusing on word studies, specifically how the intersection of semantic range (various meanings) and context determine a word's meaning at a particular point in the text.

I also discuss why we should not rely on etymology to determine meaning, precisely because languages evolve and words change meaning. A classic biblical example is James 3:1 in the King James, "be not many masters," which does not refer to being a slave-owner or having hired servants. Instead, the word is didaskaloi, so "be not many teachers." The problem here is not with the King James translators, because 400+ years ago the semantic range for "master" was broader and included "teacher." That is, after all, why we study for our "Master's Degree." But words change, and many of the words in older translations do not mean today what they meant back then (as well documented by my friend Mark Ward in his book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible).

Now, none other than Reader's Digest has given us an excellent example of possible semantic change in its most recent issue (May 2021). I quote it in full here (p. 122):

    "It wasn't always rude to call someone a nimrod. In the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), Nimrod was the name of an exceptional hunter, and nimrod would later refer to any hunter. So how did his name become an insult? One popular theory: Bugs Bunny often sarcastically called the bumbling Elmer Fudd 'Nimrod' in 1940s cartoons, teaching generations of Looney Tunes fans that it meant idiot."

There you have it folks: why Bugs Bunny is relevant for lexical semantics.

For a basic introduction to lexical semantics, see "The Meaning of Words (Part 1): Words and Concepts" and "The Meaning of Words (Part 2): Context and Semantic Range."

Apr 23, 2021

The Next Two Great Commentaries on 1 Peter (Williams/Horrell and Keener)

As a Petrine "specialist," it's my job and privilege to keep up with significant works on 1 and 2 Peter. Sadly, there has not been a hugely significant commentary on 1 Peter since Karen  Jobes' Baker Exegetical Commentary in 2005 (the best commentary overall, IMO) and Witherington's Socio-Rhetorical Commentary in 2007. Although there are some promising works languishing in limbo that I desperately hope will come out within this decade (*cough* Edward Glenny's Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1 Peter *cough* Where are you!!!), I am happy to inform my readers of two very significant commentaries that are on the verge of being published. 

First up, Craig Keener has written a stand-alone commentary on 1 Peter by Baker Academic (click here for the publisher's page). I am very excited about this, because I like Keener's work, though his massive 4-volume commentary on Acts is a wee-bit intimidating (yes, 4 volumes; and each volume has a gajillion pages; oh, and the last volume is basically a bibliography so massive it makes War and Peace look like Horton Hears a Who!). Keener has also written an excellent commentary on Galatians that I made sure we acquired for my school's library.

Second, I'm very excited about the duo of David G. Horrell and Travis B. Williams publishing the new International Critical Commentary on 1 Peter. The latter completed his dissertation under the former, and both have produced significant books and articles on 1 Peter. I don't think Bloomsbury has a page for this forthcoming work yet, though there is a page for it on "ResearchGate." I have corresponded with Dr. Williams, however, and he assures me it is very close to being published.

These commentaries will differ in significant ways (I am fairly certain Keener's is more likely to favor direct Petrine authorship). Both, however, will be essential for serious academic work on 1 Peter, and I'm certain both will have some excellent insights that will benefit sermon preparation (and I intend to purchase both for my own personal library). In the meanwhile, for those who just can't wait, you're welcome to make my publisher happy and purchase my recent Lexham Research Commentary on 1 Peter (pardon the shameless plug; though in all honesty you should buy Jobes and Grudem first, if you're a pastor, and Jobes, Elliott, and Achtemeier first, if you're a graduate student).

Mar 21, 2021

Some words of praise for Benjamin J. Noonan's Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic.

As a Greek and NT specialist who teaches two semesters of Hebrew on a 2-year cycle, I need all the help I can get! Indeed, teaching Greek and Hebrew within 24 hours of each other really messes with my brain. True story: I was in the eye doctor's office the other day, trying to read the eye chart from right-to-left. I was confused, she was confused, we were all confused!

In light of that, I am almost finished with Benjain J. Noonan's brand new book, Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. I'd like to mention a few positive aspects of the book, from the perspective of a Greek specialist who gets the privilege and challenge of teaching Hebrew grammar and syntax.

First, however, please note that this is not an easy book if you have not specialized in Hebrew at least at the ThM level (I have not). It is worthwhile if you invest time in it, but this is not your casual "get a bowl of ice cream to chill in my favorite chair" kind of a book. It's more like the "grab your highlighter and pen to take notes and . . . good gravy! I didn't even understand a stinking thing in that entire paragraph so I better read it again!" kind of a book.

Yet kudos to Noonan. He accomplishes what he set out to accomplish, and now that I am nearly at the end of the book, I feel that (1.) I definitely understand the key debates in Biblical Hebrew better, and (2.) I have a general idea of the areas I, personally, would like to explore more. 

Also, since Advances deals with broader linguistic categories, there were a couple moments that just "clicked" with me. For example, the discussion on page 122-23 of "prominence" was very helpful, and reading the following paragraph was an "aha, I get it now!" moment for me:

"In light of this framework, we consider modern English a tense-prominent language. On the one hand, English uses endings like -s and -ed to mark the present and past tense, respectively. ON the other hand, English requires the use of non-affixing helping verbs to express both aspect (e.g., perfective I wrote versus imperfective I was writing) and mood (e.g., realis I wrote versus irrealis I could be writing). Thus, a paradigm of the English verb is primarily marked for tense rather than aspect or mood. This is true even in English's non-indicative moods, which generally utilize the same inflectional paradigm as the indicative paradigm with the addition of helping verbs." (Noonan, Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic).
I had never quite thought of "prominence" in those terms before. Indeed, one of the book's strengths is that this is a book on linguistics in a more general sense in addition to being a book on Biblical Hebrew.

I will say that sometimes I feel Noonan's own biases intrude a bit into his evaluation of the various positions. This is obviously not a bad thing per se, and it's not like I am in a position to criticize Noonan's grasp of Hebrew grammar and syntax! Nonetheless, I did come away from a couple of the discussions wondering if everybody had gotten quite the same "fair shake." I feel that the author was a bit more opinionated, for what it's worth, than Constantine Campbell's companion piece Advances in the Study of Greek (also an excellent book). This does not detract from the value of the book, since the reader still has enough information to decide for themselves which viewpoints they wish to study more.

One closing point. For most of the issues Noonan discusses, one is left with the impression that it is still a debate in progress. A couple interesting exceptions exist, however, including the issue of the dating of the Aramaic of Daniel. Scholarship seems to have decisively refuted the argument that the Aramaic of Daniel could not have been written before Alexander the Great. The work of K. A. Kitchen, especially, and the forthcoming dissertation by Jongtae Choi seem to have firmly established that Daniel's Aramaic is, at least primarily, Imperial Aramaic, within the range of 600-200 BC. Granted, that doesn't "prove" that Daniel wrote the book that bears his name, but at least it refutes objections that Daniel could not have written it, because Daniel's Aramaic is the sort of Aramaic (broadly categorized) that was in use during the Persian Empire.


Feb 9, 2021

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

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

[update 3/5/21--here's a link to Dr. Stark's discussion of two more "tools": backup systems and password managers. Click here. Also, here is a link to sign up for Dr. Stark's helpful "toolbox" updates]

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

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

A Problem with Biblical Studies

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

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

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

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

Why You Need a Toolbox

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

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

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

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

How to Stock Your Toolbox

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

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

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

1. Attention Management

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

2. List Management

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

3. Calendar

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

4. Biblical Studies Resources

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

5. Bibliography Management

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

6. Notes

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

7. Word Processing

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

8. Communication

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 28, 2020

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

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

Here is the abstract:

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

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

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



Oct 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Aug 20, 2020

1 Peter: The Essential Scholars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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