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.

May 25, 2011

Studying Translation Studies (guest essay by missionary John R. Himes)

John Himes is a 30-year veteran missionary to Japan and is currently working on a new translation of the New Testament from Greek to Japanese

Let’s say you’re an aspiring Bible translator, or perhaps a struggling translator. Where do you get help, other than going to a school that teaches Bible translation (which are few and far between)? Chances are your local Christian bookstore will have nothing to help, and the Internet is not much more help. Searching an online bookstore would give you many more results than you want, most unrelated, and few Bible translators discuss their art on line (and it is an art).

So how do you get started studying on your own? I’m here to help. In the last few decades an entirely new scholarly discipline has grown up in the secular world called translation studies. Scholars in this field acknowledge the contributions of Bible translators in this area, starting with Jerome on through Eugene Nida of dynamic equivalence fame. (DE; Nida changed the method’s name to functional equivalence, but most scholars still use the DE moniker.) It is a good time to study how to be a translator.

First of all, let’s consider what is available which is written by actual Bible translators. Strangely enough, many who write on the subject have not actually done translation, including the famed Nida. (To be fair, he served as a consultant on many projects, so he did know the field.) Let’s start with James Price, the Old Testament editor of the NKJV. His first book on translation, Complete Equivalence in Bible Translating (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1987), is a good basic book on the literal method, contra dynamic equivalence. His other book, A Theory For Biblical Translation: An Optimal Equivalence Model (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), is excellent, but a very scholarly work for which a good knowledge of both Hebrew and transformational grammar is necessary.

The little book Translating Truth (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005) is another book on the literal method, in particular the method of the ESV translators. It has articles by Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, C. John Collins, Vern S. Poythress, and Bruce Winter. They call their method “essentially literal,” and this book will be a help for the aspiring translator. Particularly interesting is the chapter by Wayne Grudem on the theological basis for literal translating.

A somewhat different method is described by fundamentalist Charles Turner in Biblical Bible Translating (2nd ed. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publ., Inc., 2001). Having worked on a tribal translation in Papua, New Guinea, Turner teaches a somewhat freer method of translation designed for tribal translation work. One good point about his book is its practicality. For example, he includes a chart which the translator can use to record the progress of the translation book by book, chapter by chapter, and in percentages and number of verses per book.

Translating the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co, 2009), edited by Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda, has a number of good articles about where Bible translation theory is today. Though it is a somewhat technical book written by and perhaps for scholars, the missionary translator will find some help in it.

Here is one last suggestion in the area of Bible translation. Even a translator using a literal method should be familiar with Eugene Nida’s DE method. I suggest his last book on the method written with Jan De Waard: One Language to Another: Functional Equivalence in Bible Translation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986).

Bridging the gap between Bible translation and secular translation, we find Ernst-August Gutt, who is both a Bible translator and a linguist. In his book Relevance Theory (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, and New York: United Bible Societies, 1992), Gutt applies the comparatively recent relevance theory of communication to Bible translating. While I believe the Bible stands on its own as revealed truth, making the literal method the best, relevance theory still is helpful in understanding how the target audience will receive the translation. In this respect I consider it much better than the code theory underlying DE.

In the area of secular translation studies, Susan Bassnet has written an excellent basic textbook, Translation Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1980, 1991, 2002). Of particular help are the chapters on “Central Issues” and “The History of Translation theory.” She does touch on Bible translation, noting the same thing about DE that James Price does in his book mentioned above: “Even in his simplified theory, Nida does not tell us how the deep structure transfer occurs” (p. 57).

Edwin Gentzler has written a great introduction to the main theories of translation studies, Contemporary Translation Theories (Revised 2nd ed. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 2001). Of particular interest to the Bible translator are the sections on skopos theory and “scientific” theories. (As with many secular scholars, he gives due credit to Eugene Nida for his pioneering work in the field, while being dismissive of DE itself.)

A similar book is Key Terms in Translation Studies by Giuseppe Palumbo (New York: Continuum International Publ. Group, 2009). Palumbo deals well not only with the terminology, but with the main theories and methodologies and their proponents.

Finally, in the field of secular translation studies, no brief list of recommendations would be complete without a book by Lawrence Venuti. He is the editor of The Translation Studies Reader (2nd ed. New York and London: Routledge, 2004), which should certainly be on the reading list of any grad class on translation. In this book you have several gems helpful for Bible translators, such as a new translation of Jerome’s “Letter to Pammachius” by Kathleen Davis, Fredrich Schleiermacher’s “On the Different methods of Translation” etc. Of the books Venuti himself authored, I highly recommend The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference (New York and London: Routledge, 1998). This book will help the reader understand Venuti’s influential division of works into foreignizing and domesticating translations.

And there you have it. If you are serious about translation studies, this will get you started. Happy reading!

May 19, 2011

David Stark on NT and Qumran Hermeneutics: Congratulations on a Successful Dissertation Defense!

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting in on my friend David Stark's successful dissertation defense. His dissertation was entitled "The Hermeneutical Roles of the Teacher of Righteousness and of Jesus of Nazareth in the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts and in the Epistle to the Romans." His academic advisor was Dr. Andreas Köstenberger. His 2nd reader was Dr. Benjamin Merkle, and his outside reader was none other than Dr. James Charlesworth from Princeton seminary.

Dr. David Stark's dissertation was definitely unique in that he incorporates Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolution into his theological investigation. Here, with David's permission, is the abstract of his ably-defended dissertation:

"Thomas Kuhn’s arguments about scientific paradigms and their shifts can illuminate the paradigms through which Paul and the Qumran community interpreted their scriptures. The Qumran community experienced a paradigm shift because of their encounter with the Teacher of Righteousness. Within the community’s new paradigm, the Teacher of Righteousness determined certain, specific facets of the presuppositional matrix through which the Qumran community interpreted their scriptures. Similarly, Paul experienced a paradigm shift because of his encounter with Jesus, and within Paul’s new paradigm, Jesus determined certain, specific facets of the presuppositional matrix through which Paul interpreted his scriptures. Nevertheless, although Paul and the Qumran community had similar core canons, similar interpretive methods, and similar patterns of religion, the differences between the figures to which they owed their allegiance shaped different hermeneutical paradigms and different patterns of valid interpretations. These differences further reinforced Paul and the Qumran community’s distinctive patterns of religion."

Congratulations, David, and may the Lord bless your future work!

May 13, 2011

A Different Kind of Theodicy

At SEBTS, doctoral students are generally required to take an one-credit "integrative seminar" class with Dr.  Bruce Little on critical thinking (one of the tougher yet more beneficial classes I've taken). In his book A Creation-Order Theodicy: God and Gratuitious Evil (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2005), Dr. Little presents his development of a theodicy that provides an alternative to the usual "greater-good" theodicies so often seen in Christian philosophy.

A theodicy is a defense of the existence of God in light of the existence of evil. A standard "greater-good" theodicy is the argument, more or less, that "all evil in the world could be justified on grounds that God permits only that evil from which He can bring a greater good or prevent some greater evil" (Little, 2).

Little provides a rigerous analysis and critique of the "greater-good"theodicies of John Hick, Richard Swinburne, and Michael Peterson (see Little's helpful summarizing chart on page 93). Little's first three objections to greater-good theodicies argue that, first, greater-good theodicies logically lead to the conclusion that, if "God allows all evil that comes into the world because from it He will bring about some greater good," and if such good "is a necessary good,"then evil becomes a necessity because the good that God brings about would not be possible without the evil that leads to it. The result is that "if the evil is necessary, then God must determine the evil in order to assure it will come to pass so that the good can obtain" (Little, 112). Secondly, if God uses evil to bring about good, then would not this lead to the conclusion that, at least for God, the end justifies the means? Thus one does not have to be truly concerned over evil, for it will ultimately work out for the good (Little, 113-114), leading to his third objection that greater good theodicies have the potential to detract from the Chrisian's responsibility for social justice and compassion (Little, 115-117). See the follneowing pages for further discussion of shortcomings in a greater-good theodicy.

Although I am not totall convinced  of all his objections (especially the second one, in light of Genesis 50:20), nevertheless Little makes an excellent case for some of the shortcomings of certain greater-good theodicies and their perceieved inability to counter the concerns of atheists and agnostics.

Little's alternative is worth looking into. He follows Augustine in arguing that evil should not be viewed of as a "thing" so much as the lack of good, or "a condition of privation in something that is good" (134). Thus, for God himself and his interaction within the Trinity, there is only perfect good and no hint of evil (135-137). Little's theodicy ultimately builds on the difference between God's interaction within himself and his interaction with man. Ultimately, "man's power of moral choice equipped him to live properly within the moral order God desinged for humanity. Any deviation was de to man's creaturely freedom and a misuse of the freedom he had been given. The consequences of man's rebellion although it was very severe did not go beyond the bounds of God's knowledge, nor did it in any way change the counsels of God" (142). Contra greater-good theodicies, Little acknowledges the existence of "gratuitous evil"; thus, Little's "Creation-Order" theodicy "recognizes the reality of gratutious evil while maintaining that God is morally justified in permitting such" (161). Ultimately, God has created man in his image in such a way that "alows for gratuitous evil as a corollary to the authenticity fo the power of moral choices" without denying God's providential control oer the universe, i.e. gratuitous evil is never allowed to "jeapardize the counsels of God or exceed the providential power of God" (161-163). Thus Little places a heavy emphasis on human choice as reflecting the image of God.

In answer to the question, "is it possible that God could prevent the most horrific evils and still honor the power of moral choice?" Little points out that although God could prevent any evil, if "evil act A" is the most horrific, and God prevents that, then by default "evil act B" becomes the most horrific evil and so on down the line. Thus the mere existence of evil guarantees that there will always be a "most horrific evil," but no particular evil is absolutely necessary (163-164).

Two quick points: Little seems to follow the "best of all possible worlds" view, though this is not as apparent until later in the book (esp. 176-177). Naturally this alone would require a separate analysis from the reader. Secondly, in regards to his critique of greater-good theodicy, Little is not arguing that God never brings evil out of good, only that he does not necessarily do so.

I am very intrigued and attracted to Little's thesis, though time will tell whether it can replace the standard theodicies, whether they be the "greater-good" or more deterministic frameworks. At least the reader who is interested in the problem of evil should give Little a second-look.

May 7, 2011

My Apologies to L. E. Modesitt (the dangers of equating a character's viewpoints with those of the author)

In a previous post, I interacted with L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s book entitled The Ethos Effect (Tor: 2004). In my post, I unfairly treated the viewpoints of the protagonist as those of Mr. Modesitt himself. This was both careless, unfair, and wrong of me, as Mr. Modesitt recently pointed out to me. I apologize to Mr. Modesitt and any readers of the original blog. Misrepresentation of an author is the 2nd greatest sin of writing (the first, obviously, being plagerism) The original post has been modified to clarify that it is the viewpoints of the characters, not necessarily those of Mr. Modesitt himself, that are being critiqued. The following is the statement from Mr. Modesitt (e-mail correspondance dated Friday, May 6th, 2011). This is posted with his permission (e-mail correspondance, May 7th, 2011), and he has graciously accepted my apology.

[beginning of correspondance]

"Dear Mr. Himes:
I have to say that I was somewhat surprised and greatly disappointed about your blog which discussed the philosophical points raised by my book -- The Ethos Effect
You certainly have the right, and in view of your beliefs, the duty to dispute ethical points at variance with your viewpoint.  And I have no problem with your dispute of the "beliefs" expressed in The Ethos Effect [although there are many parts of your argument I would dispute]. What you do not have the ethical right to do, however, is to assume that, out of the nearly sixty books I have published, the views expressed through characters in a single book represent or encapsulate my beliefs or views, especially since characters in other books express viewpoints which are in contradiction to those expressed in The Ethos Effect.  While I would not go quite so far as other authors who have noted that readers who assume that the beliefs of an author's characters are those of the writer are idiots, I do believe your blog goes far beyond the acceptable in claiming the beliefs expressed in the book represent my viewpoint on religion and ethics.. 
You will find different ethical viewpoints expressed many of my other novels, particularly in the current series, The Imager Portfolio, but also in Adiamante, Gravity Dreams, Empress of Eternity, Haze, and The Octagonal Raven, among others.
As a side note, I would also point out that no religion can exist without a component of humanism, since all religion on this planet exists, at least theoretically, to provide a better way of life for its believers, who are indeed human, and all doctrines, codes, revelations, from or about the divine are filtered through human perception and interpretation."
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
[end of correspondance]

He is, of course, absolutely correct to rebuke me, and I will endeavor to be more careful in future interactions with books of fiction. For the record, Mr. Modesitt is an excellent and surprisingly deep writer (last Christmas I gave the first two books of his Corean chronicles to my best friend, a fantasy aficionado). 

Regarding the last paragraph of his statement, I can concede the point to a certain extent, though I certainly can't speak for all religions. My definition of "humanism" and "humanistic," however, refers to the viewpoint that sees the good of humanity as the telos, the primary and end goal, of existence. (see, for example, The Humanist Manifesto II, online at http://www.americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II  [accessed 5/7/2011]; note especially the fourth paragraph in the essay proper, after the preface; the interested reader should also note that Isaac Asimov was one of the signers of the document; despite this, I still consider Asimov to be a great sci-fi writer, in his non-fiction as well as fiction)
To a certain degree Christianity and other religions do try to look out for the welfare of their adherents. Yet Christ showed compassion on all men, not just his followers (e.g. Luke 17:11-19), and Christians who fail to show compassion to those outside the faith in addition to those inside the faith have absolutely failed as Christians (e.g. Galatians 6:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:12).
Also, the point of Christianity is that we exist to the glory of God (the "supreme being," if you will), as 1 Corinthians 10:31 notes, and that anybody who joins a church or claims conversion simply on the basis of what it can do for them has missed the big picture. One does not follow Christ simply to escape judgement or for a "pie-in-the-sky" future, but rather because of Who and What he is. Furthermore, as an ideology, Christianity does not benefit from becoming closely tied to the state. One of the worst things that happened to Christianity, in my opinion, was Emperor Constantine and the eventual nationalization of Christianity. Furthermore, any Christians who attempt to force their views on others, either through the state or at the personal level, are not acting like Christians.

Mr. Modesitt is absolutely correct in the last line of his e-mail concerning "human perception and interpretation," and Christians should indeed recognize that we may be (indeed, often are) fallible in our interpretations. I would suggest, however, that this does not necessarily invalidate the concept of divine revelation itself. My own views are those of an inerrantist in regards to Scripture (in the original languages, of course), though I recognize a diversity of views regarding revelation in Christianity.

I thank Mr. Modesitt for his interaction, apologize for misrepresenting him, and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

May 6, 2011

Christian Theological Dialogue (or, how to disagree without being a jerk)

"Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thess 5:13, KJV)

 The setting? A Christian college dormitory. The topic? Election (of course!) A cacophony of voices rises above the normal sounds of every-day college life. Positions are vigorously debated, opponents are dismissed outright, and occasionally a voice is shrilly raised to protest somebody’s (alleged!) misrepresentation of their position. The debate continues far into the night and ends with neither side convinced of the other’s position. A few feelings have been hurt, and a few words spoken perhaps a bit too hastily.

Naturally graduation to the seminary level means that the same debate will be carried on with more intelligence, more poise, and a Kant-ian level of pure reasoning. Or perhaps not. Whatever the case, from the halls of a college dormitory to the postings on a Facebook page to the pure academic setting of a peer-reviewed journal to the coffee-fueled discussion of a Sunday school class, theological dialogue has always been and will always continue to be a part of the Christian life.

 But what, then, are the boundaries for such dialogue? When Christ are the Apostle Paul engaged in theological dialogue, they were hardly polite! Yet for those of us that lack the complete knowledge of our opponents’ hearts or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to back our arguments, surely there must be some guidelines that, at the least, keep us edifying each other rather than tearing each other down!

 In order to facilitate some thoughts along these lines, I want to look at some examples of academic theological dialogue and then try to develop some principles that will facilitate us in our “dialogue/debate” with fellow believers on various theological issues.

 One more note: I’m incredibly grateful to the meek yet intelligent spirit shown by my fellow doctoral students at SEBTS. It seems that at the ph.d. level, we can actually disagree, have fun in the process, and still remain friends! The irony is that there is way more theological divergence between me and my friends at the doctoral level than there ever was at the college level, yet the dialogue remains significantly more cordial.

 The first example of theological dialogue we’ll look at is a positive one, between my advisor Dr. David Alan Black and Dr. Robert Stein on the Mark and the Synoptic Gospels. [let the record show, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’m fully on my advisor’s side on this one, but that’s irrelevant to my point]. Both Drs. Black and Stein are reasonably courteous in their interaction with each other, despite strong disagreements.

 In “Some Dissenting Notes on R. Stein’s The Synoptic Problem and Markan ‘Errors’” (Filologia Neotestamentarai 1 [1998]: 95-101), Dr. Black disagrees with Dr. Stein regarding whether or not Mark uses improper grammar. The nature of the disagreement is unimportant. What is important is how Dr. Black goes about disagreeing without getting overly-harsh. On page 95, Black desires “to show that Stein’s arguments fail in fact to demonstrate the peculiarities he has in mind” [regarding Markan priority based on allegedly inferior Markan grammar]. Ultimately his harshest criticism is that the Markan style is “misinterpreted by him [Stein]. . . he has suppressed information we need.” One page 98, he states, “Once again, Stein has suppressed information . . .”

This is, of course, acceptable dialogue. Claiming that somebody has misrepresented something or suppressed information is not an attack on their character, especially since Black never suggests that Stein is doing so deliberately.  Furthermore, Black interacts very closely with Stein on the evidence itself and does not introduce red herrings.

Robert Stein responds to Black in the 2nd edition of his book and is surprisingly courteous (Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation [2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001]. Actually, he only interacts with Black in three footnotes, so his response is not at all thorough, but nevertheless it is gentlemanly. Twice (p. 57 n11 and 58 n15) he actually concedes Black’s point that he should not have used the term “poor grammar,” but nevertheless sticks to his guns by asserting that Mark’s usage is still unusual and thus his argument is unaffected. On page 58, n13, Stein simply refers the reader to Black’s article for an alternative viewpoint (always an academically honest thing to do, though perhaps not as thorough a response as Black's article warrents).

Ultimately who is “right” on the issue is irrelevant (*cough* Dr. Black is correct *cough*). What’s important is that these two scholars strongly disagree with each other yet do not get personal. This is a good example of dialogue.

Another positive example of cordial disagreement can be found in James Barr’s monumental The Semantics of Biblical Language (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf & Stock, 1961). Consider the following paragraph, where Barr manages to take Metzger to task while simultaneously praising him! “With respect to the scholarship of the author [Bruce Metzger], I cannot regard this paragraph as other than a romanticization . . . its contrast with the careful scientific method of the rest of Metzger’s article is very noticeable.” Notice Barr disagrees with Metzger while at the same time declaring how great a scholar Metzger is! Classy! Of course, Barr was not always so courteous to his theological opponents, but his disagreement with Metzger here is still, in my opinion, “courteous dialogue par excellence”!

Now lets move onto a theological exchange that, in my opinion, gets a bit too personal on both sides. To avoid distraction, we shall refer to the scholars as “Dr. S” and “Dr. C” (see the bibliography at the end of this article if you really need to know who they are). Once again, the nature of the argument and who is correct is irrelevant. The dialogue is found in Westminster Theological Journal 67 (Fall 2005).

In the first article, Dr. S provides us with a mostly negative review article of scholar C’s book. The article is entitled “Biblical Greek and Modern Greek: A Review Article.” To be fair, Dr. S does start on a positive note, and calls the book in question “[Dr. C’s] most impressive contribution to date” (391). Yet overall the review article is very negative, Dr. S’s two major problems with the book, what he calls its two major weaknesses, are “the tendency to overstate opinions” and “failure to make use of the advances in linguistic science over the past eighty years” (393).

So far this is not a problem. Yet in the course of the review Dr. S makes two statements that push the boundaries a little, in my opinion. On page 396, he states, “various other comments in the book make one’s head shake in disbelief” and “these and other examples of naïve argumentation are perplexing.”

The reference to “shaking one’s head in disbelief” seems to be more borne out by emotion than logic, while the use of “naïve” may really not be the best term for academic debate.

However, Dr. C’s response is more personal (pp. 405-415). He has nothing good to say about Dr. S, and his first sentence sets the tone: “[Dr. S] has attempted to write a review of my book” (405). Notice the use of the word “attempted.” The implication is that Dr. S’s article is so lousy it does not count as a real review. Later, on page 410, Dr. C. states, “As usual, [Dr. S] fails to get to grips with the contents of this chapter, though he chides me for not using modern linguistic terminology. One is tempted here to ask, why didn’t he, with his modern linguistic terminology, solve the problem of the correct pronunciation of ancient Greek?” Here the last sentence is very emotional, almost a direct attack, and has nothing to do with the overall argument. Later, on 414, Dr. C states, “The following example show’s [Dr. S] lack of feeling for the Greek language . . . no one should blame [Dr. S] for his lack of feeling for Greek. . . . but [Dr. S] perhaps could be more careful with ironizing those who do have a feeling for Greek.” Here Dr. C basically launches a direct attack on Dr. S’s ability with the Greek language. Whether Dr. C is correct in his assessment or not is irrelevant; there are other ways to disagree with somebody than to argue that they lack the same ability in Biblical Greek than you do (to be fair, Dr. C is a native Greek speaker; still, I think he goes too far here).

Finally, on 414 Dr. C states, “The entire review is an aggregate of misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and criticism of the reviewer’s own construals of my meaning.” This, of course, is simply not true since Dr. S deliberately made a point of praising certain aspects of Dr. C’s book. At best it’s a careless overstatement on the part of Dr. C.

Finally, Dr. S provides a very brief rejoinder. To his credit, he backs off on one of his points: “I accept [Dr. C’s] argument . . . in looking back at this point, I acknowledge that my assessment sounds hypocritical.” This, I think, speaks well of Dr. S’s character without detracting from his argument. It is no shame, and no weakness, to admit that you overstated your case or misrepresented your opponent. Overall, of course, Dr. S sticks to his guns and also urges the reader to analyze the disagreement for themselves, always a good thing to do.

The dialogue between Drs. S and C must still be within the acceptable scope of academic dialogue, otherwise WTJ would never have published it. Yet clearly there are some personal feelings involved, and the dialogue is not quite as commendable, perhaps, as the one between Dr. Stein and Dr. Black.

Now, then, let me make a few recommendations for theological dialogue that will hopefully equally apply to Christians no matter what the context.

1. First of all, don't get personal! If there are issues in the other person’s character that need addressing, then do so as Christ commanded you to do (Matthew 18:15-17). A theological discussion is not the place to bring such things up. Neither insulting comments nor comments directed at somebody's character have any place in theological dialogue and will just make you look like you’re still in grade school rather than seminary or Bible college. Never call into question somebody’s intelligence, piety, spirituality, walk with the Lord, motives, or devotional life! Only God knows the heart. If you seriously think that there’s a defect in your opponent’s character, confront it in the appropriate manner, not in the middle of a theological discussion (especially when others are present).

2. Closely tied to the first point, mind your terminology. There’s a whale of a difference between the terms “idiot” and “misinformed.” The latter attacks the argument of the opponent, while the former attacks the character. After all, one can still be intelligent and yet be “misinformed,” but “idiot” makes a statement about somebody’s character, a statement that we have no right to make. Similarly “absurd” is not a good term to use, since you’re portraying your opponent as dim-witted (whether they really are or not is not the point! It’s not your call to make, and only the Lord can see the heart). Instead of calling somebody’s argument “absurd,” say that it “has not taken into account all the evidence” (and then show exactly what evidence it hasn’t taken into account). I would suggest it’s okay to say that your opponent has “misrepresented” the evidence, because that may imply a simple mistake or logical lapse on their part. Do not accuse your opponent of “falsifying” the evidence, however, since that’s a moral issue and should be handled personally outside of theological debate.

3. Stay humble! Guess what?  Regarding the non-essentials of the faith, you (and I) may be wrong! Yes, that’s right; despite the hours you’ve put into thinking through the topic, despite that “killer A+ paper” you wrote for your favorite professor, despite the fact that you once personally heard “great preacher Dr. Mucky-muck” speak on the topic, despite all that, you (and I) might still be wrong. There have been thousands of people before you, and there will be thousands of people after you, who have debated this topic, and probably the vast majority of them are more intelligent than you (and I). Also, none of us are in any position to judge our opponent’s intelligence; he or she may be smarter than we are, and even if they’re not, intelligence does not necessarily mean one is right! Finally, remember that the other brother or sister in Christ has just as much of the Holy Spirit as you do, so don’t assume that you have any sort of special divine revelation on the topic.

I’m not being post-modern here (after all, there is one correct position, but it’s not necessarily mine!), nor am I referring to the essentials of the faith. I will never admit the possibility of being wrong in such matters as the deity, death, and resurrection of Christ, inspiration of Scripture, etc. But I am referring to our views on various interpretations where Scripture is not as clear as we would like it to be. As the general rule, the clearer Scripture is, the more we can be adamant in our position. On a related note, see the interesting article by Craig L. Blomberg, “The New Testament definition of heresy (or when do Jesus and the apostles really get mad?” JETS 45 (March 2002): 59-72.

4. Don’t brush aside your opponent’s arguments. If you don’t like how they cited Scripture, don’t just accuse them of proof-texting and go on your merry way. Rather, interact with them on the level of the text. If you cannot offer an alternative to their interpretation of Scripture, then you have failed to adequately answer their argument. Similarly, don’t just brush aside any sources they bring to bear on the problem. Deal with them before going on the offensive again. Instead of saying “Clearly Dr. B is missing the point because he’s a Methodist [or Baptist or Presybterian],” try saying “Dr. B’s article fails to deal with the following issues . . .”

5. Finally, remember that your treatment of others is more important that winning a theological argument! If you can’t be polite when debating election, then don’t debate! If you find yourself raising your voice, then back off and go throw a football or something. I believe Christ is more concerned that we love each other rather than that we confound each other with brilliant theological arguments.


Black, David Alan. “Some Dissenting Notes on R. Stein’s The Synoptic Problem and Markan ‘Errors,’” Filologia Neotestamentaria 1 (1988): 95-101.

Blomberg, Craig L. “The New Testament definition of heresy (or when do Jesus and the apostles really get mad?” JETS 45 (March 2002): 59-72.

Caragounis, Chrys C. “The Development of Greek and the New Testament: A Response to Dr. Silva.” WTJ 67 (Fall 2005): 405-415.

Silva, Moisés. “Biblical Greek and Modern Greek: A Review Article.” WTJ 67 (Fall 2005): 391-404.

_______. “Some Comments on Professor Caragounis’s Response.” WTJ 67 (Fall 2005): 417-418.

Robert H. Stein, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001). Note that Stein’s first edition was written before Black’s critique and so naturally does not contain his response to Black.