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 31, 2015

Why I'm thinking of having my Hermeneutics students read an article in the NSA Technical Journal

Language is rarely logical! That's one of the mantras I occasionally try to drill into my students, and one of the key examples of that is how words usually have multiple meanings. Consequently,very rarely is there a 1-to-1 correspondence between two words in two different languages. While occasionally this can lead to humorous consequences, in many cases the results are tragic. Shortly after the Potsdam Declaration, July 1945, Japanese reporters stood waiting to hear a comment from Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki. His one-word response was "mokumatsu," which can be translated as either "no comment" or "not worthy of comment" (big difference). Ten days later, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima.

My father John R. Himes, a former missionary to Japan, uses this incident as an opening illustration in his essay "A Translator Takes a Linguistic Look at Mark's Gospel" in the book Digging for the Truth: Collected Essays Regarding the Byzantine Text of the New Testament--A Festschrift in Honor of Maurice A. Robinson. Today, I found (surprisingly, via Wikipedia) that a short article in the (now partially declassified) NSA Technical Journal is devoted to this one word and its consequences. The article, by an unknown author (his name is the only part of the document that is classified), is entitled "Mokumatsu: One Word, Two Lessons," in volume 13.4 (Fall 1968) of the NSA Technical Journal. The full text of the article may be accessed here.

While the article is hardly what you'd expect in a "technical" journal, it is an excellent piece of writing (occasionally humorous) that drives home an extremely  important point: words have multiple meanings, and the resultant ambiguity can cause problems if we are careless. Surprisingly, the author discusses Bible translation in passing, including the now famous (though perhaps apocryphal) stories about translating "Lamb" as "Seal Pup" in an Eskimo dialect and translating "I stand at the door and knock" (Rev 3:20) as "I stand at the door and call" (in an African cultural context). 

From a military and diplomatic perspective, the author's point is that careless translation, or the assumption that we automatically know what a word means without further clarification, can have extreme consequences. Furthermore, when precision is required, one must avoid ambiguous words at all cost! The author chastises both politicians and newspaper reporters for exploiting words that are so ambiguous that they can be made to mean almost anything. Regarding Prime Minister Suzuki, the unknown author states, ". . . the fault for the mokusatsu incident is not entirely the translator's. Believe it or not, the real culprit is no less a personage than Kantaro Suzuki, the Japanese Prime Minister himself! After all, there would have been no translation problem if he had not used an ambiguous word for such an important statement" (p. 98).

The reason I am thinking of requiring my college Biblical Hermeneutics students to read this article (sans the one swear word, which I shall "classify" and edit out) is not for the discussion of Bible translation (personally, I believe that when translating Scripture, words that are ambiguous in the original languages should keep their ambiguity in the target language as much as possible, within reason. This is not always possible, of course, but often it is). Rather, the value of this short article lies in its clear illustration that words have multiple meanings. This is a point on which many would-be Bible translators are woefully ignorant: you cannot automatically translate a word in the original language the same way every time in the receptor language! 

Furthermore, the article underscores the difference between "word" and "concept"--the same word may, in different contexts, point to totally different concepts. As I have explained to my past Hermeneutics classes, the verb "fire," in English, may point to the concept of "discharge a firearm" or "dismiss somebody from their job." Conversely, as has been pointed out by many biblical linguists, studying a concept (e.g., "love") in the Bible must not be limited to just a single world. Multiple words (e.g., both agapaw and philew) and phrases must be included in the study, or one's study of "the Biblical concept of love" remains incomplete.

As a side-note, Bible translation remains a high-priority task for those who take the Great Commission seriously. For those of you who have shown evidence of skill in languages, why not consider this ministry? English, of course, has more than enough translations (though in my opinion there's room for a Byzantine-based translation); however, many languages are starved for the Word of God in their own tongue based on the original languages of Scripture (translations based on English are only a stop-gap measure, though they're certainly better than nothing!). The school I teach at, Baptist College of Ministry, has been emphasizing Bible translation more and more these past couple years, and my doctoral alma mater, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was at one point considering offering a master's in Bible translation (not sure if they've gotten around to it yet). Currently, I have the privilege of assisting my father in translating a new Japanese New Testament based off of the Greek. Nevertheless, this is still a neglected (and not as glamorous) field that is essential to the Great Commission task!

Dec 17, 2015

Rethinking Esther

The discussion below does not question the divine inspiration, the accuracy, or the place in the canon of the book of Esther. Indeed, as Randall Bush points out in his Bulletin for Biblical Research article (vol. 8, 1998), it is a shame that Esther has by-and-large been neglected (click here to read Bush's article). What I'm asking below is not whether Esther belongs in the Bible and in our pulpit, but whether or not it has more in common with Judges than Joshua--i.e., not "look at the awesome faith-filled hero/heroine" but rather "God saving Israel in spite of her disloyalty to the Torah." Much of my thinking in this post was stimulated by the excellent An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu, though I do not quote or paraphrase from it directly. In addition, I draw some from the fascinating article by Ronald W. Pierce, "The Politics of Esther and Mordecai: Courage or Compromise?" also in Bulletin for Biblical Research vol. 2 (1992). Click here to read Pierce's article.

Without a doubt (lack of direct mention notwithstanding), the hand of God is evident throughout Esther. Bush, in his BBR article puts it best: "The book nonetheless predicates the providence of God, as does the rest of the OT, for the deliverance of the Jews is effected not only by the loyalty of Mordecai and the courage of Esther but also by the series of truly remarkable and dramatic coincidences with which the story abounds" (Bush, 49). 

Yet as to the human protagonists, evangelical Christians generally have a "rosy" view of queen Esther--heroine, faith-filled, persevering in the midst of adversity, savior of her people, etc. Indeed, the courage of both her and Mordecai cannot be disputed. Yet doubts persist, and these doubts persist not because some of us are evil revisionists, asking with forked tongues "Has God really said?" Rather, these doubts persist because of the centrality of the Torah in Old Testament theology. In other words, when Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king's meat, they do so because of their loyalty to the Torah and the God who wrote it. The problem with Esther, then, is first and foremost that she violates the Torah, and this is the center of the wheel around which the entire plot revolves around.

To be clear, Haman is a villain of horrible proportions (though I doubt he was seeking divine worship when he demanded others bow to him)--seeking the genocide of an entire race puts him on a level with Hitler and other modern tyrants. Furthermore, clearly the Jewish people are the "good guys" [and gals] of the plot--we are meant to root for them, and we rightfully breathe a sigh of relief when they are delivered.

However, this is no different from the book of Judges (it's not as if a reader/listener during the first century AD would be rooting against the people of Israel in Judges!). Yet the protagonists in Judges (with the exception of Deborah), at least those with an extended section, are not role models! (For any pastors reading--please, someday preach the "second half" of the Gideon story; it's just as much inspired as the first half, but greatly neglected). The point, then, is this: the author can make a negative point about the protagonists while still making a positive point about the graciousness of God.

This, indeed, would seem to me what is happening in Esther. As  Pierce states in his BBR article, "It is not the book of Esther that is secular, but its characters" (page 77). That Esther is secular, or at least does not revere the Torah, is seen in the fact that she is violating it by marrying a pagan--remember, this is the very point that was such a big deal at the end of Ezra and Nehemiah! 

It is, of course, possible that Esther was dragged away against her will and had no choice in the matter, in which case she is a victim and blameless in this matter. While this is possible, it does not follow from the tone of the narrative (see Pierce, 83-84). Furthermore, I firmly believe that most pious Jews, men and women, would have said, "It is better to die (and be tortured) than to violate the Torah" (This is the whole point of 4 Maccabees, after all!) I need not point out that "marrying a non-believer" is hardly a minor issue in the Torah (remember: the issue was never inter-racial marriage, but inter-"faith" marriage. I.e., as seen with Moses, Boaz, etc., marrying somebody of a different ethnicity, nationality, or skin color is not a problem if they are a believer in the one true God. Marrying somebody who is not a believer is a huge deal, however).

Consequently, the divinely-inspired point of Esther is not "may our daughters be like that faith-filled heroine [who just so happens to be named after the Babylonian goddess of love, Ishtar]," but rather, "God rescues the Jewish race in spite of their failure to honor him; behold the graciousness of God!" I close with this excellent quote from Pierce:
"Sometimes it is easy to take as normative situations that in fact require immediate and radical change. So it was with the secular direction in which the Jewish people were heading at this time in their history. The events in the Book of Esther are carefully structured so as to communicate not only such a failure on the part of Esther and Mordecai, but also the providential activity meant to shake them from their lethargy and to make them more fully aware of their calling as God's people" (Pierce, 89).

Nov 14, 2015

"Parse That Verb!" (the hit, new gameshow sweeping my Greek Exegesis class--and how to play it)

Note: this game could probably be played by any group of students that has completed 1st year Greek.

"All study and no play makes your average Greek student hate the original languages," said a wise sage once (I think it was Yogi Berra). Completely concurring with that philosophy, I have introduced a fairly sophisticated (if I do say so myself) team-based competition into my seminary-level Greek Exegesis class. Almost every Thursday we engage in head-to-head battle in a game I like to call PARSE THAT VERB! [notice the snazzy and completely original-sounding name!]

The premise is simple: I divide up the class into three teams of 3 or 4 students each. We'll call them "teams A, B, and C." And I, as the professor, make up "team D" on my own. Each team has to parse one verb randomly chosen per round, and is given points based on the percentage of parsing data they got correct (lexical must be perfect to count, and this includes hapax legomena and other words nobody has actually learned).

To choose words to parse, I load up my copy of Accordance, then do a search for every verb in the New Testament. I have my Mac hooked up to a projector, so all students can see. When all is ready, we begin.

First, the previous team picks out a book of the Bible for the next team, then I as the professor choose a word at random (doing my best to maintain the same level of challenge for each team). So Team C chooses "Revelation," and I look for a difficult word in Revelation, expand it on the screen, and give them a time limit to come up with their answer (all members of the team consult and come up with their best shot together). If it's an indicative and they get everything correct except the lexical, they get 83% points (5/6 instead of the 6/6 pieces of data needed for a 100% parse). If it's a participle and they get the tense, voice, and mood correct but miss the gender, number, case, and lexical, then they only get 43 points. One bad parse can allow the 2nd place team to pass the 1st place team (which is exactly what happened last Thursday).

Now, here's the twist. If any other team (whoever's quickest) suspects that the current team has not parsed perfectly (and only if they haven't parsed perfectly), they can CHALLENGE the other team and attempt to get a perfect parse. They risk 20 points by challenging, but they can gain 30 points for perfectly parsing somebody else's verb (the original team still gets  credit for the points they've earned, though).

Let's say team A parses an infinitive correctly except for the lexical (they then get 75 points for getting 3/4, regardless). Before the answer is revealed, team B challenges and parses the verb perfect, netting a bonus 30 points before their turn has even come around yet. If team B had failed, they would have lost 20 points (the only way you can lose points in the game).

One more twist. I, as the professor (my own team), has to parse verbs from Josephus (one of the students is designated to find me a difficult verb each round from all the verbs in Josephus).

Currently we have four teams of 3, 3, 4, and 1, respectively, in my class. "The Daniels" (two Daniels and one Luke with the middle name Daniel) , "The Scholars" (the humblest students in the class :)  ), "The Packer-backs Under Protest" (one of the students was not a Packers fan!), and finally "The Prof." Initially "The Scholars" was running away with the prize, and "the Prof" was in 3rd place (trust me, it's tough to parse a verb from Josephus perfectly when you don't know the lexical!) but "the Daniels" passed them, and then "The Professor" got a bit of help in the form of the 2nd year Greek teacher who just so happened to have an hour to spare, so currently "The Prof" is in first, and "the Daniels" are in second! [hey, I have my image to protect]

Needless to say, all contestants have been tested for performance-enhancing software.

So, anyways, we've been having a lot of fun with this game, and the fact that a team can "challenge" at any time means that all students stay busy during every part of the round. Granted, it won't replace "Settlers of Cataan" or "Ticket to Ride" anytime soon, but it's about the most fun you can have in Greek class with just a projector and Accordance software. [Always open to suggestions on how to improve it]

Oct 24, 2015

What I'm requiring my "Intro to NT Exegesis" students to read

I'm grateful for the privilege of teaching the grad class "Intro to New Testament Exegesis" this year at Baptist College of Ministry and Baptist Theological Seminary (10 students in the class). At the seminary level, I'll be alternating between Biblical Hebrew and NT Greek Exegesis classes every other year. This semester is a bit of an experiment, but here's what I'm having them read:

First off, the following three textbooks: 
1. Richard J. Erickson's A Beginner's Guide to New Testament Exegesis, which I felt was overall the most accessible, user-friendly, and well-rounded (narrowly beating out Gordon Fee's classic work), despite the fact he gives credence to "Q" (sort of).
2. Secondly, to give them a basic intro to textual criticism, they need my own Doktorvater's book New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide.
3. Finally (and this is the more experimental choice), I'm requiring them to read the brand new Discourse Grammar of the New Testament by Steven R. Runge. I like what I see in this book so far, and discourse analysis is extremely important, but this might be a bit too much for them to chew for now. We'll see. I might replace it next time around with the fantastic Advances in the Study of Greek by Constantine R. Campbell (though this book also is a bit heavy).

I'm focusing on a number of topics in this class, including background, lexical semantics, textual criticism, and the debate over the verb tenses.
1. For the verb tenses, I'm making them read Andrew Naselli's "A Brief Introduction to Verbal Aspect in the New Testament Greek" (Detroit Seminary Journal vol. 12), since it's a decent overview of the topic (though I suspect I'm less swayed by Porter's views than Naselli). In addition, I'm making them read both Frank Stagg's classic "The Abused Aorist" (JBL vol. 91) and Charles Smith's "Errant Aorist Interpreters" just to get the point across that they should not be basing a theological point on the Aorist tense! (the other tenses, maybe, but not the Aorist!)
2. For background studies, I have them read Stanley Porter's "Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water" (Tyndale Bulletin vol. 38). I stress repeatedly, in multiple classes, that a knowledge of the background of Laodicea (the problem with the water supply) helps avoid misunderstanding Jesus' point in Revelation 3. Of course, common sense helps a bit too: imagine you're living in Asia Minor, as a farmer, before the advent of the air conditioner. Why in the world would you think of "cold water" as a bad thing. Jesus' point is that, unlike refreshing cold water or therapeutic hot water, the Laodiceans, like their lukewarm water supply, are worthless and vomit-inducing. A failure to stop and think has caused many a pastor to preach this as if "cold" = "opposed to God" and "hot" = "on fire for God," with the odd theological result that somehow God prefers unbelievers dead-set against him to "lukewarm" believers. (I was delighted, however, to recently hear an excellent sermon by an evangelist that "gets it," referring specifically to the background of the city in his sermon; I believe this was the first sermon on this passage in 10+ years that I've heard that "got it right." Naturally the Holy Spirit can use even a relatively poor/lightweight sermon, provided it's not heretical, but I do believe He's grieved when we don't do our homework in our sermon prep!)
3. For lexical semantics, I have them read an excellent (and in-depth) article by Eckhard Schnabel on "The Meaning of Baptizein in Greek, Jewish, and Patristic Literature" in Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 24. Schnabel, by giving us an extensive survey of the word in Greek literature, once for all puts to rest the idea that that baptizw is somehow a "technical" term that needs to be transliterated instead of translated.
4. Finally, I bring in some of my own textual biases and introduce them to the textual work of Maurice Robinson, specifically his "The Case for Byzantine Priority" in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism vol. 6 and his "Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the 'Test-Tube' Nature of the NA27/UBS4 Text" in Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology, eds. Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda (Eerdmans, 2009).

There are, of course, quite a few more sources I would recommend for exegetical study, not least of which would be some helpful background resources such as the classic work by Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity and Burge, Cohick, and Green's The New Testament in Antiquity. In choosing a textbook for this class, I was actually very disappointed in how few good options there were. I felt I was limited pretty much to Erickson, Fee, Guthrie/Duvall (Biblical Greek Exegesis: A Graded Approach . . .), and Blomberg/Markley (A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis), and none of them felt "right," though I ended up going with Erickson. Hopefully there are some enterprising and budding scholars out there that would rise to the challenge! Specifically, I'm looking for something that focuses on block diagramming and the interplay of various clauses. Guthrie/Duvall deal with that, but in their own way, with what I consider a more "advanced" discourse-centered style of block-diagramming. That's all good and well, but I'm looking for a more "basic" system of block-diagramming.

Ultimately, for this class, the building blocks for New Testament Exegesis are (as I see it) a solid competency in Greek, a humble yet informed perspective on textual criticism, and understanding of words and their meanings (meaning is determined by the interplay of context and semantic range, not etymology), carefulness with the tenses, ability and desire to research the background of a text, a basic understanding of the flow of the discourse, and, most importantly, a love for the Word of God!

Anyways, a great class, with great students, and a great topic: the New Testament in Greek! More the Lord bless the teacher and the students!

Oct 1, 2015

Divinely Inspired Puns? You Bet!

These past two weeks I have had the privilege of teaching "General Epistles" (minus Hebrews, which deserves its own class) for the first time in the history of Baptist College of Ministry (textbook is the excellent Letters to the Churches by Karen Jobes). In the process of researching for this class, I found out something: the Apostle Peter likes to "pun."

Well, ok, technically it's a wordplay, since I don't think Peter was looking to get a laugh, but close enough. Wordplays are, of course, nothing new in the Biblical text (especially in the Hebrew), but 1 and 2 Peter have at least 1 wordplay each (or, if the reader will indulge me, puns); there is also a fantastic "inter-textual pun" between 2 Peter and Jude (if 2 Peter comes first, then Jude makes the pun; if Jude comes first, then Peter claims credit to 3 puns).

First off, in the first few verses of 1 Peter 2, the apostle has been describing how we are to put off sin and pursue the "rational, pure milk," Jesus Christ (I follow Karen Jobes in arguing that the "milk" refers to Jesus Christ, not the Bible per se; for a thorough discussion of this context, see her article in Westminster Theological Journal vol. 63 (2002) entitled "Got Milk? Septuagint Psalm 33 and the Interpretation of 1 Peter 2:1-3." Peter, continuing the metaphor of a newborn infant craving its mother's milk, then quotes Psalm 34:8 (LXX 33:8)--the concept of "tasting" that the Lord is good. In Greek, Peter writes, Chrestus ho Kurios. The pun, of course, is that there is only one letter difference between "good" and "Christ." Consequently, by quoting the LXX Chrestus ho Kurios ("Good is the Lord"), Peter is also saying Christus ho Kurios--Christ is the Lord!

For a discussion of the next two puns, one of the best sources is Richard Bauckham's Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Peter and Jude.

Secondly, in 2 Peter 2:15, Peter speaks of "Balaam son of Bosor." Now everybody knows that Balaam is actually the son of Beor, not "Bosor." This is why a small handful of manuscripts actually have a textual variant here, "Beor" for "Bosor." Yet the answer is that Peter makes a pun off of the Aramaic (and Hebrew) word b's'r. Balaam is, in fact, "the son of the flesh" (basar is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for "flesh"). This idea of Balaam being the "son of the flesh" fits well with Peter's overall tirade against these false teachers who do indeed follow the way of the flesh.

Finally, a much more subtle pun that involves reading Jude and 2 Peter side-by-side. As conservative scholarship acknowledges, there is a lot of inter-textuality between these two books. One of them is borrowing material from the other (this is not a problem for inerrancy: it's not like the Holy Spirit can plagiarize from Himself, after all). In fact, as an exercise I had my students compare 2 Peter 2:1-3:3 with Jude and notice all the places that overlap. Now, most scholars believe that Jude came first, though I beg to differ (among other things, it makes more sense for Jude to combine the "water-less wells, tempest-carried clouds" of 2 Peter 2:17 into Jude 12's "water-less clouds" rather than the reverse, that Peter would split up Jude's metaphor). However, that's another issue altogether.

So the pun is this: in parallel verses (2 Peter 2:13 compared to Jude 12) covering the exact same topic, with remarkably similar language, Peter says "Reveling in their own deceptions while feasting together with you"; Jude says "These are spots [or: dangerous reefs] in your love feasts." Remember, either Jude or 2 Peter is borrowing concepts and terminology from the other (under the perfect inspiration of the Holy Spirit). Interestingly, Peter prefers the verb "feasting together"; the word for "deception," however, is apatais. Significantly, rather than using the verb for "feasting together," Jude uses the plural of agaph as a technical term for a (weekly?) feast of charity. Thus Jude uses agapais to mimic Peter's apatais! Result? Sophisticated inter-textual pun!!

One more thought. In regards to the pun in 2 Peter 2:15, I am dismayed at how so many modern translations, in an attempt to "harmonize" Peter with the Old Testament, prefer to go with a mere handful of manuscripts (and not even the Alexandrian "heavy hitters") with the reading "Beor." This includes the ESV (which I normally really like!), the NLT (with a note that says "Some manuscripts read Bosor"--how about, like, "Almost every single manuscript in existence reads Bosor??!?!??!"), the NASB, etc. On the plus side, the NET, Holman Christian Standard, and KJV all read "Bosor," as they should. On the other hand, to my unfathomable disappointment, the New King James inexplicably has "Beor" (extremely disappointing to me, especially since I've been telling folks that it was basically just an updating of the King James; I still really like the New King James, mind you, but this is disappointing). In summary, this may be one of the few places that the NET and the KJV are going to agree against most other modern translations (including the NKJV)! [For the record: The superiority of a reading is not determined by what any translation has, but rather by whatever is determined to be the superior Greek manuscripts; and that, of course, is a different debate for a different time!]

Sep 17, 2015

Evangelical New Testament Commentaries: A Short and Totally Biased Guide

First off, a shout-out to my friend Joe Greene who has re-entered the blogosphere with his newest post, "10 How-To Steps of Biblical Interpretation" (click here). By the way, for those interested in pneumatology in Biblical Studies, see his article on "The Spirit In The Temple: Bridging The Gap Between Old Testament Absence And New Testament Assumption," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55 (Dec. 2012): 717-742.

The other day I had the privilege of addressing the seminary students here at Baptist Theological Seminary, a fine, strapping group, if I do say so myself! I was asked to create a "commentary guide," so I obliged by sharing with them my top 2-5 commentaries on each NT book (the OT list will have to wait, though I will say I'm very found of C. John Collins' Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary and Daniel I. Block's New American Commentary on Ruth.

The following list is, ultimately, my own creation, but it has been heavily influenced by my own biases (some of the authors were profs of mine), various reviews I read, and Daniel Akin's massive "Building a Theological Library" document (revised, 2011). The 2013 update, which I have not read, is here:

At the end, I list 20+ books that should be in every seminary student or pastor's library (eventually).
Please note that some parts of this list are more competent than others! My list on 1 Peter, for example, actually counts for something because I've actually published in that realm (and just had a new article on 1 Peter 2:6 accepted recently, my first article since finishing my doctorate!). Conversely, my section on Mark is woefully ignorant and inadequate, but hey, I'm posting it anyways and if you object you can get your own blog! :) Or, better yet, make suggestions in the "comments" section.

This list is subject to revision, especially if I get any good comments.

      1. D. A. Carson, in volume 9 of the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary (2010).
 This is probably pound-for-pound the best commentary on Matthew, even though I'm normally not a fan of the Expositor's series.
      2. David L. Turner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2008).
      3. John A. Broadus, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (no specific series).
 This is the classic conservative work, still highly regarded today (was reprinted
 in 1958, but probably public domain).
     4. R. T. France, New International Commentary on the New Testament (2007).
     5. Also worth having, D. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical
 Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (1978).

     1. James R. Edwards, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2001).
     2. R. T. France, New International Greek Testament Commentary (2002).

     1. Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2
volumes, 1994)
     2. Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2007)
     3. I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1978)

     1. Andreas Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
(2004). I'm a bit biased on this one, since Köstenberger was one of my teachers,
 but it really is an excellent source. For a more entry-level source, see
Köstenberger's Encountering John.
      2. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary (1990). Carson was
 Köstenberger's mentor, so you no doubt you'll see some of the same emphasis, but both are good commentaries in their own right..
     3. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary (1987). Usually the WBC
 series is daunting and rarely the most conservative; however, Beasley-Murray's
 work is a golden exception (and Beasley-Murray was a Baptist pastor and
     4. Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1995).
 Almost anything by Leon Morris will have significant value.
     5. Note: the premier commentary on John for broader academia (not conservative
 but with some value) is Raymond Brown's Anchor Bible commentary (2 vols,
     6. Also, the two-volume commentary by Craig Keener (stand alone, I think, but published by Baker Academic)--Dr. Keener puts the "epic" back on commentary-writing (see acts, below). Thanks to my friend Joe Greene for this suggestion.

     1. Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (3 volumes; stand-alone, no
 series; 2011-2014). It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the most epic
 commentary ever written on any book in the New Testament (and I do not use
 the term "epic" lightly!). While all three volumes will cost you a pretty penny,
 this pretty much represents "almost everything you wanted to know about the
 book of Acts" by a conservative scholar.
     2. Darrell Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2007).
     3. I Howard Marshall, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2007).
     4. C. K. Barrett, International Critical Commentary (2 vols., 2000).
     5. In addition, the ministry student should be interested to hear that the "lost"
 commentary on Acts by J. B. Lightfoot has just recently been published: The
 Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary (2014), ed. by Ben
 Witherington III (who personally discovered Lightfoot's notes in the Durham
 Cathedral Library, collecting dust).

     1. Douglas Moo, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1996).
     2. Grant R. Osborne, IVP New Testament Commentary (2004). Osborne is
 probably the most Arminian on the list, while Schreiner is probably the most
 Calvinistic, but both have value.
      3. C. E. B. Cranfield, International Critical Commentary (1979). 2 vols.
      4. Thomas Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
     5. Leon Morris, Pillar New Testament Commentary (1988).
     6. F. F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2nd ed., 2007).

First Corinthians

     1. Gordon D. Fee New International Commentary on the New Testament (1987).
     2. Anthony C. Thiselton, New International Greek Testament Commentary (2002).
A bit intimidating, and some parts are overly technical, but still good.
     3. David Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

Second Corinthians
      1. George Guthrie, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2015).
 Brand new, and Guthrie was one of my profs one summer, so I can personally vouch for his
 solid conservative scholarship.
      2. David Garland, New American Commentary (1999).
      3. Mark A. Seifrid, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2014)

     1. Douglas Moo, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2013).
     2. F. F. Bruce, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1982).
     3. Timothy George, New American Commentary (1994).

      1. Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (stand alone, no
series; 2003).
      2. Peter T. O'Brian, Pillar New Testament Commentary (1997).
      3. F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1984;
 includes Colossians and Philemon).

      1. Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1995).
      2. Peter T. O'Brian, New International Greek Testament Commentary (2005).
      3. Ralph P. Martin, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2007).

Colossians and Philemon

     1. F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1984;
 includes Ephesians).
     2. Douglas J. Moo, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2008).
     3. David E. Garland, NIV Application Commentary (1998). Please don't let the
 series title turn you away; this series has some excellent resources, makes a
 genuine effort to be practical and relevant to the Christian life (without
 neglecting scholarship), and will correct the NIV when the author feels it to be

First and Second Thessalonians
     1. Gordon D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament (2009).
     2. Gene L. Green, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2002).
     3. Charles A. Wanamaker, New International Greek Testament Commentary
 (1990). A bit odd in that Wanamaker thinks 2 Thessalonians was written first,
 but still a helpful resource.

Pastoral Epistles
     1. William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary (2000). This volume is a bit
 intimidating, but very thorough, with probably the best defense of Pauline
 authorship you will ever see.
     2. George W. Knight III, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1992).
     3. Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1990). The most
 accessible volume on this list; use it when you're in more of a hurry. The "big
 three" for serious study are really Mounce, Knight, and Towner.
     4. Philip H. Towner, New International Commentary on the New Testament
     5. I. Howard Marshall, International Critical Commentary (1999).

     1. Peter T. O'Brian, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2010).
      2. George H. Guthrie, NIV Application Commentary (1998). The NIVAP series is extremely practical, one of the rare series that seems to care about its readers spiritual health. Guthrie's represents  one of the better books in the series.
     3. David Allen, New American Commentary (2010).

     1. Douglas Moo, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2000).
     2. George H. Guthrie, volume 13 of the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary
     3. Peter Davids, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1982).

First Peter (my area of expertise)
      1. Karen H. Jobes, Baker Exegetical Commentary (2005). Being a specialist on 1
 Peter, I would like to strongly stress that this is flat-out the best commentary out
 there (with some good theological observations as well).
      2. Douglas Harink, Brazos Theological Commentary (includes 2 Peter; 2009). This
 is one of the most quotable commentaries you'll find, packed with excellent,
 challenging discussion. It does not, however, deal with the minutia of the text
 like others on this list.
     3. Wayne Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1988). Entry-level,
 more accessible than others on this list. I would use Grudem if teaching a college-level class, but Jobes for grad school or beyond.
     4. Peter H. Davids, New International Commentary on the New Testament 1990).
     5. The premier commentaries in broader academia (i.e., not necessarily
 conservative) are John H. Elliott (Anchor Bible) and Paul J. Achtemeier
 (Hermeneia). Also, John Elliott's A Home for the Homeless, a social-scientific study of 1 Peter, had a huge impact on my first book (for what it's worth, my first book is Foreknowledge and Social Identity in 1 Peter, published by Wipf&Stock).
     6. Larry R. Helyer, The Life and Witness of Peter (2012), is an excellent book for
 broader studies on Peter, his writings, and his theology.

Second Peter and Jude
     1. Peter H. Davids, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2006).
     2. Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2008).
     3. Thomas R. Schreiner, New American Commentary (2003). Also includes First
Peter, but I prefer other commentaries for that epistle.

1, 2, 3 John
     1. Colin G. Kruse, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2000). Superior to Akin's book
 when dealing with difficult passages.
     2. Daniel L. Akin, New American Commentary (2001). I'm slightly biased, since
 this author gave me my last diploma, but if you want a solid conservative work
 written by somebody with both pastoral experience and scholarly credentials,
 this is probably the best. Also has three helpful appendices dealing with the term
 antichrist, "Welcoming False Teachers into your Home," and "Homiletical
     3. I. Howard Marshall, New International Commentary on the New Testament
      4. Robert W. Yarbrough, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament


     1. Grant R. Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2005).
 Though not a dispensationalist, Osborne's commentary is still, in my opinion,
 the best for your money (especially on background matters). [Yes, my theological biases are revealed here]
      2. Robert Thomas, Revelation: An Exegetical Commentary (1995; 2 volumes;
 stand-alone, not part of a series). This is the most scholarly dispensational
 treatment. Though a bit dry at times (and weaker on the background), still a
 must-have for dispensational pastors.
     3. John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1966; stand-alone, not part of
 a series). The classic dispensationalist commentary, valuable for theology (in my thoroughly theologically biased opinion) but
 somewhat weaker on background matters and as an introduction to the book as a
      4. Also highly recommended: Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches
 of Asia in Their Local Setting (1989). Note to the student or pastor: Revelation
 was written to seven distinct locales, each with their own rich history that Jesus
 Christ, in his address in chapters 2-3, draws on (e.g., the Laodiceans and their
 sickening water supply). The expositor who wishes to be true to Jesus' message
 should study the background of these churches and their geographical locations.
    5. Also (with thanks to Joe Greene), G. K. Beale's NIGTC volume.

Note: For the biblical theology of individual NT authors,, Zondervan is in the
process of producing a fantastic series (called "Biblical Theology of the New
Testament," ed. by my former professor Andreas J. Köstenberger). Published
volumes so far include Peter H. Davids, A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude, and
Köstenberger's A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters.

Other New Testament resources that can benefit graduate students and
pastors (not in any particular order):

     1. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed.
     2. Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle,
 the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (2009). In
 historical and background matters, I believe this is a superior introduction to
 Carson and Moo.
     3. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th ed. (1990).
     4. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd ed. (1955).
     5. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (1993). If you can
 only afford one backgrounds book, let it be this one!
      6. Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, Gene L. Green, The New Testament in
 Antiquity (2009).
     7. Larry R. Helyer, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A
 Guide for New Testament Studies (2002).
     8. David Alan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (1994).
 An entry-level, easily readable guide to textual criticism.
     9. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy
 (2010). If you find yourself needing to refute the works of Bart Ehrman, the
 "Bauer thesis," and the like, this is one of the better books.
    10. J. Ed Komoszewski, J. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing
 Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular
 Culture (2006). A fantastic book that refutes all the pop culture (and liberal
 scholarship) views on Jesus, including alleged parallels between the
 Resurrection and the "Osiris myth," etc. Much more readable than
 Köstenberger/Kruger and more suitable for the average Christian.
    11. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of
 the Old Testament (2007). A massive tome that can quite easily repay your
 investment. Comprehensive examination of every (or almost every) New
 Testament use of the Old Testament, from the hands of capable conservative
    12. James R. Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (2005) A fantastic treatment of
 Jesus Christ as the only Name under heaven by which we are saved! An
 effective refutation of pluralistic liberalism.
    13. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1997). If you can only
 afford one Greek reference book, this should be it.
    14. Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament
 (2012). An surprisingly useful resource!
    15. Peter Cotterell and Max Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation (1989).
 A fantastic book dealing with discerning appropriation of the biblical
 languages in exposition.
    16. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (1996). This is an extremely helpful
 resource, a good safeguard against certain excesses in preaching.
    17. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On
 Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 3rd ed. (2012). In
 my opinion, the best book on hermeneutics. As a bonus, it has what other books
 on hermeneutics too often lack: an entire chapter on the Holy Spirit.
    18. F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (latest edition
 2003; one of the most significant and best-selling books in conservative
    19. David Alan Black, Using New Testament Greek in Ministry: A Practical Guide for Students and Pastors. A very practical book that shouldn't scare anybody away!
    20. Tom (N. T.) Wright and Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1986. This is, in my opinion, probably one of the best books for preparing for further studies in NT beyond a master's degree.
    21. Any kind of "Reader's Lexicon" of the New Testament that assists you in
 reading through your Greek NT (a "reader's lexicon" will go verse-by-verse
 and supply rare words, e.g., that occur less than 25 times in the NT; you can
 have it open as you read through your Greek NT and not have to look up
 individual words).

Aug 15, 2015

The Revised and More Realistic "Priorities of a New Professor"

Well, I've officially survived my first year of teaching at BCM! About a year or so ago I wrote a post entitled "Priorities of a New Bible Professor" where I focused on my academic writing priorities. Let's just say it was a bit too ambitious, by far! Teaching always has to be the first priority before writing (and "teaching" includes "availability to my students").

Nevertheless, I did get some accomplished. I began working on my second book (slowly!), submitted two articles to journals for consideration, presented a paper at the 2015 "Bible Faculty Summit" (more on that later) which is in the process of being revised to submit to a third journal. Also, I did make a bit of progress on working through Oscar Cullmann's Christology of the New Testament in German.

Surprisingly, the summer was way busier than I thought it would be. Having said that, I laid the groundwork for two more articles--we'll see if anything becomes of them!

Most of us profs will never be D. A. Carson or Andreas Kostenberger as far as publishing goes (I doubt I'll ever get a publishing sabbatical), but that's ok! What's important is continuing to be a beyond-competent teacher who's always open to my students while at the same time trying to make an occasional contribution to scholarship.

So, for the next year, what are my priorities? #1 is creating three new classes from scratch--General Epistles and Intro to NT Exegesis for the Fall, and NT Intro for the Spring (really excited about those!) while not slacking off on my Hebrew, which I'll be teaching again in a year.

My #2 priority is a particular article on Hebrews. #3 is making significant progress both on my book on Revelation and the book my father and I are co-writing on Bible translation.

#4 is an article on the last chapter of John that I've done significant research for, and perhaps another article on the Greek imperative.

Finally, not really a separate priority, but rather an ongoing one, is to keep my German up, and continue working through Cullmann's Christology.

One more very important priority that will be ongoing: I've been asked to develop a Bible study on 1 Peter for Sunday School at my church, Falls Baptist. Christian academics should be serving the church with their writing, as well!

As far as reading, this Fall I really hope to tackle both Constantine Campbell's new Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament and Daniel Block's For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship; the first book, which I've heard great things about, will be important for my intro to exegesis class, while the latter may just be all-around important.

Once again, teaching is a blast, and I'm grateful for the opportunity! [and the students here have been awesome]

Jul 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 20, 2015

Resources for Studying and Teaching Biblical Hebrew (by a Greek specialist)

The Lord has a sense of irony! After 5 years in doctoral studies focusing on Greek under one of the premiere NT Greek scholars in America (in my humble, biased, and totally correct opinion), one of the first things I was asked to teach at Baptist College of Ministry was Biblical Hebrew. It has been a fantastic and very rewarding experience, yet I sincerely wish that I had not neglected my Hebrew during my years at Southeastern. Despite the fact that I had a solid array of credits in Hebrew (and also took Aramaic), nevertheless I let it slide (though, in my defense, I did read through the Septuagint during those years). Let this be a lesson to you, potential doctorates! You never know where or what you'll be teaching, so retain at least basic competency in all areas of your field. Hopefully, I've learned my lesson and now try to incorporate a little Hebrew a day into my personal Bible study (along with my English, Greek, and German Bibles).

The old cliche is true: you really haven't learned a subject until you have to each it. A lot of things have started clicking with me now, including the discourse structure of Hebrew narrative (and its stark contrast with Hebrew poetry, with the relative lack of conjunctions in the latter); in addition, I've begun to engage more with the scholarly literature and more technical issues (e.g., is the "preterist" the third tense along with perfect and imperfect?)

For  our first semester textbook (in addition to the Stuttgartensia Hebrew Bible, Holladay's lexicon, etc.), we used Pratico and Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Hebrew along with the accompanying workbook. I almost went with Allen Ross' Introducing Biblical Hebrew, but felt that Pratico/Van Pelt was more user-friendly to beginners. 

For second semester, the required textbooks were Arnold and Choi's handy A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and Chisholm's excellent and very practical From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew [Waltke and O'Conner's syntax is still the modern standard, of course, but way too expensive in my opinion for a textbook; our library has it, fortunately].

In addition, in my own personal study and lecture prep, I have grown very fond of C. John Collins' work. His Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary is absolutely fantastic and just what I needed to challenge me both exegetically and theologically. For class, I made my students read both C. John Collins' article "A Syntactical Note on Genesis 3:15: Is the Woman's Seed Singular or Plural?" in Tyndale Bulletin vol. 48 (1997), as well as the necessary supplementary article by T. Desmond Alexander, "Further Observations on the Term 'Seed' in Genesis," the very next issue. Alexander deals with some texts that Collins did not cover, but I agree with the overall point of both of them (I would state, however, that in order for Genesis 3:15 to refer to the Messiah, it's not necessary to demonstrate that every occurrence of a singular pronoun in reference to zerah necessarily refers to a single person--only that the substantial majority do). Finally, I have worked through (with a bit more difficulty), Anson F. Rainey's influential article on "The Ancient Hebrew Prefix Conjugation in the Light of Amarnah Canaanite," Hebrew Studies (1997), a very influential article (viewable for free on JSTOR, though downloading a pdf is a bit expensive).

Finally, for a little bit of fun. If you haven't yet listened to Josh Tyra's famous "I am the very model of a Biblical Philologist," then click here, and you're welcome (warning: it's only funny if you like Hebrew or are familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan).

May 22, 2015

"If the foundations be destroyed . . ." [DON'T SAY THAT!!] Or, why context remains indispensable for legitimate Bible study

 For both the Spring semester and Summer School (which just concluded today at BCM), I had the privilege of teaching Hermeneutics to a total of 25-30 students. I had a fabulous time! The student's were very engaged with the topic, and I can think of only one other class that I could possibly be more excited about (1 Peter). Our main textbook was Duvall and Hayes' Grasping God's Word, with Sire's Scripture Twisting as also required reading.

As I stress with my students, properly studying the context of any passage remains essential. Even Proverbs—possibly the one book in the Bible where you could grab a couple verses and not be too concerned about what precedes and follows—even in Proverbs the reader must understand the ongoing conflict between "Lady Wisdom" versus the "Strange Woman," as well as how the entire book must be read in light of 1:7.

A perfect example of the importance of context is in how well-meaning Christians quote Psalm 11:3—"Boy, this country [or church, or society, or local coffee shop] sure is going downhill fast! You know, if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Indeed, how many messages have been preached with that as the tagline, generally focusing on what the "foundations" are and how we need to get back to whatever they are?

Friend, if we truly pay attention to what Scripture is saying, you'll understand that true believers are not supposed to be saying "if the foundations be destroyed . . ." Consider the entire Psalm. In verse 1, we have the basic theme: David trusts in the Lord. Then, immediately following, we have discordant voice introduced: that of "Naysayers," the ones who wish David to abandon hope and join them in their doom and gloom philosophy.  "Flee to the mountains," they say. With parallelism in verse 2—"The wicked are bending their bow, they're getting ready to shoot!" Why? "To shoot at the righteous."

Here's the key—the "Naysayers" are still talking in verse 3! In other words, verse 3 is not the theme of the Psalm, the message we should take to heart. Rather, verse 3, "If the foundations be destroyed . . ." is the very statement David (and the Psalm) rebukes!

The (perhaps well-meaning) "Naysayers," then, are bemoaning the fact that everything's crumbling, and they've thrown up their hands in despair—"It's too late! The foundations are destroyed! What can good people do about it?"

Listen to King David's rebuke—"The Lord is in his holy temple, his throne is in the heavens, God's eyes are quite aware of what's going on, and God will take care of things!"

My friends, when you state (whatever the circumstances), "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?", quite possibly you have allowed yourself to join the side of the "Naysayers" and are seriously questioning the Sovereignty of God! So long as the Lord is in His sacred temple, so long as God reigns from heaven, the question is absurd at best and dangerously close to sacrilege at worst.

This is not to downplay or in any way minimize true, Biblical Lament. I have made it a point to introduce legitimate Lament to my students as an under-neglected genre (with thanks to Dr. Heath Thomas of Southeastern who radically changed my thinking on this matter). True Biblical Lament cries out to God in despair, even questions God, yet does so from the perspective of faith.

Psalm 11:3, however, is not Lament; rather, it is whining, a "woe is us" attitude that focuses on the deterioration of society (or whatever) and forgets God has called us to a sacred mission to be the light to the world. In other words, when we bemoan the fact that the light seems to be going out in the world, we are actually bemoaning our own failure with the suggestion that God himself has not adequately equipped us.

Context, then, remains essential to any legitimate study of the Bible. Yet many preachers and teachers strip verses out of their context as if it didn't matter, as if those verses could appear anywhere. Folks, the Holy Spirit has inspired location just as much as content! As an example of the absurdity of being able to conduct legitimate interpretation without context, I play a little game with my Hermeneutics students: I have them divide up into teams, then try to guess the location in the Bible, the significance, and the application of the following passages (#6 is especially difficult—no student has successfully guessed or interpreted it yet!) Also, one of these is not actually from the canonical books but from the Apocrypha (Brenton's translation; all others are in KJV English); can you guess which one? Some of these are actually kind of easy, some are tough.

Let's Play: Guess that Context!

1. And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.

2. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:

3. Thy disciples fast not

4. Insomuch as God hath delivered us from great perils, we thank him highly

5. The mountains were not found.

6. bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth

7. And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.

8. So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley.

Apr 30, 2015

Academic Ghost Writing and Teacher-Student Interaction

Yesterday, I read for the first time two fascinating articles by a former "academic ghost writer," i.e., the professional guy (or gal) who writes papers for desperate (or lazy) students, for a fee. The two articles, by David Tomar, are "The Shadow Scholar: The Man Who Writes Your Students' Papers Tells His Stories" (on the Chronicle of Higher Education site: click here) and "Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers: A Guide to Best Practices" (on The Best Schools site: click here). The former article is under a pseudonym of Ed Dante (but both articles are by the same author). Academic ghost-writing, unlike plagiarism, is virtually undetectable since each paper is custom-tailored to an individual student's needs (for a price, of course). Based on his own account, I'm quite prepared to hail Mr. Tomar as the most scholarly guy alive! Who else can boast that they written papers, on various levels (yes, including the doctoral level) on history, philosophy, psychology, sports management, theology, sociology, maritime security, and, ironically enough, ethics?!

The saddest part of his article "The Shadow Scholar" is this statement here:
"I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked." 
(by the way, on a related note: ghost-written sermons have been advertised in magazines from the time before the internet, so let's not assume preachers always do their own work, either)

Those of us who teach theology or biblical studies should not be so naive as to assume the temptation isn't there, or that Christians can't fall into that trap (while a grader at Southeastern, I once caught a student blatantly plagiarizing; on a book review assignment, they had basically just cut and pasted text from a blog that was reviewing the same book).

 In his article "Detecting and Deterring," Tomar categorizes his clients into 3 major groups: 1. "English Language Learners" (those whose native tongue is not English and often can find nobody to help them learn), 2. "Composition/research deficient students" (those who, in Tomar's words, represent the " tragically overlooked prevalence of students at the undergraduate and even graduate levels who simply lack the skills or knowledge to produce university-level writing or research"). The 3rd category is simply the "lazy student."

So what's the solution? In his second article, Tomar provides a number of helpful hints for both preventing and spotting such papers. It's the "deterring" part I wish to focus on. I have no wish here to diminish the theological significance nor dismaying irony of a Bible student cheating. Yet part of the problem is most likely a disconnect between teachers and students, including a lack of awareness concerning which students are struggling and how to help them. While we can't necessarily help the third category, the "lazy student," for the first two categories the faculty of a school should have a system in place for detecting and assisting those students most likely to struggle (Southeastern, my doctoral alma mater, has a dedicated "Student Writing Center" staff to assist just that type of student as well as anybody who just needs another person to look over their work). These students can easily be detected early on in college or seminary and directed towards resources that will help them improve. 

Furthermore, a teacher's enthusiasm for his or her subject may very well translate into willingness on the part of the student to actually study. As Tomar notes in "Detecting and Deterring," "I have also generally observed that students are more motivated to cheat in contexts where professors aren’t particularly motivated to teach." Indeed, "When the professor demonstrates passion for the material, this helps to create a moral dilemma about cheating that has more to do with the student/teacher relationship than with the notion of academic integrity. In reality, this relationship weighs heavier on the conscience."

Also, here's a thought (quite the radical one for Christian educators!): perhaps teachers should be willing to go the extra mile with their students, taking extra time to give them some pointers on their papers? (especially in undergrad) I'm not suggesting that teachers do their students' work for them, but our job is, after all to teach (and, biblically-speaking, to mentor). Yeah, spending 30-minutes with a student explaining the difference between a "devotional" commentary and an academic one, or why calling those of other theological persuasions an "idiot" is unacceptable in their paper, may take away some valuable time from writing my next killer article on "Social Scientific Perspectives on the Allegorical Interpretation of St. Ronald of Wendysia," but which activity, ultimately, is going to matter more to the Master?

At the methodological level, I have an idea I might start implementing. Instead of just requiring students to turn in their paper, I may require, from now on, that students turn in their research notes as well (I know, I know, some students, as well as major scholars, prefer to research as they write, so this might not work; differently people are wired to write in different ways).

One more final thought: In the second article, Mr. Tomar states, "When I worked as a ghostwriter, lazy students helped me to make my living but it was the lazy professors that made my life easier. The task of pretending to be a student in somebody’s class is greatly simplified when the professor takes no special steps to differentiate the course, its content, or its assignments from the many millions of other courses that have been taught on the same exact subject from time immemorial." Based on that, I have to conclude that someday, Mr. Tomar's former job may be outsourced to robots. No joke! Already a medical researcher, using a random text generator website, was able to get an article accepted by 17 medical journals! (click here for the story, and thanks to my Dad for sending me the link) Now, all 17 of those journals were "Pay-to-publish" journals that prey on those who are desparate; but that's precisely my point! Some teachers (or grad assistants) may pay as much or less attention to the papers they get than the editors of those "journals" do! Coupled with the superior capacity of computers to research the internet (let's not forget that recently IBM's "Watson" computer beat two champions at Jeopardy), the dawn of "AI Writers" may very well be upon us. Very soon "HAL2016" may be able to generate a B+ paper for next year's freshman . . . (and, personally, I'm looking forward to the first Baptist sermon written by a robot)

Note about peer-review journals

Apr 16, 2015

Guest essay by John R. Himes--An Alumni Reflects on the Closing of Tennessee Temple University

I have asked my father, John R. Himes, to post some thoughts on the recent closing of Tennessee Temple University, his college alma mater. At one point TTU boasted an enrollment in the thousands and was a premiere Baptist school. As of a few years ago, it was down to a few hundred, and now it has completely closed its doors, sending its students to Piedmont International University (click here for the news story). Why the drastic change? My father shares his thoughts.

The Demise of Tennessee Temple: A Cautionary Tale of a College

By John R. Himes

In 1976 when I graduated with my BA in Bible, Tennessee Temple College was a wonderful bastion of revival, soul-winning and fundamentalism. Sure, it had its problems. I’ve wondered many times why I did not have to take a course in Baptist history or polity, since it was ostensibly a Baptist school. But overall it was a very exciting place to be spiritually. At its peak, it had an enrollment of 4 or 5 thousand.

The governing church, Highland Park Baptist (HPBC), was large (at one point one of the largest churches in the U.S.) and promoted revival. Its pastor and the president of the school was Dr. Lee Roberson, a man unparalleled in his devotion to holy living and revival. We heard famous sermons such as “Prayer, Asking and Receiving” by John R. Rice, and “Payday Someday” by R. G. Lee, and saw revival with hundreds of students and others crowding the aisles.

Temple also had a wonderful emphasis on world evangelism. There was a missionary conference every Fall, sometimes attended by over 200 missionaries. It was through a missionary from Japan at this conference that God called me to be a missionary. HPBC then supported our ministry for 33 years in Japan, for which I thank God. However, it was through this connection that I eventually began to see a slide in the Christianity of the school and church.

After Dr. Roberson had retired and been replaced by *------* after a short time with another interim pastor, we visited the church on furlough. I thought *------* to be a great preacher, but a strange choice for the job since he was from the GARBC orbit rather than the Southwide Baptist Fellowship crowd with which many Temple graduates fellowshipped. Furthermore, many thought he was a poor administrator, and this turned out to be arguably so.

To me as a missionary the moment that defined the future for Highland Park Baptist Church came when a young missionary from South America showed his furlough slides in a training union and said, “We practice direct evangelism and do not advocate lifestyle evangelism.” Afterwards *-----* rose and excoriated the young missionary for this statement, saying, “All the evangelism we do at Highland Park is lifestyle evangelism.” This not only was rude and dismissive toward the young missionary, but inaccurate, since at that time HPBC was using a robot program to “cold call” people’s homes and deliver a taped salvation message! This event caused me to avoid presenting my furlough report at HPBC for many years after that.

In addition, Tennessee Temple’s treatment of alumni was somewhat cold. It seemed to me that they rarely ever reached out to alumni except to ask for money; twice they offered an alumni directory for sale for $100 (this is in stark contrast to the school I received my MA from, which always keeps me up-to-date and provides a much easier way to keep in contact with other alumni).

As time went on, Tennessee Temple drifted further and further from its alumni, who were largely independent Baptists. One furlough some years ago two friends and I visited the campus and entered the gymnasium where we had spent many happy hours working out. After we exited we were approached by a man who wondered what we were doing there, identifying himself as the new athletic director. When we said we were alumni, and two of us were independent Baptist preachers, he said, “I’m not sure what an independent Baptist is. Please explain it to me.”

That encounter typifies to me the primary reason for the demise of Tennessee Temple. Not too long after that it was announced that the college and church were joining a different ecclesiastical orientation (though still Baptist). Thus, the college left its roots. This process may not cause the demise of a college if it occurs over many years, as witness the fate of a school like Princeton which started out as a conservative Presbyterian school. However, in the case of Tennessee Temple, the process of departing from the positions of the alumni and supporters began shortly after the retirement of its founder, Dr. Lee Roberson.

From the point when the board unwisely hired a man from outside of the base of support of the school, the demise of the school was only a question of time. The final letter to the alumni announcing the news of the “merger” with another school (after said news had been published in the Chattanooga newspaper) sadly noted that in trying to save the school 17,000 brochures and letters were sent to alumni. Less than one percent of the alumni responded.