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

Dec 29, 2012

Book Alert: Peter, Paul, and Prepositions

“Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, kjv). Ah, if only the Preacher knew how true this would be in the modern era! Today we are overly-blessed (or cursed, perhaps) with a seemingly infinite influx of new books each year, and 2012 is no exception. Naturally, some books are more worthy of attention than others. While it is ultimately impossible to give a nod of recognition to every book in Biblical studies that deserves it, I’d like to highlight four noteworthy books from 2012 that caught my attention (and, subsequently, my credit card).
Note: the following are not reviews (though I might review one or all of them later), but rather just brief descriptions designed to pique the reader’s interest.
1. First of all, we have Larry R. Helyer’s The Life and Witness of Peter (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012; 329 pages including indices).  To a certain degree, this is the book I’ve been waiting for the past few, ever since I decided to focus on Petrine studies. If you threw a stone, you could probably hit a dozen Pauline theologies or studies, but works focusing on Peter’s theology and writings are comparatively rare. Now Helyer’s book is not a pure Petrine theology per se, but rather a comprehensive study of both Peter and his writings (part of the book, then, is a Petrine theology; e.g., chapter 7, which deals with “Peter’s Christology”).  Much of The Life and Witness of Peter focuses on Peter’s role in the early church, but Helyer also devotes two chapters to 1 and 2 Peter, chapters which serve a similar role to their equivalent chapters in a standard NT Introduction (i.e., discussing issues of authorship, date, key themes, etc.). Other chapters, as mentioned above, deal with specific theological themes in Peter’s writings. Ultimately, The Life and Witness of Peter fills a very important, oft-neglected niche in scholarship. Furthermore, Helyer is a better writer than most; The Life and Witness of Peter is very scholarly but not at all stuffy, usually finding that right balance between overly-simple and too technical. This is a characteristic he carries over from his other  works, as well. In the doctoral seminary “Second Temple Literature,” Dr. Köstenberger required us to read Helyer’s Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period (as well as George Nickelsburg’s excellent Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah), and I remember being struck by how enjoyable Helyer’s book was compared to most required textbooks.
2. Secondly, we have my own advisor, Dr. David Alan Black’s, revision of an earlier monograph (and his dissertation) Paul, Apostle of Weakness: Astheneia and Its Cognates in the Pauline Literature (Eugene, Oreg.: Pickwick, 2012; 193 pages including indices). Throughout this book Black examines the concept of “weakness” in the Apostle Paul’s writings and how it is developed throughout. Chapter 5 contains both an excellent overview of “weakness” in Paul’s theology (culminating in the conclusion that Paul’s concept of weakness is "markedly theocentric," p. 161) as well as a very valuable section on “Pauls’ Relevance for Today” (a welcome  addition to any academic monograph!) with the following thought provoking statement, “Too many Christians are disheartened over their infirmities, thinking that only if they were stronger in themselves they could accomplish more for God. But this point of view, despite its popularity, is altogether a fallacy. God’s means of working, rightly understood, is not by making us stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker until the divine power alone is clearly manifested in our lives” (pp. 161-162).
Like Helyer, one of Dr. Black’s strengths in writing lies in the fact that his works are generally easily accessible and often enjoyable (the reason Learn to Read New Testament Greek remains one of the most popular 1st year Greek textbooks). Even Paul, Apostle of Weakness, which is a monograph (and should, by definition, be incredibly dull!), still manages to be both interesting and surprisingly easy to follow. Despite the occasional citation of untranslated German (he did, after all, get his doctorate at the University of Basel), this is a book that most Christians, even those without much education, can get some value out of (especially chapter 5).
Let me emphasize again, then, that accessible, enjoyable writing is a skill that should be prized in Biblical studies. Now, granted, it’s not like we want our scholars making their academic works read like the next Michael Crichton novel (although, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea . . . [Zondervan, give me a call! I’ve got a great idea for Minnesota Mounce and the Participles of Doom!]) Yet the fact remains that academic works in Biblical studies do not have to be dry! (two of the best examples of enjoyable NT writers, in my opinion, are Michael Bird and N. T. Wright, regardless of whether or not one agrees with them).
3.Thirdly, we have a book that is already making quite the splash within Biblical scholarship. Murray J. Harris’ Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012; 293 pages including indices) does not represent a new area of research per se, but is itself, to a certain degree, a refinement or expansion upon Harris’ essay in volume 3 of Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Harris provides a thorough overview of the Greek preposition in the New Testament, helpfully discusses “Dangers to Be Avoided in Any Examination of New Testament Prepositional Usage” (ch. 3), and then proceeds to examine every proper and improper preposition that occurs in the NT, paying special attention to important and/or controversial usage. At this point, Harris’ work does indeed seem to be turning into what the title promises: “An Essential Reference Resource.” See my friend Craig Hurst's review here. 
4.Finally, here’s a fantastic idea that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner: Devotions on the Greek New Testament: 52 Reflections to Inspire & Instruct, ed. by J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012). This book is exactly what the title suggests: devotional treatments of Greek texts, basically Our Daily Bread for seminary students. The authors write in a casual, occasionally personal manner (sometimes including stories). Each writer focuses on one Greek text (a verse or two) and unpacks it, pointing the reader to its practical application in the Christian life. The authorial lineup is a partial “who’s-who” of New Testament scholarship (Darrell Bock, George Guthrie, Lynn Cohick, Ben Witherington III, to name a few) with a few “rising stars” (such as my friend Alan Bandy, recent doctoral graduate from SEBTS).
Well, there’s a whole lot more books worth reading from 2012, but hopefully these will prove to be helpful to those interested in New Testament studies. Looking forward to what 2013 will bring!

Dec 22, 2012

Book Review--"Hymns Modern and Ancient" (with a subsequent discussion of lyrics and theology)

Ever been part of a spontaneous "singspiration"? Just within the past year at my local church, occasionally after the evening service a few of us, both young and old, have started gathering around the piano and begun singing even while folks are still mingling in the auditorium (sometimes we're still singing past closing time; Pastor Joe just reminds us to set the alarm code when we're done). This is not a part of the "formal" worship service, but it is worship nonetheless. This can easily last for an hour or so, and can include anywhere from 3 to 16 or so of us together at one time. We sing from a variety of songbooks, but one of our favorites is the recent Hymns: Modern & Ancient (compiled by Fred R. Coleman; Milwaukee, Wis.: Heart Publications, 2011).

We are told multiple times in the Psalms to sing a "new song" to the Lord. While there are plenty of old classics ("There is a Fountain Filled with Blood" remains one of my favorites), I don't think the Creator of the universe, the ultimate Creative Genius, intended us to sing the same songs day after day. Rather, I believe he intended us to stretch our intellect and our imagination in both poetry and music, and to appreciate the efforts of others, especially when it teaches us good theology!

This, then, is my greatest praise of Hymns: Modern & Ancient--it has taught me many new songs with powerful theological messages which have consequently had a positive impact on me at the emotional and spiritual level.

The first section of this post will give a basic overview of the book, the second section will offer some positive (and slightly negative) critique, while the third section will then launch off into a discussion of lyrics and their theological message.

Hymns: Modern & Ancient (hereafter referred to as HMA) deliberately patterns its title after the great Anglican book Hymns: Ancient and Modern (1861). Like the older work, ultimately the purpose of HMA is to "include both ancient and modern texts that articulate the timeless truths of Scripture and are rich in biblical doctrine" (from the introduction, n.p.). Unlike the older work, however, compiler Fred Coleman hopes that HMA will prove more accessible to the average congregation of a local church. Concerned that "modern congregations ignore too many great hymns of the past and shun too many great hymns of the present," Coleman hopes that "the tunes in this collection will prove to be both accessible and memorable for any who revel in the Gospel and its life-changing power."

The book itself (available from Heart Publications; it also appears on Amazon.com but is currently listed as "unavailable") comes either in a hard-cover format or a "concealed spiral binding" format that allows it to be opened on a music stand without closing. It's roughly 16 dollars and contains 133 songs, together with an introduction and the indexes you would expect. Interestingly, the songs are all in alphabetical order.

The reader should note that first and foremost this is a supplementary songbook. In other words, this is not the kind of songbook that you'll find in the pew of your average church, simply because most of the songs will not be as familiar to the average Christian (or at least the average Baptist). This is deliberate, and simultaneously represents both the songbook's greatest strength and its only major obstacle to widespread use. You won't find "A Mighty Fortress" or even "Amazing Grace" in here, but those songs exist in virtually every mainstream Christian hymnal and there is no need to introduce them to believers. You will find many obscure (yet awesome) songs, as well as some that have started becoming more popular lately such as "Before the Throne of God Above" and "Complete in Thee" (and for good reason). Some songs will be familiar, but most probably will not be.

The book does live up to its name. Some of the songs have very old roots (e.g., "Jerusalem the Golden," with the words written by Bernard of Cluny; also a song paraphrased off of the 4th century Te Deum Laudamus, etc.), while others were penned by contemporary authors (NT scholar D. A. Carson himself is behind about five of the songs). In fact, you'll find a lot of songs by Keith and Kristyn Getty, Bob Kauflin, Stuart Townend, and Fred Coleman himself (along with his wife). As will be discussed below, given the ecclesiastical background of this particular book, this is actually more surprising than you would think (I'm deliberately being cryptic here; more on that below).

Here's some of the more noteworthy songs. First of all, "Before the Throne of God" (#14) is fast becoming a Christian classic, as it should! When I took the doctoral seminary "Hebrews" with visiting NT scholar George Guthrie (possibly the Best Class Ever!), Dr. Guthrie ended the week-long seminar by having us sing this song together as a class. The theology is straight out of the book of Hebrews and contains a powerful message. Christian, if you have not yet learned this song, do so immediately!

Other modern classics that may be better known in broader evangelical circles include "Complete in Thee" (28) and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (#52), which has even been sung by The Irish Tenors.

Other songs may be lesser known but contain familiar tunes. "O Love Divine," for example, is based off of the Irish tune "Star of the County Down" (still sung by modern group Celtic Woman). The rhythm, however, has undergone a major overhaul, going from a fast-paced, "spunky" folk song to something slower and considerably more reverent. The lyrics, of course, are first-rate.
More importantly, however, there are some songs that I learned directly as a result from singing from this book alongside of friends. These include #70 "Jesus, the Son of God", #15, the Getty's "Behold the Lamb,"#48 "His Robes for Mine," and the emotionally powerful #35, "Free from Guilt and Free from Sin."

Note: copyright laws prohibit me from quoting even a tiny snippet of the lyrics of these songs, though I can quote older songs that are public domain. However, I urge you, dear reader, to find the lyrics somewhere and meditate on them.

HMA, then, has enough content in it to keep any congregation occupied learning both new and old songs.

As already mentioned, my greatest praise for HMA is that it taught me new songs rich with powerful theology. When I take  that into consideration with all the hours I've spent singing these songs in spiritual fellowship with my friends, and the powerful conviction and assurance that these songs can bring, I conclude that this songbook is definitely spiritually beneficial both to the individual Christian and to any community of believers (provided you aren't daunted by learning new songs). Thus, although I cannot critique individual songs, I believe overall this is an all-star selection that is reasonably accessible to a church.

It may, however, be a bit too obscure for its own good. Since the vast majority of songs are not those you'd find in the average hymnal, the average Christian may struggle a bit to get enjoyment out of it without help.  Even though I can more-or-less read music (if you don't rush me!), I still feel that as an individual Christian I had no hope of utilizing the songbook to its fullest potential without the help of my friends. Only when paired with somebody who knows how to use the piano have I truly benefited from it initially; once I learn the song, though, then I'm set and can sing it by myself. This will not be an issue for the truly musically talented, of course, but may be a stumbling block for most individual Christians.

Given the obscure nature of most of these songs, and given  that this is a supplementary songbook, perhaps a brief history of some of the older songs might have been appropriate. In addition, some other hymnals place an appropriate Scripture verse below the song's title; off all songbooks, that would have been especially appropriate here given that the theological depth of the songs in HMA put many others to shame.

Other than that, my only negative critique stems from certain omissions. There are only two Christmas songs that I could tell (#59, "Holy Child,"and #106, "See in Yonder Manger Low"). A few more would have been very beneficial since generally we end up singing the same dozen or so every November and December (and not all of them are theologically deep).

It's hard to critique HMA beyond that, since making the book any bigger would have hindered its accessibility. I do wish, however, that "Be Thou My Vision" had been included, just because it would "feel right" in this kind of book even though it's more well-known that most (yes, I realize that's a purely subjective critique; deal with it :)

This are all very minor, picky critiques (and I'm only offering them as a matter of principle; it's a personal quirk of my writing that I'm not going to give any book a perfect, 100% score unless I'm reviewing Scripture itself!), and they are fairly insignificant in light of the benefit this book can bring.
This, then, naturally leads into a discussion of lyrics in our songs . . .

Lyrics and Theology
I have a confession: it irritates me to no end when people sing only the first verse to "A Mighty Fortress" (yes, I've heard this done, including on an otherwise top-notch CD by a men's music group). Think about it; where does the verse end? "And armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal," a reference to the devil himself! You absolutely must follow it with the second verse ("Did we in our own strength confide our striving would be losing/were not the right Man on our side? The man of God's own choosing").

The sad fact is, many congregations don't pay attention to the actual content of their songs (this is why, this December, many congregations singing "The First Noel" will skip from verse 1 to verse 3, which makes absolutely no sense if you're actually paying attention to the lyrics). This results in some flat-out inaccurate phrases. In "Away in a Manger," for example, the phrase "No crying he makes" is, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a diminishing of Christ's true humanity. Likewise, "We Three Kings" is inaccurate even in the title. It should be "We Three Magi" (there's a major difference between a "king" and a "magi"). Even theologian Roger Olson recently noted in a blog post about the irony of a premillennial church singing the postmillennial song "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations" (right after a sermon on the imminent return of Christ, no less!)

Now, this can be taken a bit too far, of course. I'm not going to stop signing "We Three Kings," I'm just going to replace "Kings" with "Magi" because accuracy matters, especially in worship. How can I dare to sing a lie to God who is literally "the un-lying One" (Titus 1:2--Gr. apsudeis)? Thus when singing "Away in a Manger," I replace "no crying" with "some crying."

I'm a little less harsh on theological issues in songs. The writers of "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations" felt they were accurately representing Scripture, and I'll respect them for that even as I disagree with their eschatology. I'm not going to throw out the song, I'll just hum a certain part of the chorus. Similarly, I have some friends who believe a certain phrase in verse 4 of the song "In Christ Alone" (by Getty/Townend) is too Calvinistic for them to sing. I'm not totally convinced that the phrase necessarily implies hyper-Calvinist theology, but even if it did I'm unwilling to throw out a beautiful and powerful love message to the Creator simply because I disagree on a relatively minor theological issue (and I firmly believe issues of Calvinism and Arminianism are relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things).

I say all that with a recognition that my own theology and exegesis and thinking is going to be inaccurate and even flawed in some places. Yet I hope that people will still read what I write in spite of that!

Having said all that, my point is simply that lyrics do make a difference and we should be aware of them and seek those songs that will be edify the church. I've long wondered, for example, what theological benefit a classic song like "I Come to the Garden Alone" really brings. Granted, the song isn't heretical, and it may even be quite beautiful. It reads like a personal love letter to Jesus, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Yet there is not much theological depth to it, nothing that can really teach the congregation. As such, I wonder whether or not this song is best sung by oneself rather than by the congregation. (feel free to disagree with me on this, dear reader)

In closing consider two modern songs about Mary. The first one, "Still Her Little Child" by Ray Boltz and Steve Milikan, I once heard sung in an IFB church by two ladies who cried all throughout the song (nothing wrong with the crying part per se; frankly, I think we should cry more often when we sing). The song is all about how Jesus was still, in Mary's eyes, her little boy throughout his ministry and culminating in the crucifixion. Now, there is a hint of theology in the song (find it for yourself; copyright laws prohibit me from quoting from it). The focus, however, is all wrong. Not that it focuses on Mary per se, but rather that in this song Mary's relationship to Jesus as her child trumps everything else in the Gospel narrative. Not only is this a wrong focus, it may be bad theology, because in both Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 11:27-28, Jesus declares that obeying God trumps genetic relationship. Indeed, it is not the one who gave birth to him that is family, but rather the one who follows him and does the will of God (not that this is any excuse for us to neglect our moms on Mother's Day! :)  Whatever the case, this is theologically inadequate for worship, especially congregational worship. I don't mean to criticuze Boltz/Milikan directly; I'm sure they're good folk who love the Lord. I just wish they had thought their song through a bit more.

Consider, on the other hand, "Mary Did You Know," by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. Now, granted, I've heard this song sung in ways that I would consider inappropriate for congregational worship (that's a very subjective discussion for another time), but I've also heard it sung very reverently. More importantly, however, the message is extremely power and focuses on Christ's deity, the mystery of the incarnation, and the fact that the Child whom Mary gave birth to will actually bring her (and others) redemption.

Notice the difference between these two songs. The first one focuses on Mary's relationship to her little boy; the second one focuses on Mary's relationship to her Lord and Savior!! This makes all the difference in the world. The first one is nice and sweet, but it's not worship. The second one makes you want to fall down on your face or raise your hands in triumphant adoration.

Dear reader, let's celebrate good lyrics, especially those that reflect good theology! If the ESPN commentators pull out all the stops to both imaginatively and accurately describe a football game, should we not strive to do the same when worshipping the Uncreated One?

Dec 1, 2012

Lament and Jubilee: Two Test Cases for OT Relevance in the Church Age

During my time in Southeastern's doctoral program, I have come to know a few fine Old Testament scholars-in-the-making. Occasionally I gently rib them about the OT being a "prologue" for Scripture, to which they respond with a suitably snarky comment (often calling into question my sanctification!)

Yet kidding aside, all Christian's must realize the unmeasurable importance of the Old Testament as a major portion of God's word, profitable for reproof, instruction, etc. Yet this begs the question: how exactly do we apply the OT to everyday life? Do we give up our BLTs and ham sandwiches? Do we adhere to all the purity laws that the Jews did? What about the festivals?

Of course, Christians live practically as if we were not under the same obligations the Jews were regarding such Old Testament commands, and I'm not about to suggest otherwise (seriously, my life's complicated enough as it is!) Yet in what way then can the Old Testament be instructional to the New? Likewise, whole books such as Lamentations or (dare I say it?) Song of Solomon get frequently ignored in our preaching or forced into a role they were never meant to fill (yeah, Song of Solomon 1:2 is pretty hard to explain when the whole book is treated as an allegory for the church).

Of course, as evangelicals we argue that the Old Testament points to Christ, and that is certainly true (and Jesus himself argued this, as my friend Matt Emerson wisely pointed out in a recent blog post entitled "The Bible is about Jesus"). Nevertheless, it sometimes becomes difficult to actually apply specific texts in this manner while simultaneously doing justice to the historical-sociological background (although, as Emerson points out, we must not take OT texts in isolation from the grander meta narrative). Preaching and teaching from the Old Testament can be tough! (at least for some of us)

What I'm offering here is not a comprehensive answer to how Leviticus 11, for example, should be preached in the church. Instead, this post will focus on two treatments of the Old Testament that, in my opinion, do an excellent job of making difficult sections of the Old Testament relevant to the modern Christian. The first is Dr. Heath Thomas' article "'My God! My God!' Lament and the Christian Life" in Miqra 7 (Summer 2008): 11-15. Dr. Thomas is the newly appointed director of Ph.D. studies at Southeastern; he taught a  1-credit class on Lament a few years ago that opened my mind to a whole new paradigm of thinking regarding this particular genre (not that I had done much thinking on it in the past!) The second article is Christopher R. Bruno's "Jesus Is Our Jubilee" . . But How? The OT Background and Lukan Fulfillment of the Ethics of Jubilee" in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53 (March 2010): 81-101.

1. Lament and the Christian
(note: while I am careful to credit Dr. Thomas whenever citing directly from his article, I should also point out that the way I discuss the topic or use certain terminology may also have been unconsciously carried over from his class lectures in the Integrative Seminar "Lament" at SEBTS, Fall 2008). Naturally, any mistakes, heresies, or even misinterpretations of anything somebody else wrote is completely my fault.

I can't remember the last time I heard Lamentations preached anywhere. Furthermore, while such phrases as "great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:23) are well-known among Christians,  the rest of the book and much of OT Lament as a whole are neglected by Christians. Yet should they be? Is there really room for "lament" in the Christian life when we are commanded to be joyful? (and to say that Lament always ends in joy in the Scriptures is not entirely accurate, as seen in Psalm 88).

First of all, a definition. Lament, biblically speaking, is "an expression of distress directed to God" (Thomas, "My God! My God!", 12).  Naturally we find Lament all throughout the OT, including but not limited to much of Job, almost all of Lamentations, and various Psalms (e.g., Psalm 22). Significantly, however, we find a Lament on the very lips of Jesus himself, Mark 15:34 where he quotes Psalm 22:1. Elsewhere we see Lament in such New Testament texts as Revelation 6:10.

As we survey Lament throughout Scripture, we see that Lament is ". . . not petty complaints, but serious issues of justice about which the lamenter cannot keep silent" (Thomas, 12). Indeed, true Biblical Lament itself "recognizes that [the] world is upside down" (Thomas, 11), both in the sense that the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer (e.g., Job) and that God's mercy seems far away from his beloved (e.g., Lamentations).

We cannot minimize the real, raw emotion apparent in the cries of Lament, especially that of Christ himself. Whatever else Jesus was feeling on the cross, this was a desperate cry of pain and sorrow. As such, it is obviously not a sin for a Christian to cry out in the same manner. Well does Thomas note that ". . . the belief that lament lacks virtue because it is impious and unbefitting Christian ethics inevitably distorts (at best) or censors (at worst) a good deal of the biblical witness" (Thomas, 13).

Now, granted, there is a point in which Lament may cross the line into whining or, even worse, attacking the character of God. This is what Job came dangerously close to doing and why God rebuked him somewhat at the end (but this does not invalidate his Lament; my point is only that he began to go from Lament into something else; this is an immensely complicated issue--we cannot deny that Job is just, and that God himself holds him up as a paradigm for the others [Job 42-7; note that Job actually spoke rightly concerning God]; yet in his last speech it's possible that Job went from true Lament into a demand that God answer him together with an assumption that God was punishing him unjustly; see, for example Job 31:33-37)

Nevertheless Lament as seen in Scripture is not whining, nor is it undesirable, nor is it something that belongs strictly to Old Testament times. It is a genuine outpouring of grief, even a genuine questioning, expressed by believers of all eras and circumstances. When we are struck down with sorrow or despair, it is not only accepted but expected that we cry out to God, even if it means asking (as Christ did), "Why?!"

Yet here is what makes such Lament Biblical. Lament, first and foremost, is characterized by faith!! Thus Biblical Lament is "not tepid or weak in faith, but robust in the belief that God will hear and respond" (Thomas, 14). Indeed, "Lament remains a prayer to God, first and foremost" (Thomas, 14). In other words, the Christian may cry out to God, so long as he or she remembers just who it is they are calling out to! Thus, the Christian cries out to God, asking for an answer, precisely because he or she knows that God is capable of giving one!

Furthermore, Lament ultimately expresses a desire to see God's "Kingdom come." Lament does  this because "[it] knows of a time of God's goodness and intimacy with he faithful, but plays upon the 'gap' between that former reality and a present reality in which injustice, sin, oppression, and God-forsakenness reign. The desire for God to overcome that 'gap' and establish his justice in the world comprises the motivation for lament prayer in the Bible" (Thomas, 11).

So for the Christian living today, a in true Lament one  recognizes that something is not write with the world, whether it be sickness, sin, persecution, or loss of fellowship; but Lament prayer also recognizes that the one he or she is crying out to possesses the capability of making it right (and will someday do so). All this is seen par excellence in the death and resurrection of Christ. Going back to Mark 15:34, we see that "It is in the Christ-event that the present suffering of the world is embodied as well as (finally) overcome by God's reign" (Thomas, 12). Indeed, God did not allow Christ's body to suffer corruption but ultimately raised him up and glorified him. Consequently, the church may take comfort in that fact and provide a partial answer to the world regarding suffering: "By embracing suffering in the present, identifying with Christ, and allowing God to comfort, the Church becomes the minister of peace in the world (2 Cor 1:5-7)" (Thomas, 14).

So, what does this mean practically for the Christian living today? First off, there is no shame or sin in crying out to God in the midst of sorrow, even when accompanied by questions, so long as we remember who it is we are crying out to. This does not mean that God will or has to give us an immediate answer as to the "why," (e.g., Job never actually gets an answer), but we do get an Answer in the form of Christ, who has suffered beyond what we have. Thus we allow Lament to give proper expression to our grief and confusion, while at the same time looking forward to the time when God will answer everything and restore peace to his creation.

2. Jubilee and the Christian
In his article "Jesus is Our Jubilee . . . But How?", Christopher Bruno analyzes three  modern calls for a Jubilee (Jubilee 2000, Christopher Wright's Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, and John Yoder's The  Politics of Jesus) while examining Luke 4:18-19 in light of its Jubilee background in Leviticus 25:10 and Isaiah 61:1-3.

Bruno's discussion of the Jubilee begins with Leviticus 25. Here we see 3 key components of the Jubilee: 1. rest for the land, 2. the re-establishment of "proper distribution of land among tribes, clans, and families," and the 3. "resetting" of the Israelite economy via freedom for indentured servants (Bruno, "Jesus is Our Jubilee," 88). For this passage, Bruno especially emphasizes that Leviticus 25 focuses on "the centrality of the covenant," and that "The reason that Israel was to treat the poor among them with compassion was not simply out of magnanimous spirit, but as a demonstration of their loyalty to YHWH, their understanding of their own places as his redeemed people, and their trust in his care for them" (Bruno, 88-89).

In Isaiah 61:1-2, which Jesus quotes, Bruno argues that most likely Leviticus 25 is the background for some of the terminology here, especially as seen in the third and fourth items the Messiah is supposed to accomplish: the proclamation of liberty (Heb. drvr, a key word from Leviticus 25) and the proclamation of both the Lord's favor and vengeance. Ultimately, in the context of Isaiah 61, the "liberty" that is to be proclaimed to the captives "is, like Leviticus 25 and subsequent references to it, a proclamation of release or liberty for the oppressed members of the covenant community," and this is "part of a more general proclamation of Israel's restoration" (Bruno, 93).

Jesus, then, in Luke 4 takes this task upon himself. The Messiah is to "bring good news of aphesis [Gr. "liberty/release"] to the poor, blind, captives, and oppressed" (Bruno, 97). Ultimately, "Jesus' claim to 'fulfill' Isaiah 61 must be seen as a claim to inaugurate the eschatological Jubilee of God's people the time when their freedom from captivity and oppression would be permanent. . . . Therefore, it seems that the fulfillment of Jubilee through Jesus' ministry was an inauguration, but not completion, of the eschatological Jubilee" (Bruno, 98).

Nevertheless, there is something more going on here. Jesus' proclamation of liberty is inextricably linked first and foremost to his forgiveness of sins (Bruno, 98-99; this becomes the basis for Bruno's even-handed critique of other treatments of the Jubilee on pp. 99-100). Thus Bruno declares, "In the NT, the economic aspects of the Jubilee, although not altogether absent, are of a piece with the forgiveness of sin" (99) and "we cannot disconnect the forgiveness of debt from the forgiveness of sin and call it 'Jubilee'" [as some  do] (100). Furthermore, Jesus' proclamation in Luke 4 constitutes an inauguration of the Jubilee for the church age; no new "proclamations" of a Jubilee are needed (Bruno, 100-101).

So, what does this have to do with us today? What follows is a couple things that I take away from Bruno's article (if I've interpreted him correctly). First of all, even if the Jubilee is not observed in a technical sense like it was in the Old Testament, it is still a paradigm of living for the Christian today in the sense that we are still to show mercy, including economic mercy, to others as we are able (because this is what God has done to us through Christ). Too often a large portion of evangelicals has allowed liberal churches and theologians to be the ones focusing on helping the poor, etc., when in fact this should go hand-in-hand with the living out of the Gospel. This is not Walter Rauschenbusch's "Social Gospel," for we are not replacing Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, or the need for personal salvation, with economic "salvation"; rather, we are simply saying that true Gospel living manifests itself in helping those in need, as Christ did.

Secondly, as Bruno aptly emphasizes, the Jubilee concept of "proclaiming liberty" cannot be taken apart from the forgiveness of sins. One can and should help the poor (and done regardless of whether or not they are believers or whether or not we think they will come to Christ), but this should not be done apart from a concern for their spiritual well-being or for the proclamation of Christ's saving power. In light of this, I believe Bruno does a good job of summing up his overall point on p. 101--we are "to proclaim the Jubilee in the way that the NT teaches: striving for an economic and social justice that points to the reality of forgiven sin and the reconciliation of God, his people, and the world" (emphasis added).

Though I have had the privilege of preaching from OT texts to my church family, I am woefully unqualified to write on either OT theology or OT homiletics. Nevertheless, both Thomas' and Bruno's articles impressed me because I believe they show clearly how specific Old Testament texts do indeed apply today to the Christian church, and I believe Thomas and Bruno's observations hold true regardless of whether one is a dispensationalist, covenant theologian, or something in-between (e.g., "progressive inter-mil Reformed kingdom covenantalist"). As for Christological significance, we see both that (1.) true Lament is exemplified by Jesus himself on the cross, and it is to his relationship with the Father that we can look to for comfort, and that (2.) the Jubilee is taken up in Christ himself and his mission; consequently no true "Jubilee" can exist without forgiveness and faith in Christ.


Bruno, Christopher R. "'Jesus Is Our Jubilee' . . . But How? The OT Background and
Lukan Fulfillment of the Ethics of Jubilee." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53 (March 2010): 81-101.

Thomas, Heath A. "'My God! My God! Lament and the Christian Life." Miqra 7 (Summer 2008): 11-15.

For a more technical discussion on the genre of Lament and misuse of its terminology, see my friend D. Keith Campbell's article "NT Scholars’ Use of OT Lament Terminology and Its Theological and Interdisciplinary Implications" in Bulletin for Biblical Research 21.2 (2011). Now that I think of it, I hope I haven't committed any of the mistakes in terminology Campbell discusses in his article! :) (it's been awhile since I read it)

Nov 17, 2012

Congratulations to Joseph Greene on his successful dissertation defense!

My friend and fellow student at Southeastern, Joe Greene, has successfully defended his dissertation. It was entitled "The Realization of the Heavenly Temple in John's Gospel: Jesus and the Spirit." Dr. Greene's doctoral adviser was Dr. Andreas J. Köstenberger, his secondary reader was Dr. David Beck, and his outside reader was Dr. Paul Hoskins (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary).

For those interested in this topic, Dr. Greene has a forthcoming article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theoligical Society entitled "The Spirit in the Temple: Bridging the Gap Between Old Testament Absence and New Testament Assumption." Look for it within the next year or so.

Dr. Greene's abstract of his dissertation is as follows (posted with permission):

[beginning of abstract]

This dissertation seeks to demonstrate that the Gospel of John’s “temple replacement” theme is more accurately described as a “temple realization” theme. When examined through the lens of Johannine pneumatology, Jesus comes into focus as the realization of the heavenly temple.

Many first-century Jews believed that the true temple was located in the heavens. The Jerusalem temple was considered an earthly focal point of that heavenly reality. The eschaton would realize the heavenly temple on earth and from this new temple would flow a world-wide restoration. In the post-A. D. 70 shadow of the destroyed temple, the Fourth Evangelist described Jesus as the embodiment of the heavenly/eschatological reality. While the destruction of the second temple removed a man-made gateway to heaven, Jesus’ removal to heaven (or “glorification”) was a return to his original heavenly habitation. From heaven, the eschatological Spirit would flow from the exalted Jesus to the people of his name. Jesus embodied the more transcendent reality of the heavenly temple and his return to heaven occasioned an expanded and internalized realization of God’s presence through the renewing Spirit.

In order to substantiate the above position, this dissertation adopts a biblical-theological approach to the Fourth Gospel and treats the canonical text in its final form as the primary source. Although the presence of the temple and Spirit themes will be demonstrated from the text itself, many secondary works will also be utilized as stepping stones from which these recognized themes will be given greater definition. Such a reading will not read greater definition “into” the text but rather read the themes in light of the religious/cultural context of the literary work.

The literature of the Second Temple period will serve as the primary-source window into the religious/cultural context of John’s Gospel. From the OT and Second Temple literature, this dissertation will establish: 1) The ubiquity of the concept that an earthly temple was a gateway to the true heavenly temple. 2) The expectation for Yahweh’s renewed presence with an eschatological temple from which restorative waters would flow throughout the earth. In addition, the eschatological temple was expected to realize something of the true heavenly temple. 3) The Spirit was a common depiction of Yahweh’s presence among his people, in the temple, and in the eschaton. 4) Many expected the Spirit to accomplish an intensified and expanded eschatological renewal in God’s people that would spread to the nations. 5) The Spirit-filled Messiah would usher in this eschatological age.

By establishing the widespread occurrence of the above antecedents, John’s utilization of these concepts becomes more historically probable. In his presentation, the Fourth Evangelist combined these antecedent notions and made implicit connections explicit. John’s ultimate goal in utilizing these concepts was to urge belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:31). For John, all the eschatological promises were focused upon Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the eschatological center in heaven, from whom flows the living water of the Spirit.

In addition to the OT and Second Temple literature, John’s temple realization theme shares affinity with other NT writings. Revelation 21:22 describes the Lamb himself as the new temple in the eschaton. Other NT texts demonstrate the early and prevalent belief in the Messiah seated at the right hand of God’s heavenly throne as well as the belief that the Messiah would be the one who pours out the Spirit. The Fourth Evangelist simply pulls the eschatological promise of the new temple into the Messiah’s résumé since the eschatological temple was expected to be the source of renewing waters.

When the Fourth Gospel is read in light of these recognized concepts, John’s literary presentation argues that he incorporated and developed the above ideas into a heavenly temple realization theme.

A careful reading of John’s Gospel demonstrates the validity of the thesis. In the Book of Signs, the framework for a heavenly temple realization theme is set in the prologue, which prepares the reader to understand the Jesus story within a heavenly framework. Within this heavenly framework, John’s presentation progresses from Jesus as the tabernacle (John 1:14), to the new Bethel (John 1:51), to the temple (John 2:21), to Jerusalem and Gerizim being obsolete (John 4:21), and to Jesus as the eschatological temple from whom flows the promised Spirit (John 7:37–39). The Spirit-streams do “not yet” flow until Jesus returns to his heavenly glory. At that time, the eschatological water of the Spirit would be given—the efflux of the heavenly temple would flow throughout the earth via “those who believed in him.” John 11:48–52 provides a final ironic treatment of the Jerusalem temple, reinforcing that Jesus has fulfilled the temple and its cult. Those who believe in Jesus will be gathered together as the messianic children of God with the Messiah himself as the new cultic center.

John weaves his story such that Jesus fulfills the temple in the first half of his Gospel and the corollaries of that are spelled out in the second half as Jesus prepares the community for his departure. In the second half of John’s Gospel, the temple theme recedes because it is a type that supports Jesus’ identity. The type has given way to reality and that heavenly reality is the personal presence of the glorified Son. The reality of the personal presence of the Father and Son is mediated to the community through the Spirit. For this reason, the Spirit grows more personal and significant in the Book of Exaltation.

From heaven, the Son sends the Spirit-presence who is no longer a cultic manifestation as much as a realization of the familial presence of Father and Son. Temple imagery has been eclipsed by relational imagery signaling a true realization of the Father’s personal presence to his children. This language dominates the Farewell Discourse and its Paraclete passages. The Spirit Paraclete is sent from the glorified Jesus to realize the heavenly realities in the community. The messianic community is then tasked with testifying and spreading these heavenly truths throughout the world (John 20:21–22).

Throughout John’s Gospel, several interwoven themes and terms support a heavenly realization theme. For instance, the Fourth Evangelist applies “glory, presence, and name” terminology to Jesus throughout his Gospel, first in temple imagery and then in personal imagery. In the Farewell Discourse this terminology is used to describe the glorified Jesus realizing the divine presence in, and through, the disciples. The occurrence of this terminology supports a heavenly temple realization theme, especially in combination with the themes related to Jesus’ origin and return to heaven. Jesus’ return to heaven, “from above/heaven,” “ascending/descending,” and “sending” themes consistently set Jesus’ identity and origin in the heavens. Because these themes also assume that Jesus will continue a ministry that spans from heaven to earth, they offer collaborating support for Jesus realizing heavenly realities.
Johannine dualism and eschatology also cohere with a heavenly temple realization theme. Jesus bridges the spatial dualism to realize presently eschatological blessings. These blessings include the renewing waters of the Spirit flowing from Jesus, the heavenly temple.

[end of abstract]

If I may be allowed to put in a plug for our school, let me point out that there are a few things Southeastern excels at for doctoral studies, and on the top of the list is Johannine studies. Dr. Köstenberger has not only written the Baker Exegetical commentary for John, but also has recently produced a Johannine theology. In addition, Dr. L. Scott Kellum has also specialized in John, and his dissertation on the farewell discourse in John 13-16 has been published in the prestigious T&T Clark "Library of New Testament Studies" monograph series.

My own advisor, Dr. David Alan Black, has done a lot of work on a lot of topics but has especially made academic contributions in Greek, textual criticism, Synoptic studies, and Pauline studies (his dissertation on the concept of "weakness" in the Apostle Paul's writings was recently revised and re-published with Pickwick Publications). In addition, Dr. Maurice Robinson (the professor for whom I grade) is an expert on textual criticism and co-editor of the 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament; he has just finished collating every single manuscript that contains the pericope adulterae. Look for a major forthcoming work by him on that topic.

And that's just a few of the many fine scholars at Southeastern! At least SEBTS should be strongly considered an excellent option for any readers considering doctoral or Th.M. work.

Oct 13, 2012

The Son of God and the Downward Spiral of Humility

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of substituting for my advisor, Dr. Black, in his Greek Syntax/Exegesis class, mostly dealing with the structure and translation of Philippians 2:5-11. Laying aside the issue of whether or not vv. 6-11 was originally a hymn or not (see the various commentaries listed at the end of this post), the structure seems fairly straightforward: through verse 8 we have three main verbs with Christ as the subject (1. did not consider to be, 2. emptied himself, 3. humbled himself), with various participles modifying them (as my advisor emphasized to me in a conversation before I taught, the participles here are basically "unpacking the kenosis"). I would, however, like to point out what I see as a thematic development with the use of the various verbs (both finite verbs and participles), namely the progressive humiliation of the Son.

[I'm sure these observations are not original with me and that many writers have done a better job of unpacking this, but the following chain of thought is mine (other sources cited as appropriate). I may, however, have over-interpreted, so I'm open to critique. Also, thanks to an excellent, intelligent class at Southeastern for their interactions and thoughts on this passage during our discussion].

It seems that, thematically, we have a progressive lowering of the Son of God via the verbs in this passage, a downward spiral, if you will (followed, of course, by a dramatic reversal; we'll get to that later).

The humbling of the Son

We start, first of all, with Jesus (1.) being in the form (morphe)  of God Himself, yet nevertheless expressing humility to the extent that (2.) he decided not to "grasp" equality with God in the subsequent incarnation. The infinitive to einai is functioning substantively, of course, linking "equality with God" with the notoriously difficult noun arpagmon. This noun does not occur in the LXX, Josephus, or Philo (though note its similarity to the verb arpazw and the noun aprax ["thief"]). In fact, the word itself appears only twice in 1st century A.D. Greek literature, and both occurrences are in Plutarch (Questiones Convivales 644.A.3 and De Liberis Educandis 12.A.1), where it has the sense of "the act of grasping" or "the act of seizing" (actually as a reference to the act of kidnapping in the second reference!). So (more-or-less) literally, "He did not consider to be equal [the state of equality] with God something to be seized," a somewhat unclear statement that needs to be further explained.

So from being in the form of God himself, to refusing to take full advantage of his position, we then proceed to (3.) he emptied himself by (4.) receiving the form of a servant. Yet a servant can still be a powerful being, of course! Angels, after all, are servants, and mankind is said to be somewhat below them (Psalm 8:5). Nobody would dispute that angels can be powerful servants.

Yet the Son of God did not become an angel; no, he went even lower than that. This was not just any servanthood; this was servanthood (5a.) in the likeness of mankind, with all its frailties, agonies, and pain. Yet (5b.) having been found in the form (scheimati) of a man, this is still not humble enough. Some men are born to luxury while others are born to power and influence. Christ, however, was born to a poor family in a stable. Not being content with the incarnation as just any man, Christ adopts poverty and scandal. Thus Jesus (6.) humbles himself, ultimately (7.) "becoming obedient unto death."

The spiral continues to the very bottom. Experiencing death is not the epitome of humility. The death Christ experienced was not just any death; no, it was (8.) "the death of the cross," a very significant death. As Larry Hurtado writes,
"Crucifixion was one of several means used by Romans in cases of capital punishment, and carried a distinguishing significance and function.  It was  not intended simply to end the subject’s life but more particularly to degrade,  humiliate and make shameful the person crucified.  Moreover, it was deployed  particularly for the execution of those deemed to have raised a hand against Roman  authority. Hence, crucifixion was a Roman statement of power:  Effectively, it said  'See, this is what happens to those who challenge Rome.'" (Hurtado, "Crucifixion,"  online; emphasis added)
The crucifixion, then, is the absolute bottom of the downward spiral, the epitome of humility.

The glorifying of the Son

Fortunately, it does not stop there. The conjunction dio in verse 9 represents a dramatic reversal. Up to this point we have had the Son as the subject of these verbs of humbling; now, we have the Father as the subject of these verbs exalting the obedient Son (see Peter O'Brian's NIGTC commentary where he states that "The Father's act of exaltation is his reply to the Son's self-humiliation, and as such is to be understood as a response of vindication and approval"). Once again, structurally, we have two main verbs (the Father "exalts" and "gives a name" to the Son).

I'd like, however, to focus on the rare word katakthoniwn in verse 10 to demonstrate the extent of the Father's exaltation of the Son. In verse 10 we have a series of 3 words, genitive plurals, all modifying "every knee.". The first two words are a bit more straightforward ("heavenly things" + "things on the earth"). The last word is a bit rarer, but it is usually translated something along the lines of "things under the earth." I do, however, think we can get a bit more specific that that.

You see, the word katakthonios is not a general word for "things under the earth," as if somehow the cave dwellers and miners and moles were in view here. No, katakthonios is an extremely rare word that seems to refer to the dark denizens of the underworld itself! Thus, for example, in Strabo, Geography, the author is discussing a particular region and their belief in an oracle, declaring that "At any rate, only those who had sacrificed beforehand and propitiated the nether deities [tous katakthonious daimonas] could sail into Avernus" (trans. Horace Jones). In the other occurrence in Strabo, Geography, he discusses the government's reaction to a particular natural calamity and narrates how "the Senate sent a deputation to offer propitiatory sacrifices, both in the islet and in Liparae, to the gods both of the underworld [tois te katakthonois theois] and the sea" (trans. Horace Jones).

Is it not safe to conclude, then, that the Apostle Paul is saying that no devil in hell will be able to resist bowing the knee to the exalted Son? That no false god, no demon, no spiritual power of the underworld can stand up to him, that just like the angels above and the humans on the surface, the spirits below must acknowledge the glory of the Christ?

Thus we see that just as Jesus' humility sunk to the deepest depths, so also his exaltation as Christ rises to the greatest heights, superior to all angels of heaven, humans of earth, and demons of the nether realm.

Practical Application

So, what does this all mean for us? We must not forget that verses 6-11 are essentially the background, the reason for verses 1-4 (linked by verse 5). The Christian's response to others is based upon the humility of Jesus. If the great Son of God, destined to have the very demons of the underworld cower in fear before him, was willing to abase himself to this degree, how can I fail to show humility, compassion, and love towards my brothers and sisters in Christ? This great theological treatise/hymn on the kenosis, then, is the basis for the great imperative of love within the body of Christ.

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Hansen, G. Walter. The Letter to the Philippians. Pillar New Testament Commentary.
     Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009.

Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion. London: SCM, 1977. Translated by John Bowden. This
     is, perhaps, the greatest modern discussion of the background and significance of
     Christ's curcifixion.

Huratdo, Larry. "Crucifixion."
     Accessed 13 October 2012.

O'Brian, Peter T. The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text.
      New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,

Plutarch. De Liberis Educandis ("On the Education of Children").

_______. Questiones Convivales ("Table-Talk II").

Silva, Moises. Philippians. 2nd ed. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New
     Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005.

Strabo. Geography (Loeb ed.; translated by Horace Jones).

Sep 8, 2012

Some Quick Thoughts on Book Reviews

Book reviews have been a staple part of literature, both popular and academic, for quite some time. Ideally, a book review provides the consumer with an informed opinion that helps one decide whether or not to buy a book. In some cases in academia, a reviewer may even enter into dialogue with the book and advance scholarship on a certain issue (occasionally a scholar, when critiquing another author's position, will cite book reviews of the other author's works).

Yet a recent article by New York Times writer David Streitfeld indicates that quite often this is not the case. In his article "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy" (online: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/best-book-reviews-money-buy-131408538.html?page=1 accessed 9/5/2012), Streitfeld tells the story of a certain Mr. Rutherford who had a revelation regarding book reviews. While initially working in marketing attempting to get others to review his clients' books, he recognized the potential for a whole new business model; Streitfeld writes, "Suddenly it hit him [Rutherford]. Instead of trying to cajole others to review a client's work, why not cut out the middleman and write the review himself? Then it would say exactly what the client wanted . . ." By 2010 Rutherford had his own website and was offering various pricing options ($99 for one review, $499 for 20 reviews, etc.). Eventually, Rutherford was making almost $30,000 dollars a month!

Streitfeld further narrates how Rutherford began hiring other reviewers to work for him. One such reviewer admitted in an interview that for a simple 50-word review, the reviewer didn't even need to actually read the book. She could find enough information on the internet to write a glowing report! For a 300-word review, a mere 15 minutes was all that was necessary.

Apparently Rutherford's company's reviews were not the only ones of their kind. Streitfeld quotes Bing Liu (from the University of Illinois) stating that "about one-third of all consumer reviews on the internet are fake." In Streitfeld's article, this seems to be linked both to the perception that a 5-star review is necessary for a book to sell well and to human nature itself.  Elsewhere, Streitfeld cites Stanford professor Robert Sutton, who makes the following observations: "Nearly all human beings have unrealistically positive self-regard. When people tell us we're not as great as we thought we were, we don't like it. Anything less than a five-star review is an attack" (emphasis added). Sadly, I think this is a generally accurate analysis of human nature.

The result, as Streitfeld notes in his article, is that often reviews have come to resemble the endorsements that one reads on the cover of a book, rather than actual reviews.  (There is, of course, the complete opposite problem: an entirely negative review stemming from issues unrelated to the book itself [e.g., "I know that this author is a Calvinist/Arminian/Calvaminian-hypochondriac, so anything he or she writes must be downright heresy!!"] It's not only the 5-star reviews that are sometimes suspect but the 1-star ones as well!)

While I am fairly certain that Biblical studies does not suffer from the same problem described above (at least not to the same extent), this still raises a few issues that I wish to address. To begin with, why do we write book reviews in the first place? Secondly, what should a book review actually provide the reader?

Of course, there will never be a totally objective way to analyze books. All of us have our presuppositions going into a book and those probably won't change. Thus two intelligent scholars may both review the same book and come away with differing conclusions. For example, within the past year or two both Stanley E. Porter (JETS 53.4) and Robert W. Yarbrough (BBR 21.1) have reviewed Daniel Wallace's Granville Sharp's Canon and its Kin, the former negatively and the latter positively. Now, both writers are intelligent, published New Testament scholars. I happen to very strongly disagree with Dr. Porter's review (and have already defended Dr. Wallace some time ago on this blog), but the fact remains that Dr. Porter clearly read the book, and his review is thus an intelligent opinion on the content of the book, not an attack against Dr. Wallace himself. Furthermore, he tries to fairly represent Dr. Wallace.  Likewise, Dr. Yarbrough's review is a critical review, not a marketing endorsement. Both of these reviews, then, are true reviews, yet this illustrates that good people can disagree on certain issues, that some subjectivity exists.

A book review, then, should be a thorough, intelligently expressed summary and opinion (I use "thorough" in the sense of "the author actually read the book and does not omit discussing key portions of it" rather than regarding length per se; a 1-page review may be more thorough than a 2-page review in that sense). Since a review should, ideally, help in determining whether or not I want to actually spend money on this book (either as an individual or as an institution), the review should provide me with, at minimum, two key pieces of information: 1. What the book is about, and 2. what the book's focus and limitations are.

Regarding the first, a review should summarize the content of a book with accuracy. This means that a reviewer should actually have read the book (duh!). If I'm considering buying a new book on the theology of the Apostle Paul, for example, I want to know what areas the book focuses on, what (if any) space is devoted to the apostle's life and conversion, what chapters deal with the New Perspective,  etc. I also want to know where the author is coming from. Is he or she Roman Catholic? Liberal? Protestant? Hyper-Covenantal-Pentecostal-Post-Tribulationist? Are there certain obvious theological presuppositions that the author holds? (this last point would be especially important if I were teaching a college-level class for a particular denomination or theological tradition).

As for the second point, I want the author's intelligent opinion on the content. I may or may not agree with the reviewer, but at least I should be treated to a well thought-out analysis of the contents of the book. Ideally, a critical thinker reviewing a book should be able to recognize strong portions of a book he or she disagrees with as well as weak portions of a book he or she agrees with. Furthermore, if the book omits key material, I want to know about it before I buy it. A book on Pauline theology that fails to discuss justification would be severely handicapped, and I probably would not be interested in adding that to my library. Conversely, a statement like "author Josephine Johnson's treatment on the use of second temple literature in the General Epistles is nearly unparalleled" would definitely make me sit up, take notice, and possibly make a bee-line to Amazon.com (if, in fact, we can make "bee-lines" while traversing the internet). Finally, the author should qualify what  the book is useful for. A book on Hebrew poetic structure in Genesis would probably be a poor choice for an "OT Survey class" for college freshmen but may be quite appropriate for a doctoral class on Hebrew exegesis.

Let me close by pointing the reader to a book review in an academic journal that, in my opinion, gets it right. Granted, I'm a bit positively biased towards the author here, because he's a former college classmate of mine back in the late 90s and early 2000s, so keep that in mind (although I'm still a bit jealous he got higher grades than me and finished his doctorate first . . . :)!
(for the record, I don't think a book review needs to be in a peer-reviewed academic journal to be valuable. I've read quite a few reviews on personal blogs, etc. and have benefited from them. One of my friend's blogs pretty much focuses exclusively on book reviews as well as linking  the reader to other reviews, author interviews, etc. [see the blog roll])

A test case. Kevin W. McFadden, "Review of Romans by Craig S. Keener," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 53.2 (June 2010): pp. 407-409.

My old friend Kevin McFadden reviews Craig Keener's commentary on Romans in the New Covenant Commentary series (Eugene, Oreg.: Cascade, 2009). The review is approximately 2 pages long. It's a bit different than standard reviews in that there's less summary of the content simply because the book is a commentary (after all what, how can you summarize a book that's going chapter by chapter through another book? "In chapter 1, Keener covers Romans 1. In chapter 2, Keener covers Romans 2 . . ." and so forth ad nauseum)

McFadden does, however, point the reader to specific areas of Keener's commentary that may differ from other commentaries. Furthermore, he clearly discusses many of Keener's positions on key points in Romans (e.g., Keener's view of the purpose of Romans, the nature of God's righteousness, various New Perspective issues, etc.)

While McFadden's review is mostly positive, it is nevertheless a critical, well thought-out review. When he likes something Keener does, he tells us why. Conversely, when he thinks Keener's work falls short, he also tells us why. Thus I am informed what the strengths and weaknesses are of this particular commentary, in McFadden's view (if you want to know, read the review for yourself! Or better yet, read the commentary). Also, I am informed by McFadden that the book "In general, . . . accomplishes the goals of the author and the series" and also that "it is amazingly concise for a letter as long as Romans." More importantly, however, McFadden tells me that the commentary "will be understood by a general audience, although in some cases readers may be confused by technical terms . . ." (this is an absolutely essential observation for this kind of a review, and one that may very well determine whether or not I would use this book for a class).

In conclusion, from a good book review such as McFadden's, I glean the following:
1. what the book is about, 2. the views of the author on key issues, 3. the strengths of the book, 4. the limitations and/or weaknesses of the book, and 5. the suitable audience for the book. When those points are covered, I generally have enough information as to whether or not I would wish to purchase this book or suggest it for class reading. In contrast, a poorly written review could conceivably cause me to waste my money (hey, theological works aren't cheap!) The bottom line, once again, is that a book review is neither a song of praise nor a spiteful attack, but an opinionated summary and analysis.

With special thanks to all my professors that forced me to write book reviews for a class!

Aug 4, 2012

A Comparative Analysis of Four 1st Year Greek Textbooks

(please note: in the comments section I also address the views of all four textbooks on deponent verbs, thanks to a question by one of the readers)

I've completed four years of doctoral work at Southeastern (one more year, here's hoping!), and for three of those past four years I have had the privilege of grading for Dr. Maurice Robinson. Two years ago when he became ill (now fully recovered and teaching again, thankfully), I was asked to take over his beginning Greek class mid-semester (pray don't tell his physicians, but Dr. Robinson typed up and e-mailed in his last quiz for that class while lying on the hospital bed!)  I took over at the midterm exam (which, fortunately, had already been made up), and from that point I was on my own with only Dr. Robinson's notes to guide me, initially.

Yes, his notes. You see, Dr. Robinson prefers not to use a textbook for his beginning Greek class, providing his students with handouts that he personally creates. Naturally when you're a published scholar who specializes in Greek textual criticism, you can do whatever you want! I, however, soon realized I was in way over my head and began consulting textbooks (in addition to his Dr. Robinson's notes) like a madman. Overall, the class was a great learning experience, and the students were compassionate and sympathetic (it's not easy getting a new teacher halfway through class!)

At that point I already owned William Mounce's book as well as that of my own doctoral advisor, Dr. David Black. Once I started teaching, I quickly bought S. Baugh's textbook since some other profs at Southeastern preferred his work. Later, when I was able to attend the national ETS in Atlanta, I picked up the new textbook by Porter, Reed, and O'Donnell. Consequently, I'd like to give the reader some brief thoughts on each one. Some of what I say you can see for yourself by simply browsing the table of contents for each book online at Amazon. I do hope, however, that this comparison of the four will at least give you some food for thought, especially if you, the reader, will be teaching Greek in the future.

To begin with, however, I'd like to make clear that this is not a full-blown book review for each one. I'd simply like to compare the four and offer my thoughts. Secondly, I'll make my own biases clear at the start: naturally I'm going to gravitate toward my own adviser's work, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Mounce's book, since I cut my teeth on it in 1999. Conversely, I'm not very positively disposed towards Porter and co. since I have yet to be convinced of his views on verbal aspect theory (though I'm open to the possibility). Nevertheless I still think there is much in their book to commend it, and I'll try to leave aside my views on the Greek verb when discussing their work. In the end, I think Baugh's textbook is the only one that I am neutrally predisposed towards.

Finally, the reader should note that there are 3 areas I intend to focus on: order of material, views on the Greek verb, and any "extras" the book contains. After discussing these four textbooks, I'll briefly open that great can of worms known as "the Greek verb system.” What that in mind, let's begin with Mounce.
Please note: any words in the Greek font have been switched to English italics.

William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; 2003). As of this post, costs $29.94 (US dollars) at Amazon (hardcover). Separate workbook available. Hereafter referred to as BBG.

Mounce states on p. x that his grammar tries to use the “best of both approaches” [inductive and deductive]: “It is deductive in how it initially teaches the material, but inductive in how if fine-tunes the learning process.” Mounce focuses on “learning Greek as a tool for ministry" and tries to reduce rote memorization (though, frankly, when we used Mounce in my first year of Greek there was still a lot of memorization; I'm not sure if BBG reduces it to the extent that Mounce had hoped).
It's worth noting that BBG is the only one of the four that comes with a CD-ROM. In my experience, this was helpful for those that enjoy using computers and would like to have a portable flash card program for their laptops, etc. It's worth noting, however, that there is plenty of free software that you can download these days, so don't let the CD-ROM be the deciding factor.

Each chapter in BBG ends with a summary of that chapter and a vocabulary list. Some chapters end with "advanced information" (e.g., the difference between relative time and absolute time).
BBG starts with a basic intro on the Greek language and tips for learning Greek, then the alphabet and punctuation. Before it gets into Greek grammar, BBG discusses English grammar: “. . . the first major obstacle many of you must overcome is your lack of knowledge of English Grammar. . . . We cannot teach about the Greek nominative case until you know what a case is” (p. 22). It then discusses the various parts of speech. BBG then goes into noun cases and the article (chapters 6-7), then onto prepositions and the eimi verbs (only the present active indicative, at the start), and then adjectives (chapter 9). From there, BBG offers the reader  or teacher two different "tracks": 1. You can follow the order of the chapters, which finishes nouns and pronouns before getting into verbs, or 2. you can jump into some of the verbs first (leaving chapters 10-14 for later). If you follow the natural order of the book, BBG hits 3rd declension nouns and pronouns before finally introducing verbs in chapter 15. From there, BBG tackles the present active verb, then contract verbs, then present middle/passive, then all the other indicative verbs. The last few chapters of the book (from 26-34) cover all the other moods and the mi-verbs. Mounce then provides a “Postscript: Where Do We Go From Here?” which discusses some areas for future study (though not very extensive and kind of limited to his own work and works by the same publisher).

Some thoughts on BBG (keep in mind, a lot of these are my subjective opinion; the same goes for my comments on all the other books): Overall, Mounce is very readable and often focuses on the differences between Greek and English, which is helpful in my opinion (although note p. 320—"There is nothing remotely like mi verbs in English . . .") I think Mounce offers a "down to earth" book that parallels my own experience in learning Greek; for example, on page 39 he speaks of "the fog," a very real phenomenon that almost every young Greek student experiences. Mounce's book has a lot of paradigm charts, which can be helpful, and also contains an "exegetical insight" for most chapters that discusses how the material in that chapter actually matters in ministry or preaching.  Also, I greatly prefer Mounce’s order of subject matter, though this may be a reflection of my own bias stemming from having used his textbook as a student.
On the downside, I'm not too content with how he deals with contract verbs; I think some of the other books do a better job on this. Also, despite his attempt to diminish rote memorization, I really think this book is focused on memorization. There are no special techniques that (in my opinion) assist the student in learning; you just have to put a lot of work into memorizing (at least, that was my experience).
Regarding the verb system, I think Mounce, like others, confuses aspect with aktionsart (see page 123). If there's one thing Porter has convinced me of, it's the need to see those two as different concepts. I am, however, more close to BGB's position on the verb system in general. Mounce is more traditional; he states, for example, that “The present tense indicates either a continuous or undefined action” (p. 123, though he unfortunately calls this “aspect”) and that the time is generally in the present. On page 194 states, “The aorist indicates an undefined action usually occurring in the past," which I would also agree with (though adherents to Verbal Aspect Theory [hereafter referred to as VAT] might question the whole “occurring in the past” part of it, at least as a general rule).
David Alan Black, Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd ed.; Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2009). As of this post, costs 17.64 on Amazon (hardcover). Separate workbook available. Hereafter referred to as LTR.

LTR has 26 chapters, generally with vocab lists and review exercises at the end of each chapter. Chapter 1 provides basic info about the Greek language and alphabet and briefly discusses phonology and morphology (e.g., the difference between kappa and chi). Chapter 2 actually introduces the verb, and chapter 3 begins discussing the present and future active indicative. Chapters 4-5 jump to nouns, and from there on out we have the following order: adjectives, imperfect and aorist (act. ind.), prepositions, personal pronouns, perfect/pluperfect verbs (just the active ind.), more pronouns (demonstrative), the middle and passive indicative forms of various verbs (chapters 12-15), "review of the indicative mood" (ch. 16), more on nouns (3rd declension), more on adjectives, pronouns, and numbers, "contract and liquid verbs" (ch. 19), then the various other verb moods (chapters 20-21 and 23-24, though 22 actually discusses pronouns).  Chapter 25 focuses on mi-verbs, and chapter 26 closes it out with a discussion on "Reading Your Greek  New Testament" (a chapter on how reading the Greek NT can be of practical value with such things as sermon prep). Also, LTR has an epilogue that introduces the readers to what will be helpful for advanced studies (e.g., lexicons, textual criticism, etc.)

Some thoughts on LTR: LTR is, in my opinion, one of the most easily readable textbooks (Dr. Black is one of the more readable scholars, period). Furthermore, Black's book has better "extras" than any of the other textbooks, including but not limited to the following: a massive foldout chart of every single paradigm (check inside the back cover), a series of helpful appendixes (including "the Greek alphabet song" complete with music!), and chapter 26 and the appendix, both of which provide helpful, supplemental information for the Greek student. Also, it's worth stressing that LTR has review exercises at the end of most chapters, something Mounce does not have (though both BBG and LTR have separate workbooks that can be purchased).

On the other hand, I'm not totally crazy about the order of material; he zigzags back and forth between verbs, nouns, pronouns, etc. (I’m somewhat  curious, for example, why chapter 22, “Additional Pronouns,” sits right in the middle of a series of chapters on the non-indicative mood).  I'll confess this may be because I had Mounce for my first year of Greek, but I'm more partial to BBG's method of tackling the noun first, then the verb. Also, as with my comment on Mounce, I'm not totally comfortable on his use of the term "aspect" (see LTR, pp. 13-14, section 15 of that chapter). It's worth noting, however, that Black does stress "aspect" as having to do with the writer's perspective (see page 15, specifically the first two paragraphs of section 16), which brings him a bit closes to Porter here; I guess what I'm uncomfortable with in both Mounce and Black is that I would prefer to see the term "aktionsart" used rather than "aspect" whenever we're actually discussing the "type" of action that is taking place. However, let me stress that I do agree with Black's basic approach to the verb in contrast to that of Porter, especially his treatment of the "aoristic aspect" on p. 14.

Regarding the verb, Black states, “The essential signification of the Greek tense system is the kind of action—whether it is represented as on going, finished, or simply as an occurrence”; furthermore, “time of action” is a secondary function (page 15). On pages 13-14, Black sees 3 tenses (past, present, future) and 3 aspects (imperfective, perfective, and aoristic) in the Greek verb system.

S. M. Baugh, A New Testament Greek Primer (2nd ed.; Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2009). As of this post, costs $24.51 on Amazon (paperback). No separate workbook available, to my knowledge (but exercises throughout). Hereafter referred to as NTGP.

NTGP consists of 30 chapters with vocabulary lists at the beginning and review exercises at the end (somewhat more varied than those in Black’s LTR; Baugh, for example, mixes in “matching” exercises with regular parsing and translation exercises). The unique purpose of the book, according to the preface, is “. . . to analyze the process of reading Greek for exegesis, breaking it down into constituent ‘sub-skills,’ and then to teach these skills” ( v). NTGP has a brief “introduction to language study” section (vi-vii), but almost nothing on Greek as a historical language like BBG and LTR have.

NTGP starts out with the alphabet and pronunciation (interestingly, Baugh compares ancient pronunciation with modern Greek pronunciation, which I felt was a neat touch), then deals with breathing marks, punctuation, etc. Chapters 2-3 deal with 1st and 2nd declension nouns with just a little bit on the article. Chapter 4 introduces the Greek verb (present active and deponent ind.). From there, Baugh deals with the imperfect tense, then contract verbs, then future, aorist, and 2nd aorist indicative. Chapter 10 introduces adjectives (1st and 2nd declension), then he proceeds to discuss 3rd declension nouns (NTGP has an entire chapter, ch. 12, on “Third Declension Noun Variations”). Chapter 13 deals with prepositions, then in chapter 14 Baugh switches back to verbs (perfect tense). From there, NTGP deals with “Middle and Passive Verbs” (ch. 15), switches to pronouns (chs. 16-17), and then back to verbs (ch. 18, “Liquid Verbs”). Chapter 19 begins his discussion of the other moods (participles in chapters 19-21), but after discussing the subjunctive mood in ch. 22, Baugh switches back to relative pronouns. Chapter 24 is something unique to NTGP, namely “Noun Variations” (discusses personal names, nouns with feminine forms that still keep a masculine gender, etc.) Next, NTGP deals with imperatives, infinitives, mi verbs (ch. 27-28), “Adjective Variations” (ch. 29; includes comparative and superlative), and closes out with
“Numbers and Optative Verbs” (ch. 30).

Some thoughts on NTGP: There are a few things NTGP does better than the others, I think. Of the four, it’s the only textbook with a glossary of English terms at the back. I’m not talking about a subject index (all four have that), I’m talking about an actual glossary with definitions of various terms. In my opinion, this is an immensely helpful tool that I wish the others had (too be fair, Porter/Reed/O’Donnell do have a section at the beginning of each chapter defining terms, but nothing like a full glossary). In addition, I like how Baugh deals with morphology. The review exercises are also, in my opinion, a strength of the book. Of the other 3, only Dr. Black’s LTR offers review exercises within the book itself (the other 3 textbooks, including Dr. Black’s, do offer supplementary workbooks that you can buy separately, however); nevertheless I kind of like Baugh’s diverse series of exercises slightly better. Also, I like Baugh’s discussion on the differences between middle, passive, and deponent.

On the other hand, I don’t feel Baugh’s book is as easy to follow as those of Mounce or Black, and I still remain a fan of the order of material in Mounce’s BBG over that of Baugh. Also, Baugh does not have a clear introduction to verbs (in general) that both Black and Mounce have. As such, I think it is more likely for a student to get confused regarding verbs following Baugh than he or she would in the others.

Regarding verb tenses, it’s a bit harder to understand Baugh’s views than it is the other three (see my comment above). In section 4.6, he states “A Greek verb in the present tense may communicate an action or state simply, as in progress, continued, repeated, or attempted depending on a number of factors including the verb’s inherent meaning and its context” (p. 18). I triple-checked my citation of Baugh here, and I’m forced to confess that this is one of the most difficult statements to understand on the Greek verb in any the four textbooks, especially if I were in the shoes of a beginner. Elsewhere things are a bit clearer (e.g., p. 22, section 5.4 on the imperfect verb— “The augment is normally a time indicator which expresses a past time event [i.e., I was loosing]”) but overall I much prefer the discussions by Black and Mounce. Nevertheless, I’m led by these statements to assume Baugh follows a more traditional view on tense and aktionsart similar to the views of Black and Mounce.

4. Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010). As of this point, costs 23.66 on Amazon (hardcover). Separate workbook available. Hereafter referred to as PRO.

And now for the controversial one! PRO (after the last initial of each authors) is the longest book of the bunch with 30 chapters and 466 pages. PRO is unique among the four textbooks in that if follows verbal aspect theory and, to its credit, logically implements that theory into practice (e.g., teaching the aorist tense before the present). The chapters in PRO start with a section defining new concepts and then give the chapter’s vocabulary words. At the beginning, PRO has a fairly extensive “Guide to Parsing” (pp. xvi-xx) to assist the student throughout. Unlike Black/LTR and Baugh/BBG, PRO does not discuss Greek as a historical language. The first chapter deals with basics, including the alphabet, accent marks, punctuation, etc. Like Baugh’s NTGP, PRO gives you  different ways to pronounce Greek, the Erasmian and the Modern (on pages xiii-xiv the authors encourage the teacher to pick one method and stick with  it).

Chapter 2 in PRO discusses second declension nouns as well as both 2nd and 3rd declension adjectives. Chapter 3 deals with articles and verbless clauses. Significantly, chapter 4 introduces both the verb in general and the first aorist specifically. Yes, PRO deals with the aorist before the present. From there, chapter 5 jumps back to nouns and relative pronouns, chapter 6 deals with second aorist active as well as imperfect active, and then it’s back to nouns and adjectives again. Chapter 8 finally introduces the present and future active while also dealing with some contract verbs. From there PRO deals with pronouns, then participles, then the middle voice, then the demonstrative pronoun and some prepositions. Chapter 13 is the passive voice (present  and imperfect) while chapter 14 covers the subjunctive mood. From there we go back to prepositions and pronouns, more contract verbs (plus adverbs and conjunctions), back to participles, then mi-verbs, then back to more adjectives and adverbs (e.g., comparatives and superlatives), then aorist and future passive. Chapter 21 goes back to mi-verbs (titheimi and ieimi), then we have the following in chapter  22: “Aorist Passive Subjunctive and  Participle; Future Passive Participle; Proper Nouns” (more  on this particular chapter  below). Next we have “Liquid Verbs” as well as more pronouns (ch. 23), imperative verbs, the perfect and pluperfect tense (ch. 25-27), “Periphrastic and Catenative Constructions” (ch. 28), “Conditional Statements; Numerals” (ch. 29), and, finally, the optative verb and a brief discussion of clauses.

Some thoughts on PRO: on the plus side, I like what Porter/Reed/O’Donnell do with the mi-verbs, being careful to distinguish two types of endings. Like the other books, PRO has useful appendixes with the paradigms clearly laid out. Unlike some of the others, PRO has a very helpful bibliography on pages 383-384 for intermediate and advanced work, and a very unbiased bibliography  at that (they includes, for example Wallace’s syntax despite the fact that Wallace strongly disagrees with Porter on VAT). In that bibliography, the authors also includes a list of the most helpful lexicons.  Furthermore, while I may disagree with their views on the Greek verb, I felt the authors did a good job of explaining their position (the “library” analogy on page 39 is very helpful; see below). Also, I like the fact that PRO tends to treat the infinitives at the same time as the present active indicative; it makes sense that the present infinitive form would be one of the first things to learn about a verb.

On the downside, the order of content in PRO absolutely drives me crazy! I realize this is probably very subjective, but bear with me please. First of all, there’s the issue of teaching the aorist tense before the present tense. Now, I can totally understand, in theory, why they would want to do that. What I don’t understand is how you can practically teach the aorist first when the present is morphologically simpler, unless your entire class consists of Mensa members! Speaking for myself, I’m not exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and I honestly believe I would have been a lot more confused in 1st year Greek if I had learned the aorist before the present.  Now if there are any “average Joes” (or “average Josephines”) out there who learned 1st year Greek under this textbook and came out unscathed, then I might retract my statement.

Other chapters don’t make sense for other reasons. Chapter 22 (“Aorist passive Subjunctive and  Participle; Future Passive Participle; Proper Nouns”), for example, seems to lump a bunch of unrelated material together. Why treat aorist passive subjunctive in the same chapter as future passive participle (let alone proper nouns)? Isn’t this just inviting confusion? Similarly, since PRO already commits to introducing the aorist tense before the present, why does it then discuss the present passive before the aorist and future passive (chapters 13 and 20; please note that almost 100 pages separate these two chapters!) Wouldn’t it have been more consistent to treat the aorist passive first? In general, the order of material in PRO and much of the chapter content seems confusing to me (but, once again, this may be just my subjective opinion).

Regarding verbs, PRO emphasizes aspect as “the speaker’s or writer’s perspective on the action of the verb” (33). Also, on page 39, the authors state, “One way to think of how the aspects function in relation to each other is to think of a bookcase full of books, . . . The aorist tense-form is the background tense, or the entire bookcase, in which no particular book stands out. The present tense-form is the foreground tense, or the one shelf that becomes prominent. The perfect tense-form is the frontground tense, or the single book that commands significant attention” (40-41). PRO differs radically from the others, but they do offer a consistent system (whether or not it’s the correct system is up for debate).

My own personal, subjective ranking
If I were to start teaching a 1st year Greek class tomorrow, I think I would gravitate towards Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek first, with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek a close second. I feel Black is the most readable and has the most to offer as far as “extras” (that massive, fold-out, paradigm chart at the end is pretty sweet!) The fact that Black’s book contains its own exercises for each chapter also helps. Mounce comes in a close second because I like the order he tackles the various parts of the language. Baugh’s A New Testament Greek Primer is a decent alternative and has some strengths that the others do not have. Porter/Reed/O’Donnell’s Fundamentals of New Testament Greek also has some strengths that the other’s don’t have, and would probably remain the default choice for those attracted to VAT (though even if I’m convinced of that position, I’d still want to teach the present tense first!). Also, while price should never be the deciding factor, it’s worth noting that Black’s LTR currently costs the least on Amazon.

Of course, there’s a ton of other questions that could be asked, such as which one could be easily translated into a foreign language? (Speaking as a Japanese missionary kid, Black would be my first choice even to a greater degree than it would be my choice for teaching in English; once again, readability and ease-of-use is the key). Furthermore, I fully acknowledge that a successful Greek class (defined as “one where the student can finish without having his or her brain turned into mush”) probably depends on the teacher more than the textbook. With that in mind, I hope this little analysis has been helpful to some (and feel free to let me know of any alternative textbooks that should be considered).

And now a word on verbal aspect theory (VAT)
Before starting a class, every teacher should decide where they stand on the issue of the Greek verb. This, in my opinion, is the major controversy of the past 15 years on New Testament Greek. You, dear reader, if you are serious about teaching/studying Greek, owe it to yourself to read Stanley Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, if you can afford it, or at least read the relevant chapters in his book Studies in the Greek New Testament. Porter has made a genuine contribution to our understanding of New Testament Greek. He is not without his critics (Daniel Wallace and Chrys Caragounis being the two that immediately spring to mind), but he has also garnered a large following among scholars (Rodney Decker being one of his most prolific supporters, in general).

 For general overviews on VAT, the following two articles are also highly recommended: Robert E. Picirilli, “The Meaning of Tenses in New Testament Greek: Where are We?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48.3 (Spring 2005): 533-555; and Andrew David Naselli, “A Brief Introduction to Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 17-28.

For myself, I remain unconvinced of much of VAT, and one of the most influential articles in that regard is by Jody A. Barnard, “Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? An Evaluation of Stanley Porter’s Proposal with Special Reference to the Gospel of Luke,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 19.37 (November 2006): 3-29. Barnard’s article, in my opinion, is one of the most scientific critiques of VAT (the article can be viewed for free online at http://www.bsw.org/Filologia-Neotestamentaria/Vol-19-2006/). My own research on the imperative mood in the Pastoral Epistles (accepted by and forthcoming in the same journal, though probably not for a couple more years!) has also led me to be critical of VAT (though, to be fair, once could follow VAT in the indicative mood while not necessarily following it in the imperative mood).

Having said that, I’m open to correction on the issue and I don’t think the debate over the Greek verb is that theologically significant (with the possible exception of the use of the verb “sinning” in 1 John). In fact, I think that, in general, pastors should shy away from making a key exegetical point based on the tense of a verb. At least, that is, until the dust has settled.