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.

Jun 22, 2018

Reflections on having taught "Reading and Syntax in the Prison Epistles"

This past Spring semester I had the privilege of teaching a graduate-level class, "Reading and Syntax of the Prison Epistles" (NT 531), for the first time at Baptist Theological Seminary (Menomonee Falls, WI). The prerequisite for the class was 5 semesters of Greek (including grad-level "Introduction to NT Exegesis").

For this class, I tried something different. Although my lectures covered all four books, each student was required to choose their own "track," the options being (1.) Ephesians, (2.) Philippians + Philemon, or (3.) Colossians + Philemon (the latter two options are about equal in length to the first five chapters of Ephesians). The "track" they choose to focus on determined:
1. The textbooks they would purchase
2. Their research paper (which culminated in a sermon outline and in-class presentation).
3. Their final exam (customized for each track)
4. Their article review (each student had to analyze an academic journal article by a scholar and present its pros and cons in class). 

For the required reading for Ephesians and Philippians, I had a general idea of what they should be interacting with, but for Colossians I initially had no clue. I am pleased to report, however, that David Pao's "Zondervan Exegetical Commentary" on Colossians is excellent, at the exegetical, theological, and practical level (I have noted in a previous post that this commentary even mentions the 1950 Wheaten Student Revival).

The required, main textbooks were:
1. For those on the Ephesians track: 
(a.) Harold Hoehner's stand-alone commentary (still the standard!) and 
(b.) Clinton Arnold's Zondervan Exegetical Commentary. 
2. For those on the Philippians track:
(a.) Gordon Fee's NICNT
(b.) The revised WBC by Hawthorne and Martin (2nd ed.; it was initially just Hawthorne's). I generally am not a fan of the WBC format or content (though Mounce on the Pastorals is one of the best), but I had heard good things about this particular commentary.
3. For Colossians (both of these commentaries also covered Philemon):
(a.) David Pao's Zondervan Exegetical Commentary
(b.) Douglas Moo's Pillar NT Commentary

In addition, there was plenty of supplemental reading required (to balance things out, I had the "Philippians" group read the "Philemon" section in N. T. Wright's small Tyndale commentary of  Colossians and Philemon).

Now, a couple random thoughts on the content of the class:
1. Gordon Fee's NICNT on Philippians remains, in my humble-but-opinionated-opinion, one of the greatest commentaries ever written. His treatment of Phil 2:1-11 is masterful.
2. Speaking of which, I had no idea until relatively recently just how significant the intertextuality of Phil 2:9-11 is, and the deeper sense it adds to Paul's message (here's a hint to get you started, dear reader: read Isaiah 45:23-24, preferably in the LXX if you are able to). Also, "All praise to Thee for Thou O King Divine" (Tucker) is a really, really cool song based off of this passage.
3. "Cosmic" is a key word when it comes to all the Prison Epistles. We should embrace it! The Jesus Christ of Paul's Prison Epistles does not wield authority only in the hearts of believers, or even on this earth, but over the entire Cosmos!
4. Gordon Fee's article "To What End Exegesis" is a great article to read to get started in this kind of class (all my students had to read it by the first day of class). It can be accessed here.
5. Markus Barth has some excellent material in his Anchor Bible commentary (all those on the Ephesians track had to read 50 pages from this). His discussion on Ephesians 5:25f is excellent. [Markus Barth is a much more profitable and edifying read than his father, in my humble-but-opinionated opinion, though with that radical statement I become an outcast to mainstream theological scholarship :) ]
6. The Greek "Skubala" is not a vulgarity, though it can certainly be a word with "shock value." Josephus uses the word about how you'd expect as the equivalent of simply "manure" or "excrement" (e.g., War 5.571) not in contexts where it would make sense as a vulgarity. So Paul in Phil 3:8 is not being "edgy", though he is certainly being "shocking."
7. Philippians 3:11-16 is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult passages to exegete in all of the prison epistles, though Col 1:24 comes in a close second.
8.This was really my first exposure at any level to an in-depth study of Colossians. I've come to the conclusion that the heretics Paul was opposing in the Epistle to the Colossians is probably some kind of a syncretic Torah-centric mysticism with elements of pagan mythology added [more-or-less; it's complicated!].
9. I shall end with this great quote from Scot McKnight's new NICNT (an occasionally helpful commentary, but not one I would use as a textbook; Pao's is much better, imo, but McKnight has some great quotes):
For McKnight, Colossians is about "Vision for the cosmos with Christ at center." Amen!

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