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 26, 2016

Upcoming Review of N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began

This Christmas I received from my gracious parents a copy of N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus' Crucifixion (click here for the Amazon link). N. T. Wright is one of the most prolific and influential biblical scholars of the 21st century, and I have both immensely benefited from and strongly disagreed with his writings (indeed, I tell my seminary students that N. T. Wright is absolutely golden when dealing with the Resurrection, or skewering the Jesus Seminar, but much less helpful on Pauline theology. I identify much more strongly with the balanced views of Thomas Schreiner or Frank Thielman when it comes to the New Perspective, while also being appreciative of the work of Michael Bird).

In my opinion, Wright's masterful development of biblical theology is both his biggest strength and biggest weakness: on the one hand, he helps us see the "big picture" on so many theological concepts that we have neglected (i.e., we get so caught up in our Christian cliches such as "I'm going to spend eternity in heaven when I die" that we totally miss the point of biblical eschatology, namely Jesus Christ's victory over death and how we will be resurrected to spend eternity on the New Earth and the New Jerusalem; Wright is a healthy corrective to this). On the other hand, his own vision of biblical theology causes him to neglect key texts that don't quite fit with his big picture (in this regard, I especially recommend the excellent article by Josh Chatraw, "Balancing Out (W)right: Jesus' Theology of Individual and Corporate Repentance and Forgiveness in the Gospel of Luke," JETS 55.2 (2012), readable here.

I'm not totally sure what to expect with this book, but I anticipate an entertaining and provocative read. I'm hoping to approach this book from a more-or-less neutral position, an independent Baptist who appreciates much of broader scholarship, including Wright's work, while also disagreeing with some of it. In other words, I approach this book as neither a N. T. Wright "fanboy" nor a "N. T. Wright is Su-Per-Wrong" detractor. At the very least, I anticipate much quotable material that attempts to shake up the status quo of evangelical Christianity while being adamantly opposed to liberal theology!

Nov 12, 2016

Religious liberty for all (including Muslims); or, "How voting for Trump as a defender of religious liberty may come back to haunt Evangelicals"

As with many Christians, I have mixed feelings about this year's election. On the one hand, I do view Hillary Clinton as the enemy of religious freedom, somebody who would gladly make it illegal to hold the views I do (see this article for further details and a link to a video of Hillary Clinton herself). Also, I am grateful for election results in Wisconsin that would seem to protect freedom of conscience somewhat.

Having said that, I did not vote for Donald Trump, and I believe those that see him as a defender of religious liberty may have forgotten that Trump himself has already laid the groundwork for persecution of Christians.

Many Christian Americans, of course, see freedom of religion as one of the key defining characteristics of a great nation, and I would agree (though I would stop short of declaring America a Christian nation on this basis). Yet Donald Trump himself is on record as saying that he would ban Muslims from entering the country. I wish to stress here, the reason for such exclusion is irrelevant! The very fact that one who holds to a particular religion can be excluded from participating in American society, judged only on the basis of holding to that particular religion, means that whatever reasons are behind such a decision can also be used to justify excluding evangelical Christians from American society.

Consider the following: one may argue that Islam promotes violence, and thus should be excluded from American society. If this is argued successfully, and results in Islam being banned, then we have established the basic scenario where a religion can be banned in America. If that's the case, then all one has to do is make a case that evangelical Christianity, also, promotes violence, and presto, one may no longer be an evangelical Christian (already evangelical Christianity is being accused of hate speech, so it is hardly that large a leap from one to the other).

The point is not which religions actually promote violence and which do not. The point is that the minute anything becomes the basis for excluding a religion from American society, we have also provided a logical basis for evangelical Christianity itself to become punishable in America.

Consequently, to any Christians reading this blog: by turning a blind eye to Trump's statements regarding Muslims and American society, we are also sowing the seeds for our own persecution. In addition, as Christians we are supposed to be witnessing to Muslims. Given the difficulty of entering many strongly Islamic country like Iran, the best opportunity for many Christians to fulfill this part of the Great Commission is to befriend and dialogue with them here in America. How can this happen if our President refuses to allow them into American society?

I close with a happy thought in the midst of this dismal election, where the so-called "lesser two evils" (who actually matches much of the description of 2Timothy 3:1-4 pretty well) won. Despite all that has happened, God is still King!

Oh, one more thing: no matter what you may think of your elected officials, pray for them! (1Timothy 2:1-4)

Oct 13, 2016

Free from the anxiety of politics: reflections on a practical aspect of 1 Peter 2:16

Like many evangelical Christians, I've come to the conclusion that this year's US presidential election offers basically the worst two choices in the history of the country. On the one hand
[warning: tongue in cheek comments to follow, but only slightly tongue in cheek], 
if Trump gets elected we'll be embroiled in a thermonuclear war within the year, and the whole country will go bankrupt (hey, if he can't keep a Casino with his name running, how can he keep the country afloat?); not to mention giving evangelical Christianity a bad testimony due to our traditional support of the Republican party (Jimmy Carter notwithstanding). On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton is elected, folks like me will probably be thrown in jail for not being "progressive" enough in our Christianity (i.e., for daring to suggest that God made only two genders!).

Fortunately, First Peter has the solution. Written to a group of (literal and spiritual) strangers, the Apostle articulates how, in Christ Jesus, we are all part of a "holy nation," a "royal priesthood," etc. (2:9). In other words, the Christian's first and foremost loyalty is to a different nation, not the United States, or New Zealand, or Japan, or anything else.

This theological social-spiritual identity (both "new nation" and "strangers"), then, becomes the basis for ethics in 1 Peter (2:11 through much of the rest of the epistle). Peter urges us to honor all humans, in the process not-so-subtly asserting (in both vv. 13 and 17) that the Emperor himself should be respected only as another human, not as a demi-god, the "savior of the kosmos" that some were heralded as (see Travis Williams, "The Divinity and Humanity of Caesar," ZNW, for further discussion).

I'd like to focus on one fascinating word here: "free" (2:16). I believe Friedrich Schroger, in his book Gemeinde im 1. Petrusbrief ("Church/Community in 1 Peter") absolute nails it with this quote (forgive my rough translation from the German):
"The Christian is 'free' because he expects nothing from Caesar or from the governor, but all from the Lord--not from 'Lord Caesar,' but from 'Lord Christ.' The criteria and requirement for what is here meant as 'freedom' is that one is free from the anxieties of his own salvation, he stands completely in the favor of God, and he is free from anxiety in his interaction with humankind" (pages 147-148).

My Christian friends, Peter's concept of "freedom" does not mean "freedom to vote." Rather, it means "freedom to continue on as God's child and emissary no matter who wins the stinking election!" I.e., we do not depend on any political outcome to keep us free or to ensure are mental well-being. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can threaten our freedom in Jesus Christ--so what's the point in worrying? Have we forgotten that Peter, Mary, Luke, not to mention Jesus himself, lived under a tyrannical empire that routinely crucified its enemies, exposed infants to die on the hilltop, and reveled in such lascivious excess it would make a night in Las Vegas resemble an episode of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood"? Yet Peter, Mary, and the others remembered something that we've forgotten: it's not our responsibility to change the word [i.e., "America"]; rather, it's our responsibility to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as emissaries of a different, much more sacred, nation! 

Now if, in the process of doing so, we can act as good stewards of our inherited democracy and so influence our nation in order to live "quiet and peaceable lives," so be it. Personally, I doubt either Trump or Clinton will help us achieve that goal, but whatever. The bottom line is, to paraphrase Schroger, no matter who wins, we are still "free" from anxiety; we owe nothing to any president, we still have a relationship to God through Jesus Christ, and we don't need to worry about how to relate to the world around us. Simply be a Christian, a child of the kingdom, and stop worrying about what happens to America. It's not really important in the grand scheme of things (the Lord said, "the nations are as a drop in the bucket," Isaiah 40:15) except to the extent that it helps or hinders the spread of the Gospel (and the Gospel might just as well spread better under more hostile circumstances). 

This also means, since I am "free" from worrying about the outcome of any political election, I am now free to vote my conscience. And contra a blog post I read recently, following my personal conscience means that if I know that my plumber or dentist or whatever was sexually harassing women and bragging about it, my personal conscience would not allow me to give them business no matter how good they were. How much more so with a president? [For the record, I won't judge anybody for voting for Trump! All I'm saying is vote your conscience, especially considering the issue of Christian testimony]

Cited sources:
Schroger, Friedrich. Gemeinde im. 1. Petrusbrief: Untersuchungen zum Selbstverstandnis einer christilichen Gemeinde and er Wende vom 1. zum 2. Jahrhundert. Katholische Theollgie 1. Passau: Passavia Univertatslag, 1981.

Williams, Travis B. "The Divinity and Humanity of Caesar in 1 Peter 2,13--Early Christian Resistance to the Emperor and His Cult." Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft vol. 104 (2014).

See also Paul A. Himes, Foreknowledge and Social Identity in 1 Peter (Eugene, OR: Wipf&Stock, 2014) for further discussion of social-spiritual identity in 1 Peter (chs. 2 and 6). Click here.

Oct 6, 2016

Congrats to Thomas Hudgins, successfully defending his dissertation on the "Complutensian Greek New Testament and the Vatican manuscripts"

For those wondering if there's still room for original scholarship in biblical studies, the answer is a resounding "Yes!", especially when it comes to textual criticism. In light of that, I'd like to congratulate my friend Thomas W. Hudgins (prof at Capital Seminary) for successfully defending his second doctorate, this one under renowned European scholar Antonio Pinero. The title of his dissertation was: "The Greek New Testament of the Complutensian Polyglot: Vatican Manuscripts and the Gospel of Matthew." This is truly a unique contribution to the field, and involved his researching manuscripts that hardly anybody had touched in modern research.

You can read the report of his dissertation defense here.

By the way, you can purchase his first doctoral dissertation, on Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education in the New Testament, here. We both had the same doctoral adviser at Southeaster (Dr. David Alan Black), and we both ended up with the same publisher (Wipf&Stock) for our revised dissertations.

Congrats, Thomas! May the Lord continue to bless you, your family, your teaching, and your research!

Sep 24, 2016

Ain't archaeology great? Bible-time coins and the earliest Masoretic text

With thanks  to my colleague Jesse Williams for pointing me to the story about the Masoretic manuscript, and thanks to my seminary student James Kotvas for telling me about the coins.

The role of archaeology for the Bible student is not about demonstrating the veracity of God's Word (though it quite often does that, from the existence of the Hittites to the fact that "King David" was an actual king), Christian belief in the validity of God's word should stem first and foremost from our faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified and resurrected Word of God, The role of archaeology for the confessional Bible student is rather to illuminate the Bible, i.e., to give us information that helps us understand it better.

So it is always a treat when archaeology brings to light material that helps us see the biblical world more clearly. First of all, coins bearing the image of the infamous Nero have been discovered in, of all things, a home in Jerusalem! (Click here and here for links to the story). Nero, of course, is the infamous Roman emperor who allegedly "fiddled while Rome burned"; that story may (or may not) be legend, but what is indisputable is that he initiated an intense persecution of Christians in Rome. The brutal details are recorded in the work of 1st century historian Tacitus, no friend of Christianity (click here to read Tacitus' account at Annals 15.44). Tradition has it that both Peter and Paul died at the hand of Nero (Paul with the "easier" death, being a Roman citizen through his city of birth).

Secondly, and somewhat more significant for scholarship, what may be the oldest copy of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament has been finally read. The scroll had been badly burned, charred, and unable to be safely opened. Now, however, the brilliant minds at the University of Kentucky figured out a way to read it without opening it! Click here and here for the story. The scroll, found over 50 years ago near the Dead Sea, may be as late as 300 AD (which would still make it the earliest copy of the Masoretic Hebrew text, though the earlier great Isaiah scroll is close enough to be considered "proto-Masoretic), but the scroll may be as early as the first century. No less a scholar than Emanual Tov (who is to OT textual criticism what Lebron James is to the NBA) suggests a first century date.

Most significant, however, is the fact that this manuscript, containing Leviticus 1-2, perfectly matches Masoretic manuscripts many centuries later!! What a testament to both God's preservation  of his word and the meticulous skill of Hebrew scribes. The manuscript does not, of course, contain the vowel markings of later manuscripts (you can see for yourself), since those were not part of the Hebrew texts until later (and, interestingly, modern Hebrew usually does not use vowel markings either).

The realm of textual criticism should neither frighten nor be a stumbling block to believers. God preserves the Bible, despite the inconsistency of humans, in the multiplicity of manuscripts (with some manuscripts being better than others). We need to avoid the myth, argued by both liberals and the more extreme side of the KJV-only crowd, that unless we have a manuscript or edited book that matches 100%, all by itself, the original autographa, then we don't have God's Word. If somehow you were to make a copy of a letter from your spouse, and misspelled a word, does it then cease to be a letter from your spouse? Who's letter would it become, then?

The Christian should not be shocked by such statements as "the Bible contains 300,000+ textual variants!" The more copies you make of something the more textual variants there will be! Since we have thousands of pre-printing press manuscripts, then obviously the potential for variants is multiplied exponentially.

Furthermore, the vast majority of those variants don't even matter (spelling mistakes, writing "Jesus Christ" vs. "Christ Jesus," etc.) Of those that do matter, no point of theology is challenged when we look at the manuscript as a whole. (i.e., it's not like we have two New Testaments, one telling Jesus rose again and one telling us he didn't). As far as modern critical editions go, the Byzantine, Textus Receptus, and Eclectic (UBS/Nestle Aland), and even Westcott and Hort's original edited Alexandrian all have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again the third day, who is Savior and Lord of the universe, and who can be our savior if we trust in him. The Gospel is unaltered no matter which text you choose.
Side note: OT textual criticism is actually more complicated, but the Torah is still the Torah, and both the Hebrew and the LXX Isaiah point to a "suffering servant."
Anyways, all this to say, "Textual criticism is your friend!" And it can be pretty exciting, as well.

Sep 9, 2016

Why our seminary students now have to read From Topic to Thesis by Michael Kibbe.

The other day, while reading a Bibliotheca Sacra article from over 100 years ago, I was struck by the thought that it seemed so much more polished than the scholarly material of today. My mind also reasoned (correctly or incorrectly, I don't know) was that perhaps since proportionally more people publish today than over 100 years ago, the overall literary quality of the writers is significantly diminished. The N. T. Wright's and John Piper's of the world (i.e., the top biblical writers) become a much smaller percentage compared to the "average" published author, even the average peer-reviewed author. We may be tempted to suggest that, on the other hand, the capability to research may be improved, and to the degree that technology and textual discoveries enables us to access and analyze material, yes (A. T. Robertson did not, after all, have access to Logos software or the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae). However, 100 years ago the "average" published author was quoting Calvin in Latin (not English) as a matter of course, while B. F. Westcott was collating ancient manuscripts by hand, without any electronic helps! They did more with what they had, in other words.

The internet, of course, only compounds the problem (the lower literary quality of writers), by removing peer-review. Now everybody with an opinion automatically assumes they're worth being published just because, you know, they have an opinion! [and don't get me started on Twitter :) ] Consequently, schools today have their work cut out for them. Since more people are writing (and that's not a bad necessarily a bad thing, mind you), graduate schools especially need to be more rigorous in developing the talents of their students.

This year a professor named Michael Kibbe published From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research (click here for the Amazon link). Kibbe is a professor at Moody in Spokane, Washington, and fairly new to the field of scholarship (his revised dissertation was just published by the very prestigious De Gruyter. His book fills a very important niche for seminary students in three ways:

1. First, the book is a step-by-step guide to the process of theological research, with very specific instructions. For example, one very helpful portion of the book discusses the difference between "Primary," "Secondary," and "Tertiary" sources, and where in the research process each comes into play. Elsewhere, he discusses the note-taking process, how to interact with sources, and how to narrow your topic into a solid thesis. While I don't always agree with him (actually, page 66 on taking notes is probably the only place I disagree with him significantly), this is an excellent and very specific treatment of the research process, from assignment to crafting an argument. Note also that Kibbe has some very helpful appendices (including one devoted to the bibliographical software Zotero).

Caveat: the book does not cover writing per se (for that, I would suggest Joseph Williams, Style: Writing with Clarity and Grace (required in my doctoral studies), nor does Kibbe really discuss how to proofread, etc. This is mostly about research, developing a thesis, and interacting with sources, not how to actually write.

2. Secondly, this book is written specifically for theology students by a Biblical scholar who clearly sees theological research as a spiritual activity, not a neutral endeavor: "The one thing theological research cannot be is a purely academic exercise or one limited to certain spheres of my existence and kept away from others" (p. 30). Indeed, the introduction is very well-written and well-thought out in regards to why theological research needs to be done properly and with the right attitude.

3. Finally, and this will sound a bit odd, but I believe this book benefits from having been written by a younger, less well-known scholar. In other words, if this book had been written by D. A. Carson or Larry Hurtado or another well-established scholar, quite possibly it would have been too far removed from the average seminary student to be as helpful, not to mention uber-intimidating, to boot. Granted, Kibbe is probably smarter than most of us, anyways, but he's still closer to the average seminary student than a 20-year veteran of academia. And that, I believe, is a good thing.

So I highly recommend this book for graduate students, with the caveat that you need some other resource to help you with the technical aspects of writing itself.

Aug 27, 2016

"Why did Peter correct the Septuagint?" My first LXX-related article (Bulletin for Biblical Research vol. 26.2)

I have always been fascinated by the New Testament use of the Old Testament, especially when it comes to the two different text-types underlying the Apostolic authors' citation. That's right: the inspired authors had, in a sense, two different Bibles to draw from: the Hebrew MT (or proto-MT), and the Greek Septuagint. Quite often (some would say the majority of times), they drew from the translation most familiar to their audience of Diaspora Jews and God-fearing Gentiles: the Greek Septuagint.
Excursus: once again, for the doubters--we have manuscripts of the Old Testament in Greek that pre-date the incarnation, and a side-by-side comparison of many texts of the NT with the Hebrew force the assumption that they were citing something else. Paraphrase won't cut it, because there is actually different material in the Apostles' citations that does not exist in the Hebrew but does exist in Greek OT manuscripts. I'm not trying to be snarky here, and forgive me if this is a bit too harsh, but the Greek Old Testament existed before the Apostles and denying this is the theological equivalent of suggesting that the US never landed on the moon.
The role of the Septuagint within New Testament theology is currently a hot-button (and fascinating) issue, and the reader should be aware of W. Edward Glenny's fantastic new article in the on-line journal Themelios vol. 41.2 (August 2016). The article is entitled "The Septuagint and Biblical Theology" and may be read here. This article is an essential introductory resource for those interested in this discussion.
Recently I had an article published by Bulletin for Biblical Research vol. 26.2 (2016) entitled "Why Did Peter Change the Septuagint? A Reexamination of the Significance of the Use of Titheimi in 1 Peter 2:6." First Peter 2:6 is one of the most fascinating instances of NT use of the OT since Peter's citation does not match either the LXX or the MT. In fact, my article is not the first to focus specifically on this verse; while my article stems from a paper I gave in 2009, in 2010 Dietrich-Alex Koch published a fascinating study (going a different direction than I did) in Zeitschrift fur Neuentestament Wissenschaft vol. 101; Koch and I are alike in that we both argue 1 Peter utilized the LXX text but altered it. Whereas Koch argues that 1 Peter 2:6 altered it to correct some awkward syntax of the LXX (and thus make the text clearer), I argue that 1 Peter changed it for lexical reasons: the Greek enballw was a sub-par lexical choice to describe the Messiah being "set" as  Cornerstone, and Titheimi was much superior for theological and discourse reasons. In fact Peter ends up creating a chiasm in verses 6-8:
***A. The Set One [titheimi] is
 *****B. honor to
 ********C. The believer
********C' To the unbeliever/disobedient one [textual variant here]
******B' dishonor
***A.' To those who are "set" [titheimi] for the purpose of disobedience.
This article will hold a soft spot in my heart since it's my first article since becoming a full-time professor at Baptist College of Ministry (fifth overall). Also, for some reason, BBR is my "lucky" journal in the sense that I have yet to have an article rejected by them (though this latest one had to go to a tie-breaker peer-reviewer, and involved some significant revision). For BBR I'm "2-for-2," for JETS I'm "1-3," and I have a couple other journals that I"m "1-for-1." I struggle, however, submitting journals to Tyndale Bulletin and Trinity Journal--collectively "0-for-5" for those two journals! (and Tyndale, especially, is probably the cream of the crop for Evangelical journals).
Finally, for those interested in further study of NT use of the OT in 1 Peter, pride of place will probably always belong to Dr. Karen Jobes and her work, especially her Baker Exegetical Commentary on 1 Peter and her essay "The Septuagint Textual Tradition in 1 Peter" in Septuagint Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scripture (SBL, 2006). Also, in addition to Koch's article in ZNW, one very good article that I cited favorably is Jocelyn Williams, "A Case Study in Intertextuality: The Place of Isaiah in the 'Stone' Sayings in 1 Peter 2," Reformed Theological Review 66 (2007). Williams, like me, sees Peter as deliberately modifying the LXX for theological reasons in 1 Pet 2:6, and I build off of her work somewhat in my own article. Finally, as mentioned at the beginning, Glenny's brand-new Themelios article is a must-read for anybody interested in the topic.

Aug 12, 2016

Bible Translating into Unreached People Groups: A Challenge for Scholars

I recently had the privilege of attending the WorldView Translation conference, with a focus on translating the Bible into languages that have never had Scripture translated into them before (or those that do not have an adequate translation). We were very privileged to have Margaret Stringer as a guest speaker (she has done pioneering missions work in the difficult jungles of Irian Jaya). The conference as a whole focused on both technical-linguistic and theological issues in Bible translation.

I am grateful that many legitimate Bible scholars have not forgotten the Great Commission and contribute greatly to both teaching in the church and Gospel proclamation overseas; my doctoral adviser David Alan Black has done some great work overseas, and I personally know two fellow doctoral students of mine at Southeastern, both budding, published scholars, who are involved in overseas ministry.

Nevertheless, an area of untapped potential exists: western biblical scholarship and Bible translations for unreached or barely-reached people groups. Just a thought, but what a blessing it would be if, of all the incredible myriad of evangelical scholars with PhDs in NT or OT (thousands!), more of them would participate as a consultant on a Bible translation in a language other than English!? Plenty of opportunities exist. This would necessitate, of course, such a scholar actually taking time to learn the language he or she would be assisting in, and perhaps taking a trip overseas, but I doubt that this would be hindrance.

In other words, I am calling for the born-again Christian Bible scholars of the western world (not that many of them read my blog, lol), to consider praying about committing to a special project, a project that may just result in reaching millions with the Gospel: become a Bible translation consultant! Learn a new language, take a trip, and get active!

Naturally, I'm over-simplifying things, and you don't want to stick your nose in where it's not needed ("Hi, I'm the big-shot Greek scholar from America and I'm here to help! Forgot everything you've ever learned about Bible translation and listen to me because I've got a PhD!"); some humility and prayerful discernment would be necessary. But I don't think this is such a far-fetched idea. Personally, I don't qualify as a scholar yet (only 1 book, 6 articles, and just 2 years full-time teaching; I have a ways to go!), but currently I am involved as a consultant on two projects: my own father's new "Lifeline" Japanese Bible translation (I spend about 4 hours a week on this), and as consultant for my church's new translation initiative in Cameroon (for both the Pidgin and the Beba language). (For the latter project I haven't actually done anything yet, but "officially" I'm a consultant!) Neither of those languages are completely without Scripture (especially Japanese), but there's always room for improvement (copyright issues vis-a-vis the best Japanese translation are one reason my father started his new translation). If somebody like me who was humbled by theological German (yet by God's grace persevered) can contribute, how much more so the true North American scholar who reads 10 languages and has published 10 books? It might mean putting out one or two fewer books over the next couple years, but hey, it's getting tough to keep track of all those anyways!

Jul 29, 2016

The 2016 Bible Faculty Summit

This week my father and I had the privilege of attending the annual "Bible Faculty Summit" (this year hosted by Maranatha Baptist University, Watertown WI). Here's a brief description of the papers:

1. Troy Manning of Bibles International (an excellent ministry that focuses on Bible translation) presented their "philosophy of ministry"--less an academic paper, compared to the others, and more an attempt to get critical feedback from fellow academics. Troy Manning is a brilliant guy with Ph.D. who has truly immersed himself in Bible translation ministry, especially to people groups that do not have the Word of God.

2. Johnathan Cheek, a Ph.D. candidate at Bob Jones University, explored "Jesus' Interaction  with the World." This is part of his dissertation on a NT "theology of the world." The main focus of this paper was how we should view Jesus' interaction (e.g., dinners) with tax collectors, sinners, etc.

3. Dr. Bruce Compton, from Detroit Theological Seminary, wrote on "The Design and Extent of Christ's Atonement," defending an atonement that is unlimited in "provision" but limited in "application." Dr. Compton, however, does so from a Calvinist perspective (and, in Q&A, stated that he would strongly differ from an Arminian perspective that prevenient grace is the foundation for an unlimited atonement).

4. What I would consider the highest quality paper at this seminar, as far as structure, flow of thought,  and unique contribution, would be Mark L. Ward's paper on "The Story of Arsenokoites according to BDAG." Rather than simply re-treading new ground about the meaning of the word (which refers to a male partner in a homosexual act), Ward's purpose is two-fold, that we might: 1. "learn the major outlines of the debate over arsenokoites so you can speak knowledgeably and persuasively about the Bible's teaching on homosexuality," and 2. "use the 'as-one-of-your-own-poets-hath-said' strategy by appealing to the authority of an honest and respectable mainline liberal Protestant, namely Frederick W. Danker, the D in BDAG." I feel Ward did an excellent job in fulfilling his stated purpose.
Dr. Ward has graciously given me a direct link to the paper for the readers of this blog. Click here.

5.  Ryan J. Martin gave us a chapter from his PhD dissertation at Central Seminary, a detailed look at "Human Affections in Pre-Modern Theology," to help us better "understand older ways of thinking about human affectivity" (in contrast to the modern idea of "emotions"). Martin examines how Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, William Ames, Peter van Mastricht, etc., influenced the theology of Johnathan Edwards.

6. My own presentation drew from research I did for my book Foreknowledge and Social Identity in 1 Peter (published by Wipf&Stock in 2014; click here) regarding the need to consider semantic range  (i.e., how a word was actually used in Koine Greek) when determining a word's meaning (specifically, for prognwsis and proginwskw). I definitely got more "push-back" on this paper than I've ever gotten before, including my 2 previous presentations at the Bible Faculty Summit and my 5 previous ETS presentations (1 national, 4 regional)! Most of the push-back revolved around my interpretation of Rom 8:29. I am grateful for the feedback, which has given me plenty of "food-for-thought" for revising and refining my argument.

7. What I felt was the most persuasive paper overall (as in, "did a good job of proving an argument I had never considered before) was by Dr. Brian Hand (seminary professor at Bob Jones University), on "The Prayer of Faith Will Save the Sick: Revisiting a Complex Passage in Light of Intertextuality and New Testament Context--James 5:13-18." Although the paper was actually a bit short on the intertexuality part, his overall argument, that astheneia here actually refers to spiritual weakness, as in discouragement or a "crisis of faith," was very convincing.

8. Brian Collins, who works  at BJU Press, gave us an excellent critique of "Progressive Covenantalism" vis-a-vis how it handles the land promises in Scripture. My main takeaway from this paper was the key point that, although the land promises are, in a sense, expanded to include the rest of the earth, this is inexorably linked with the Son of David ruling from Jerusalem as the Jewish Messiah.

9. Randy Leedy presented a very technical paper on "Does the Bible Allow Remarriage after Divorce Based on Adultery?" Leedy's contribution to the discussion was to note how the discussion of divorce in Matthew 5 is a sub-unit under the discussion of adultery. In other words, the entire pericope is not primarily meant to tell us when divorce is "allowable," but rather how divorce leads to adultery. Thus Jesus is refuting anybody who would say, "See, unlike those Gentiles, I'm actually divorcing my wife before taking another (prettier!) woman, so I must be okay!" Leedy also discusses the difficulty of reconciling Matthew 5:32 with 19:9.

10. Dr. Alan Patterson, veteran missionary to Japan (now retired from Japan but still heavily involved in missions and teaching missions) gave us "A Theology of Persecution: Biblical Counsel for Those Suffering for the Name of Christ," a paper that I hope will morph into a more comprehensive biblical and practical theology of persecution (which, I think, would fill a niche in missiological texts).

11. My fellow Southeastern alumnus, Greg Steikes, did a fascinating paper on "Natural Theology and Truth: Does Thomism Augment Belief in the Resurrection," a very balanced approach to the issue of evidential apologetics in regards to Jesus' resurrection.

12. Finally, John Wivell writes on "Jesus' Answer to the Sadducees about the Resurrection" re.: the marriage question. While not positing any radically new answer (sadly, it still doesn't look like marriage exists after the resurrection :) ) Wivell provides an in-depth look at why, exactly, the Sadducees were attempting to trap Jesus with this question, including an examination of Levirate marriage and the "moral dillemma" that occurs when 7 brothers, implied by the story to be the ultimate in Torah-observers, suddenly wake up in the Resurrection to realize they are guilty of the sin of polyandry (i.e., the Sadducees were attempting to pit Jesus' teaching against  the logical outworking of the Torah).

All of the papers were well-written, and I'm grateful for the fellowship and interaction we had there. Next year's "Bible Faculty Summit" will be held at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and I'm already planning my paper! (Maybe something a bit less controversial! :)

Jun 24, 2016

Preparing to teach NT Biblical Theology: Resources and Decisions

In the early stages of my doctoral studies, I had the privilege of taking "Biblical Theology" with Dr. Andreas J. Kostenberger at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. My first of two papers for that class (on a Petrine theology of prophecy), with the encouragement of Dr. Kostenberger, was submitted for publication and eventually ended up in the Bulletin for Biblical Research, vol. 21.2 (2011). Consequently, I am very passionate about the subject, and now, for the first time, I have the opportunity to teach the entire class at the seminary level here in Menomonee Falls, WI.

The first question is, obviously, "What is biblical theology"? It is not, contra the name, "theology that is biblical as opposed to unbiblical." In fact, it is very possible to conduct "biblical theology" that is in antithesis to the Christian faith. On the other hand, biblical theology is most definitely not "systematic theology." While I am still working on my own definition for the class, I would strongly view the former as allowing the text to give us theological categories rather than starting with theological categories and seeing what the text has to say about them. In other words, systematic theology says "I wonder what the Bible has to say about angels," having already made up its mind which topic to investigate. Conversely, biblical theology says, "I wonder what theological topics are important to Jude and how does he develop them?" The difference is significant. Both are essential, (systematics is necessary to see how all the pieces fit together and show what relevance they have to everyday belief), but biblical theology must precede systematics if we wish to avoid a sort-of "conservative rationalism" that places our opinion of what topics are important over the text's opinion of what topics are important. 

A plethora of resources on biblical theology exist. Indeed, simply settling on a textbook is causing me grief! (In a pleasant sort of way; much like a child "grieves" over having to choose between two competing flavors of ice cream). Option one will be Frank Thielman's Theology of the New Testament, which from what I understand conducts biblical theology the way I want it done (not that I'm the authority on "how it should be done!"). Once it arrives in the mail, I shall proceed to analyze it. The second option will be to have the students purchase (but only read part of) the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP Academic), and then supplement their reading with a book of their choice from one of the many excellent series out there, e.g., New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP), New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology (B&H Academic), Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Zondervan), etc.

For the required paper, I am planning on allowing two approaches: 1. focusing on how a particular theme is developed in a particular book or author (e.g., Atonement in Hebrews; Kingdom in Matthew; etc.) or, 2. Tracing a major theme throughout the entire New Testament, either from a canonical or historical perspective (e.g., tracing the theme of the Parousia in the NT); the latter, of course, requires enough knowledge of the NT to know what themes are most important to the majority of the NT and will require 
acknowledging tension when necessary (key point: tension does not mean contradiction; there's a difference).

Finally, there's a series of articles that I intend to have them read. Foundational to understanding the entire discipline are, I believe, the articles by D. A. Carson ("Current Issues in Biblical Theology: A New Testament Perspective,"  BBR 5.1, 1995) and Andreas J. Kostenberger ("The Present and the Future of Biblical Theology," Themelios 37.3, 2012). These both provide an excellent overview of the state of the field of study today.

I'll also force them to read my own article in BBR on Petrine theology (just because very few people write on Petrine theology, a noticeable exception being Larry R. Helyer's excellent The Life and Witness of Peter). After that, there's a few articles I've taken a fancy to that I consider to be good examples of biblical theology: Torrey Seland, "Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter" (BBR 19.4, 2009); Josh Chatraw, two articles in JETS (vol. 54.3, September 2011; and vol. 55.2, June 2012), the first of which refutes Bart Ehrman on "contradictory theologies" when comparing the Synoptics, and the second of which provides a needed balance to N. T. Wright's corporate view of repentance in Luke. In addition, I liked what I saw in Robert L. Plummer's "Imitation of Paul and the Church's Missionary Role in 1 Corinthians," JETS 54.3 (Spetember 2011), so they'll probably read that as well.

Finally, I'm thinking of having my students read a brand-new article in a top-tier journal: Jack Levison, "A Theology of the Spirit in the Letter to the Hebrews," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78 (2016).
In this fascinating article, Levison attempts to correct the assumption a la H. B. Swete, Barnabas Lindars, et al, that there is no "theology of the Spirit" in Hebrews. Although I do not agree with everything Levison writes (mostly the first half--I think he's over-reacting to areas where Hebrews diverges from the LXX, and also his approach to the warning passages), I'm nevertheless thinking of having my students read this article because Levison provides an excellent example of how to correct a dearth of scholarship on a biblical-theological theme. His five concluding points are well-thought out (and I would only really quibble with how he develops the first one): in Hebrews, 1. "The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture," 2. "In the push for perseverance in this letter, the Holy Spirit plays a central role," 3. "The Holy Spirit is essential to the process of salvation," 4. "The theology of the Spirit communicates the currency of salvation," and 5. "This theology of the Spirit communicates the currency of salvation."

So that's the plan for "biblical theology" at Baptist Theological Seminary! There's a ton of resources out there, but I would advise the reader interested in dipping his or her toe into the ocean of biblical theology to start with Carson's and Kostenberger's articles, both of which are available for free online.

May 31, 2016

From Narrative Text to Preaching: Some Thoughts on Abraham Kuruvilla's "World in Front of the Text"

A few months ago I had the privilege of attending (and presenting a paper) at a regional ETS meeting in Grand Rapids, MI. One of the plenary speakers was Abraham Kuruvilla, from Dallas Theological Seminary. Since I teach Hermeneutics twice a year (Spring and Summer School), I was very intrigued by a concept he explored, and ended up sharing it with my students. That concept is "WIFTT," or "The World in Front of the Text." (Though I haven't read it yet, I believe Kuruvilla explores this idea in his book Privilege the Text).

I believe this concept Kuruvilla develops is extremely helpful for bridging the gap from narrative text to practical outworking in the Christian life. Basically, Kuruvilla challenges us to ask, "What is the ideal world implied by this text." In the presentation I heard, Kuruvilla cited two examples: In Aesop's fable of the dog and his bone (where the dog looks into a river and sees another "dog," his own reflection with a bone, and barks it at), the "idea world" of Aesop is "one where nobody leaves present blessing for the "lust of the ephemeral." Similarly, in a situation where you step on your friend's foot and he yells "you're on my foot," the "ideal world" of your friend is "one where friends do not go around causing pain to one's lower extremeties."

This concept of the "ideal world" (the "world in front of the text") becomes immensely helpful in handling descriptive texts, i.e., biblical narrative. Christians are all to quick to take a verse out of context, or wish to emulate a biblical character, without asking, according to the narrative, does this event or character portray God's ideal world? I will stress, sometimes the narrative is giving you what is not part of God's "ideal world."

Three examples (my own) from Judges:

1. Gideon and the fleece.
Now, I don't have a problem "laying out a fleece" to a certain degree if Christians are truly unsure of what God's will is and humbly seeking it (though even this can be problematic). However, read Judges 6:36-40 and ask yourself this: is God's ideal world one where we consistently demand "proofs" from God about His will when He has already explicitly stated what it is? Now  don't get me wrong, Gideon's faith is exemplary, and I would say, borrowing Kuruvilla's language, "God's ideal world is one where His servants manifest faith in His Word." However, not every part of Gideon's life lives up to that ideal. In other words, we must understand that biblical narrative often tells us what's the opposite of God's "ideal world" just as often. Indeed, the second half of Gideon's story (which, sadly, I don't believe I've ever heard preached) shows us how not to live (see Daniel Block's excellent New American Commentary for the best treatment on this story, and the following stories).

2. Jephthah's "devotion"
Granted, per Hebrews 11:32, there is a part of Jephthah's story that does exist in "God's ideal world," namely his faith in defeating Israel's enemies. However, Judges is not about "Israel's mighty heroes" so much as "God's deliverance of Israel through imperfect instruments because of His grace." Jephthah is a case in point. In God's ideal world, men and women do not make rash vows (Prov 20:25b), and they certainly do not perform human sacrifices (Judges 11:31, 39, "will offer it up for a burnt offering" . . . "did with her according to his vow" make it pretty clear that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter). Jephthah is not a role model; despite his faith, in general his actions do not belong in God's ideal world.

3. Judges 18-21
The "darker" parts of Scripture are just as inspired as the happier parts, and they are there to teach us a lesson. The lesson of the last four chapters of Judges is simply this: "There was no king in Israel, and look what happens when there isn't!" In God's ideal world, men and women do have a king, and that King is Yahweh Himself! Consequently, virtually everything that happens in these chapters does not belong in "God's ideal world," and pastors need to preach these chapters as the sad and horrible consequences of what happens when we fail to make God our King and His world our world (Block's commentary does an excellent job in pointing out that it is the women, especially, who suffer in these chapters--in other words, when Yahweh is not King, men demean and abuse women).

So some food for thought. Next time you look for the application in a text, ask yourself, with Dr. Kuruvilla, what is "The World in front of the text?" I.e., what is "God's ideal world?" It may be that the text you are reading is meant to portray the opposite, namely a world where "everybody does what is right in their own eyes." Don't emulate that type of world!

Apr 28, 2016

Why I had my "Intro to NT Exegesis Students" translate from the Septuagint

Introductory note: 
For those who would deny that the Septuagint even exists (as I read once in a KJV-only journal), I would point to the following: 
1. We have LXX manuscripts that predate the Incarnation and the time of the Apostles (e.g., the Rylands 458 papyrus on Deuteronomy, dated to the 2nd century BC) 2. Plenty of passages exist in the Greek NT (whatever text-type you prefer) that actually agrees with LXX manuscripts against the Masoretic (e.g., Romans 15:12; in addition, simply go through the book of Hebrews, which is predominantly LXX, including both where it is similar to the Hebrew MT and where it isn't). This rules out the possibility that the Apostles were simply creating their own translation on the fly (at least in some cases).
End introductory note.

I recently finished teaching an excellent "Intro to New Testament Exegesis" class for the seminary here at Baptist College of Ministry. My focus on the class was twofold: 1. To provide a basic introduction to all the essential elements of exegesis, including lexical semantics, blog diagramming, some discourse analysis, and a little bit of textual criticism; 2. To push them towards expertise in handling Koine Greek.

To the latter end, I threw a "competency" exam at them the last day of class where they had to translate from a chunk of the Didache (approx. 100-130 AD, give or take a few decades). However, throughout the semester, I gave them "translation and parsing" quizzes taken straight from the canonical Septuagint (by "Septuagint," a.k.a. LXX, a.k.a. "Old Greek," I mean the version of the Old Testament translated in Alexandria over a period of many decades before the birth of Jesus. There were other Greek translations that came later).

The Septuagint is, to a significant degree, the "Bible of the early church." The average Gentile Christian (and perhaps many Hellenized Jewish Christians) would not have been able to read Hebrew. Consequently, the LXX was used by the apostles quite often (though not always) when quoting the Old Testament. Consequently, the LXX is a key part of New Testament studies. By default, the LXX usage of a particular word should be considered before (though not in exclusion of) the usage by Josephus, Philo, or secular Greek authors. Case in point: "hilasterion" in Romans 3:25 (the word only occurs twice in the NT) is used in the LXX Torah to refer to the physical Mercy Seat in the tabernacle (quite frequently!) This would obviously be in the back of the mind of the majority of Greek-speaking Christians reading Romans 3:25, at least Christians with even a cursory familiarity with the Old Testament). In other words, the LXX is in one sense the "lexical currency" of NT writers (some more than others).

How the LXX should be viewed regarding inspiration, canonicity, etc. is an open question within certain areas of Christian scholarship (which is why Augustine had his infamous debate with Jerome over the latter's new translation). Yet the most that can be said is that the NT writers viewed a translation as an adequate vehicle for conveying God's word, even if it differed somewhat from the originals.

This is hardly the tip of the iceberg, of course! LXX research is an exciting, ongoing field of study (for what it's worth, I recently had an article accepted for publication that suggests Peter "corrected" the LXX in 1 Peter 2:6 for various reasons). For the reader who's interested in this topic, I would recommend as the essential starting point the book Invitation to the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva.

Mar 25, 2016

Some positive thoughts on Stanley Porter's new Romans commentary

To give this a bit more weight, I'll confess that I'm not the greatest Stanley Porter fan: whenever he and Daniel Wallace go head to head on Greek grammar, verbal aspect, etc., I generally side with 
Wallace (plus, my one Filologia Neotestamentaria article [2010, vol. 23] pushes against Porter's views a bit). Having said that, I do appreciate much of his work: for example, I have my NT Exegesis students read his article "Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water" in Tyndale Bulletin vol. 38 (1987).

Having said all that, his new commentary on Romans is fantastic (The Letter to the Romans: A Linguistic and Literary Commentary, New Testament Monographs; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015), and here's why. 
1. First of all, it highlights what Porter is best at, namely Discourse Analysis. Consequently, Porter does not go "verse-by-verse" as most commentaries but rather "discourse unit-by-discourse unit." This is a little bit of a down-side for those who wish to use it like other commentaries, but the trade-off is worth it in this case. Porter is able to give you a better picture of the progression of Paul's argument than most traditional commentaries.

2. Secondly, to my surprise, Porter's commentary does a fantastic job grappling with the theology of a passage (following K. Barth's exhortation!), and more often than not he's very quotable. For example:
Page 96, on Rom 3:21-26--"The sense of propitiation--no matter how unsettling to the refined modern mind--is no doubt suggested here. Christ Jesus is seen as the sacrifice, whom God himself offered, asa means of eliminating his righteous wrath, which is to be justifiably meted out upon humanity for its clear rebellion against God's standard. . . . Rather than wondering, however, how it is that God can or would want to offer a sacrifice to himself, the picture Paul paints, when viewed from another angle, is a more profound one. He depicts a God of both love and righteousness. A God of righteousness must hold true to his own character as his righteousness is exemplified and enshrined in his laws, whether written or not. Yet at the same time, he also offers the solution to the violation of his standards by a sinful and rebellious humanity, since he is a God of love. God's love and righteousness are the two faces of the same coin" (emphasis added).

Another example: Porter's discussion of Romans 5 and the theological implications of "reconciliation" (the focus of ch. 5) is excellent. Porter points out how that up to this point, Paul has only dealt with the legal side of the solution, yet the problem confronting humanity extends to the relational/personal side as well. Thus, "More than simply breaking God's legal code got humanity into trouble; it was a personal matter too (see Michel 1957:136). That personal dimension is what makes sinful humanity into God's enemies" (122). The solution, contra what one would expect, is that "it is God who initiates reconciliation with humanity" rather than vice versa (121).

This is a side of Porter I haven't seen much of before, and I feel he does an excellent job. If Porter's next project were a "Theology of the New Testament, I'd pre-order it (I was less pleased with his handling of the "I" passages in Romans 7, since I'm thoroughly convinced by Chang's article [see below], but oh well).

3. Thirdly, Porter's commentary is, for the most part, very up-to-date and well read. He has a few key omissions (Chang's article), but nevertheless may be the best re-searched commentary since Douglas Moo and Joseph Fitmyer.

Despite all those positives, it didn't replace Moo as my textbook for seminary exegesis on Romans (which I'm teaching this semester), since Douglas Moo's NICNT does a much better job presenting various viewpoints side-by-side, and ultimately a traditional "verse-by-verse" commentary is probably more helpful for a pastoral library. Also (no disrespect intended), Porter is still Porter (i.e., tough to read), as this one quote demonstrates: "Paul utilizes the interpersonal semantics of his language to express the tenor of his discourse, in which he engages in hypothetical dialogue with his hearers or readers" (p. 62).  

Nonetheless, his book would make excellent supplementary reading for any seminary class. Furthermore, if I were to teach a doctoral module on Romans (unlikely, since I've contributed nothing to scholarship on Romans), the students would be required to read three commentaries in their entirety: Moo (NICNT), Joseph Fitzmyer (AB), and Porter.

For the interested reader, here's some recent articles on Romans that I've found immensely interesting:
1. Hae-Kyung Chang, "The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7-25 Reconsidered," Novum Testamentum 49 (2007).
Some readers may be aware that I had a mini-debate with philosopher and theologian Steven Cowan in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. In his rejoinder to my original article, Cowan argued that Romans 7 indicates a believe does not possess libertarian free will (click here for my original article; here for Cowan's response; here for my rejoinder). I had no strong opinions on the "I/ego" in Romans 7 at that time, and was forced to study the matter out. It was Chang's article that convinced me of the following: 
"In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that “being free under sin” and 'being free from the law of sin and death' are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true. This means that the situation of 'I' depicted in Rom. 7:14–25 cannot be that of the 'normal' Christians, nor of an immature Christian. Nor can it describe the condition of any Christian living by the law because the Christian who is mistakenly living according to the law is yet a Christian and is therefore not 'under sin' or a 'prisoner of the law of sin'" (Chang, p. 268).

2. Jackson Wu, "Paul Writes to the Greek First and also to the Jew: The Missiological Significance of Understanding Paul's Purpose in Romans," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56.4 (2013). Though much ink has been spilt on the purpose behind Romans, Wu's article is an excellent new perspective on the significance of Paul's use of the term "Barbarian," etc., in light of his proposed mission to Spain. This is a highly theological article and quite the enjoyable (and spiritually challenging) read, especially the last few pages. Consider this excellent quote as a sample:
"The danger of individualism cannot be understated here. The gospel does not merely concern individuals; it saves all nations (cf. Gal 3:8). When we think about the church’s ministry, whom do we prioritize and why? How do we partition our world, city, and church? These are gospel questions" (Wu, p. 777).

3. Finally, because lately I've become obsessed with Wisdom literature (including Wisdom of Solomon), the following article has fascinated me: Jonathan A. Linebaugh, "Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship Between Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 and Romans 1.18-2.11," New Testament Studies 57 (2011). Linebaugh's basic thesis is that Paul, in Rom 1:18-2:11 specifically reacts against a Jew arguing from Wisdom of Solomon and pushes back against the basic thrust of Wisdom 13-15 (the contrast between non-idolatrous Jew and idolatrous Gentile).

Well, I trust that is some food-for-thought for any of my readers interested in deeper studies of Romans (this post having barely scratched the surface, of course!). In closing, it's worth noting that, finally, the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) on Romans has just come out, authored by Richard N. Longenecker, though I have not been able to check it out yet.

Mar 12, 2016

Symphonic (corporate) Prayer

Normally I post academic material, but this week's post will be a bit more on the practical-pastoral level.

A week ago my church (and college where I teach) finished its annual "Victory Conference." This year's theme was "Prayer" (both individual and corporate), and was very beneficial spiritually. I'd like to briefly talk about how "corporate prayer" can resemble an improvised symphony (the "symphony" terminology is not original with me).

Note: very little of this material is original with me as far as concept. I am grateful especially to Dr. Jim Van Gelderen and the rest of the conference speakers.

Instead of "going around the circle" in prayer, a "symphonic" corporate prayer meeting involves members speaking up in prayer as the Spirit leads. The benefit is that nobody is "forced" to prayer, and this then leaves open the possibility for the Spirit to lead particular people to pray at a particular time. Here's how it can resemble a symphony, at its best:
1. There can be distinct "movements" where different members reinforce each other in prayer. For example, the first half-dozen people may be led to pray about a the sicknesses plaguing the church, and they build off of each other's previous prayer. Then somewhere we "switch" movements and begin praying about missions. There's no "rule" about who can pray about what, at what time, but quite often you can spot distinct "movements" of the symphony.
2. There is a unity to the prayer service: nobody is praying against their will, they all have a common goal in mind, and they usually end up complementing each other's role nicely. We have a couple rules: don't make this your private prayer time (i.e., "praying through your list," etc.); 2. be brief (this allows more to participate); 3. don't turn this into "preaching"; etc. The goal is to complement/build off of each other in prayer.
3. In theory (and, generally in practice, I believe), the Holy Spirit acts as the conductor who guides each person to contribute when they ought to. There are, of course, discordant notes (when two people unintentionally start praying at the same time), but usually somebody backs off and awaits their turn. Naturally the one thing that could derail the "orchestra" is when church members have bitterness towards each other that is not dealt with and manifests itself in their attitude.
4. Praise via song plays a major role, as well; anybody is free to start out with a song that everybody knows, and then everybody joins in (so it's not a solo! Also, one's ability to hold a tune has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they can start us all in a song).
Anyways, corporate "symphonic" prayer has been a blessing to me both in my current church and in my previous church in NC.
For more information on last week's focus on prayer, click here to take you to the "Bended Knee" conference homepage.
Also, for an academic discussion of corporate prayer, see Grant R. Osborne, "Moving forward on our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament," JETS 53.2 (June 2010).

Feb 25, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection, part 2: The resurrection of believers

In a previous post I suggested that we (pointing a finger at myself) have occasionally managed to force Jesus' Resurrection into the backseat, failing to recognize that it holds an equally valuable position with his death on the cross in our proclamation of the Gospel, Scripture is clear: not only is the Resurrection an essential part of the Gospel (you have no good news if all you offer is a dead Messiah), the response to the question "how do you know he lives" is: 1. the OT foretold it, and 2. multiple eyewitnesses reported it (the correct answer is not "he lives within my heart," pace that classic song; see Luke 24:27, 34; Acts 2:32; 1 Cor 15; etc.).

Now I wish to suggest that the concept of "heaven" as "a place up there above the clouds" has unbiblically replaced the resurrection and life on a New Earth and in a New Jerusalem as the true eschatological hope of the Gospel.

Nothing I saw here is new; all of it has been said by smarter people in a more scholarly format (the starting point should be N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, which deals with both Jesus' resurrection and ours).

Now, if your definition of "heaven" is "wherever God dwells," then I agree with you--we will spend eternity in heaven, specifically the New Earth and New Jerusalem where God will dwell with us. As an evangelist at my church and college said last semester, "It's not about us going up to heaven, It's about heaven coming down to us" (see Revelation 21-22).

Yet American culture generally speaking thinks of heaven as "that place above the clouds." As such, it is potentially unbiblical to tell people "you'll spend eternity in heaven"; at its best, this is incredibly misleading. At its worst, this is latent gnosticism, and here's why.

First off, creation. In Genesis 1 God pronounced all his creation "good" and, despite the corruption of sin, Scripture clearly indicates that God will redeem/re-create his creation (e.g., Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1, etc.). Furthermore, Psalm 115:16-18 indicates a clear contrast between heaven and earth. The former is God's abode, not humanity's, while the latter was meant for humans. For God to not restore earth to her original purpose as the habitation of humanity in God's service would mean defeat, the idea that sin could permanently alter God's plan (which it cannot).

Secondly, we have various clues that the afterlife is not yet all it could be, e.g., the very morose attitude in Psalm 6:5, Isaiah 38:9-11, etc., and even the Lament of those in Revelation 6:10. Now, granted, it's not like "heaven" is a bad place, but it's not what God intends for believers, especially in a disembodied state (consider--the only reason we float around in heaven after death is because of sin in the first place; had Adam never sinned, we would not even be talking of "going to heaven").

Thirdly, as briefly touched on above, the "End Game" of Scripture is not "hanging out in above the clouds," as is pop-culture's view of heaven (and countless "gospel" songs, many with, anemic theology--with all due respect, here's looking at you, last verse of "Sweet Hour of Prayer"--"this robe of flesh I'll drop and rise/to seize the everlasting prize" is misleading at best, bad theology at worst). Rather, the End Game of Scripture is the New Jerusalem coming down to the New Earth where we will serve God with resurrected bodies, and God will forever dwell with his creation (Revelation 21-22; 1 Cor 15; Rom 16:5; etc.). Thus, to quote once again the evangelist I mentioned above, it's not "us going up to heaven" but "heaving coming down to us" (on the New Earth!).

Consider, then, the practical ramifications. Contra the libertarian proto-gnostics that the Apostle Paul was probably countering (1Cor 6:13-20), the body is not an evil entity that can thus be used for anything we wish without ramifications. Rather, the body is sacred! God will someday resurrect it (because he created it in the first place, and everything God created is good, corruption notwithstanding). Thus, how we treat our own bodies now (especially in regards to immorality) will truly reveal our attitude towards the resurrection God has planned. If we truly look forward to the Resurrection, with new physical bodies free from the taint of sin, we will consider that our current "robe of flesh" (to quote that gospel song again) is not something that is evil but is a member of Jesus Christ himself (1Cor 6:15). We will not long for some disembodied existence, floating around "up there," which is not what God ever intended for us. We will look forward not to "heaven" (if by "heaven" we mean "that place above the clouds") but rather the final resurrection.

Yet the very concept of resurrection remains a scandal for North American culture, conjuring up images of zombies or worse (in contrast, "heaven" is generally culturally acceptable). It's time to proclaim the Resurrection of our bodies, for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as the true hope that lies within us. The Apostle Paul proclaimed this and was mocked by the Greeks (Acts 17:32) and opposed by the Sadducees (Acts 23:6-8), yet he continued to proclaim this counter-cultural truth. So maybe, just maybe, instead of asking people "Do you know for sure if you'll spend eternity in heaven?" we should be asking "Do you know if you'll be resurrected someday?"

Feb 11, 2016

Which candidate would make fulfilling the Great Commission easier (or harder)? (A very rare political post)

Slight update on 3/4/2016 for clarification

I very, very rarely post political material here; while my own views on church and state have definitely trended more Anabaptist-ic and Hauerwas-ian in recent years, I generally prefer to focus this blog into a resource for Bible students rather than a discussion of current affairs

I do wish, however, to raise a very important question in regards to politic candidates and the reasons a Christian should vote. We do have, of course, Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we should pray ". . . for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." I do believe that if the Apostle were alive today, he would apply that, to a certain degree, to voting.

However, I want to make a different point here: namely, what about the fulfillment of the Great Commission? The "End Game" of the spread of the Gospel is seen in Revelation 7:9-10, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." We, as Christians, have the awesome privilege of participating in God's incredible plan that is even now creating a "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) made of up all races and nationalities. One blessed feature of America is that, as the "melting pot," one does not necessarily have to go overseas to take part in reaching all races and nationalities.

So, dear Christian, my question is this: will the candidate you vote for make it easier or harder to fulfill the Great Commission? You see, as citizens of heaven, our primary concerns should not be about "what makes America stronger" but rather, as a citizen of heaven first and foremost, what assists me in fulfilling my duties to the King of Kings? 

In other words, would a candidate that desires to keep Muslims from coming to America and build a wall to keep other people from coming north--would that type of candidate make it easier or harder to reach Muslims, etc.? Furthermore, would it help or harm evangelical Christians to be associated with a man who has a foul mouth and often speaks hateful comments?

There are, of course, other legitimate political issues, though abortion is the only one that I consider of primary importance, since actual beating hearts are in the balance. If I felt that a particular candidate would make it more difficult for at least late-term abortions to occur, I would vote for that candidate. If this is not a factor, however, then for the first time in my life, in a presidential election, I am seriously considering voting democrat instead of republican [clarification: I'm not voting for Mrs. Clinton!], because I am more concerned about possible repercussions for Christian testimony and ability to reach others with the Gospel than I am about economic policies! (More likely I will vote for a third party candidate--I have no problem "throwing my vote away" if it's the only way to avoid harming my conscience).

I may be wrong, and if anybody wishes to politely disagree with me, you are more than welcome to do so (limit your posts to a few paragraphs or I might not post them). Just answer this question: since Jesus Christ alone holds our ultimate allegiance, should we not be first and foremost concerned with how our vote could facilitate our service to Him over whether or not our vote benefits America?

Quotations from the King James translation unless otherwise  noted.

Feb 1, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection (Jesus' and ours): Part 1 (Salvation)

I've become a bit obsessed about the resurrection recently, ever since getting a copy of Acquittal by Resurrection by Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964). I've come to realize that quite often we tend to relegate the Resurrection to a footnote in our preaching, our witnessing, and our theological meditation, not considering the fact that without the Resurrection, we actually do not have a "Gospel" (good news). (I'm preaching to myself here as well--I've been sloppy with this in the past). 

In other words, statements like "Jesus died for your sins and if you trust in him, you can go to heaven for ever," if simply left on their own, are missing a core piece of the Gospel, for a crucified Messiah who does not rise again does not equal "good news."

This, then, is why in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul makes it explicitly clear that the Resurrection is an essential part of the good news. In fact, verses 14-19 declare that Jesus Christ - resurrection = "vain faith" and "no hope."

This, then, is why the vast majority of speeches and sermons in Acts have some emphasis on the resurrection at some point. Thus Peter, in his Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2) goes to great length to prove that David prophesied of the Messiah's resurrection. In Peter's second recorded sermon twice (Acts 3:15 and 26) focuses on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Apostle Paul was mocked by the Greeks and persecuted by the Jews for preaching the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:18-32, 23:6, and 24:10-21).

Dead messiahs do not start world-changing movements. This can be amply illustrated throughout history. In approx. 132 AD, a Jewish military leader named Shimon Bar-Koseva, under the name Shimon Bar-Kokhba ("Simon, Son of the Star"), also called Nasi ("Prince"), both names loaded with Messianic implications, of Davidic lineage, led a revolt against Rome. Not only did he manage some incredible early success and field approx. 400,000 troops, he forced the Roman Empire to allocate one-third of the entire Roman army to put him down, in the process possibly decimating the Legio XXII Deiotariana. However, in the end, the great Roman general Julius Severus managed to put down the rebellion, and Shimeon Bar-Kokhba was killed at the final battle in his headquarters in AD 135. (For more information about this revolt, click here, here, here, and here).

My point is this: after Shimeon's death, you did not see people going around declaring that they believed he was the Messiah, or that they believed "Shimeon was in their heart" or that they believed Shimeon would some day come back to judge the world. His death eliminated the possibility. As N. T. Wright aptly states, " If, after the death of Simon bar-Giora in Titus’s triumph in Rome, or if, after the death of Simeon ben-Kosiba in 135, you had claimed that Simon, or Simeon, really was the Messiah, you would invite a fairly sharp response from the average first-century Jew.  If, by way of explanation, you said that you had had a strong sense of Simon, or Simeon, as still being with you, still supporting and leading you, the kindest response you might expect would be that their angel or spirit was still communicating with you—not that he had been raised from the dead" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").
This is why, then, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were rather downhearted, assuming that Jesus' death actually ruled out the possibility that he was the One they were waiting for. Only seeing and talking with a literal and physical Jesus (not "Jesus in their hearts") gave them cause to rejoice.

This also completely rules out the Resurrection of the Messiah as a personal spiritual experience, i.e., "I feel Jesus in my heart" a la the liberal theology of Rudolf Bultmann and Gerd Ludamann. As Wright has pointed out, it is one thing to feel that a man you admire is now in the presence of God, or that you feel a special emotional bond with him. However, this is not what people in the first century meant by "resurrection"! Indeed, as Wright states, " If you had said to a first-century Jew that you had had a wonderful experience of the forgiveness (or the love and grace) of God, she or he would have been delighted for you.  But if you had gone on to say that the kingdom had come, that a crucified leader was the Messiah or that the resurrection had occurred, they would have been deeply puzzled if not downright offended.  This language is simply not about private experiences, even communicable private experiences, of forgiveness.  It is about eschatology, about something happening within history that resulted in a world being now a very different place" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").

In other words, if all Peter had experienced was a "warm and fuzzy" feeling, the other disciples would have tried to comfort him and encourage him and share their own "warm and fuzzy feelings" about their leader who had led a good life and died in betrayal. Yet they would not have gone around claiming that a Resurrection had occurred. They would have disappeared into the woodwork like all other followers of failed messiahs. 

My point is this: we must emphasize a literal, physical Resurrection for the Scriptural data to make sense--indeed, the description of Jesus' burial both in the four gospels and 1Cor 15 makes it explicitly clear that this is a physical resurrection, not a "spiritual" resurrection (I am indebted to Anthony Thiselton's New International Greek Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians for stressing this point).

One side note--it is precisely for this reason that I am very uncomfortable with the last two lines in the chorus of the otherwise great hymn "I serve a risen Savior"/ "He lives" (with all due respect to Alfred Ackley). When asked, "How do I know He lives," the biblical answer is not "because he's in my heart" (shades of Ludamann, though no-doubt unintentional). Rather, the correct answer according to Scripture (Luke 24:27 and 34f; 1Cor 15:4-8; etc.) is the two-fold testimony of OT prophecy and contemporary eyewitnesses.

Thus the Resurrection is essential to the Gospel. In fact, Paul states in Romans 4:25 that we are justified by the Resurrection. This lies in the fact that the Resurrection represents God the Father's declaration, via resurrection, that Jesus is indeed Messiah and Savior of the World. Had Jesus lain in the grave, this would have been evidence that he was not who he claimed to be. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, "in the light of Old Testament texts . . . is an act of vindication which was performed by God, and which could be performed by God only!" (Markus Barth, Acquittal by Resurrection).

Consider, then: we ourselves can only be justified (and resurrected) before God because Jesus Christ Himself was declared righteous and resurrected by God the Father. The former cannot exist without the latter. If Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God, was not resurrected by the Father, then it was all a lie. Yet we can thank God that rather than staying dead, Jesus was indeed "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Amen and Amen!

Make no mistake, the Resurrection is a scandal. If Jesus' body was physically raised and infused with life, this means we cannot be content with a tame "Jesus the good teacher" who simply dies for being a good teacher or, for the more "spiritually-minded," a cosmic-guru Jesus who becomes one with the "Life-force" upon his death, remaining as a sacred memory with his disciples. Not only that, but "Jesus as an immortal soul" doesn't even cut it. As
Markus Barth points out "Resurrection and immortality of the soul are not the same. The resurrection of which we intend to treat is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was from the beginning not a welcome equivalent to the immortal soul of some philosophers, but a laughingstock to both Stoics and Epicureans. By resurrection we understand the bodily resurrection of the one Jesus Christ" (emphasis added).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a footnote to the Gospel, and we need to stop treating it as such in our proclamation to the Gospel. The Resurrection and the Crucifixion go hand-in-hand as the foundation for our hope that Jesus saves us from the penalty of our sins. It remains an essential part of the good news, for if Jesus was not physically and bodily raised from the dead, we cannot be saved. Period. End of story. Eternal thanks to God the Father, then, for raising the Son and thus procuring our salvation.

 Next post I will discuss the other side of the scandal, namely our own physical and bodily resurrection, of which Jesus Christ was the first-fruits.

Direct Scriptural quotations taken from the King James version unless otherwise noted.

The article by Wright cited above, available here, is N. T. Wright, "Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection as a Historical Problem," Sewanee Theological Review vol 41.2 (1998). I highly recommend it.

Jan 21, 2016

What my New Testament Intro seminary students have to read

Starting this  coming Monday, I have the privilege teaching "New Testament Introduction" to the seminary students here at Baptist Theological Seminary (Menomonee Falls, WI). Since this is my "bread and butter," so to speak (my doctorate was in New Testament), I'm immensely excited at the opportunity. While I did get the opportunity to teach the class in a "hybrid" format while I was at Southeastern (part of the class was online lectures by a resident faculty, and about 12 hours of the class was my own "face-to-face" lectures to about 20 some students), this is the first time I've had the class all to myself.

My own interpretation of the topic is going to be less "book-by-book" than many treatments. While there will be plenty of that, the first half of the class will deal with broader issues, including 2nd Temple history and literature, the "quest for the historical Jesus," the historicity of the Resurrection, the Synoptic problem, the New Perspective on Paul, textual criticism, etc. 

In light of that, my textbook is not going to be the classic New Testament Introduction by Carson, Moo, and Morris (oddly, Morris' name dropped off in later editions--I still haven't figured out why that is), Rather, our textbook is The Cradle, the Cross, the Crown: A New Testament Introduction by Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. Granting my bias (two of the authors were my professors), I feel Kostenberger and co. do a way better job of working with both the background of the NT and modern theological issues (such as the so-called "quests" for the historical Jesus).

I'm requiring my students to read a couple chapters from Richard Bauckham's fantastic Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, considered one of the most significant books for defending the veracity of the Gospel accounts, as well as a chapter from Reinventing Jesus (Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace) that completely demolishes the "resurrection as an imitation of the Osiris myth" argument (to paraphrase one part of the chapter, the "Osiris" story is actually closer to "Frankenstein" than to the biblical concept of Resurrection). On the other side of the spectrum, I'm having my students read two chapters from Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities. I'm deliberately exposing my students to pop-culture liberalism, the kind of book that the average man or women on the street is most likely to read, so that they are better prepared to deal that sort of material (if this were a class devoted strictly to textual criticism, I'd probably have them read some of Ehrman's more scholarly work).

Finally, my students will read a number of journal articles dealing with a variety of topics. N. T. Wright has some fantastic articles in the Sewanee Theological Review vol. 42 on the Resurrection (available online here). In addition, his essay "Five Gospels but No Gospel," originally published in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (eds. Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans) is a humorous and masterful demolishing of "The Jesus Seminar." In the other hand, I'm also having them read Thomas Schreiner's article against the New Perspective on Paul (and against N. T. Wright) in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54.1, March 2011 (click here). The article is entitled "Justification: The Saving Righteousness of God in Christ." Right after that, my students will be reading the ever-enjoyable Michael Bird's article "What Is There between Minneapolis and St. Paul? A Third Way in the Piper-Wright Debate" (the very next issue of JETS). 

[Side note: Somehow Bird always manages to inject humor into his academic writings. I've tried to imitate that, and failed miserably! I had a very dry article (though hopefully a worthwhile one) accepted for publication recently, but a different article, in which I tried to inject some humor, was rejected by a different journal with one of the comments being that my attempt at levity was "inappropriate." Oh well. :( ]

Anyways, looking forward to this class! The students are great, the reading material is great, and we'll see if the teacher is up to the challenge!