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.

Sep 29, 2018

Three academic journal articles that have changed the way I think about a Bible passage

Yesterday a colleague and I led a "writer's workshop" for our college students. One thing I emphasized is the need to study scholarly sources to truly be able to claim to have given "due diligence" to a topic. To a certain degree, peer-reviewed journal articles represent the pinnacle of scholarship. They (along with key monographs) are the "movers-and-shakers" of the scholarly world, often leading to changes in how people approach a biblical or theological topic (of course, this only applies to a small percentage of top articles overall).

In light of that, I'd like to introduce my readers to three articles that actually changed the way I think about a Bible passage.

1. Travis Williams, "The Divinity and Humanity of Caesar in 1 Peter 2,13" ZNW 105.1 (2014): 131-147.
If John H. Elliott is the Michael Jordan of 1 Peter studies, and Karen Jobes is the LeBron James, then Travis Williams is the Stephen Curry (and yes, that may be one of the weirdest things you'll ever read on a Bible blog; don't try such analogies at home, I'm a professional academic).

What I mean is that Williams is still in the relative early part of his career, and yet has already produced two significant monographs on 1 Peter, as well as numerous articles. He's currently working on the new ICC commentary on 1 Peter with British scholar David Horrell (this, so far as I know, will be the next big English-language commentary on 1 Peter).

So how did this particular article change the way I think? First, it convinced me (thoroughly; I did my own research that backed up what Williams was saying) that in 1 Peter 2:13, "every ordinance of man" (Greek: anthropinh ktisis) is not speaking of the institution of government per se, but the actual person ruling (in this case obviously the emperor: "as supreme. . ."). Thus a better translation would be "every created human" (with context making it clear we are referring to leaders: first the emperor, then governors).

Secondly, and this is key, Williams convinced me that that very phrase "every created human" in reference to the emperor was a jab against the imperial cult; to focus on the emperor as a created being places Christians in opposition to the imperial cult, which worshiped the emperor as (more-or-less) divine.
From my own practical perspective, I see this as pointing to the clear difference between "respect" (or "honor") on the one hand (which leads to obedience so long as it does not conflict with Christian allegiance to Jesus Christ) and reverence, on the other hand, which should never be offered to any man other than Jesus Christ.

2. Aaron Michael Jensen, "The Appearance of Leah," Vetus Testament 68.3 (2018): 514-18.
Jensen is an acquaintance of mine, having met him briefly at a regional ETS. I have always enjoyed teaching the story of Leah in my class "Hebrew History" because it shows that God exalts the humble but abases the proud, that God cares for the one who is despised. However, Jensen has convinced me of the precise meaning of Gen 29:17. He notes how the term "eyes" can actually refer to the appearance of somebody in Hebrew. Consequently Genesis 29:17 is not saying that Leah needed glasses, but rather that she looked frail.

Jensen does an excellent job of noting the irony here. In the eyes of humans, Leah looked frail (i.e., too thin, ironic in light of today's obsession with thinness) and thus unfit for child-bearing. Yet God ironically favors Leah, who bears more children than Rachel.

I have incorporated Jensen's observations into my notes (citing him appropriately, of course) and will mention his work in my lecture. This is an excellent example of how good scholarship can reinforce a key theological truth: God delights to bless the underdog and humble the proud (also, "man looks on the outward 
appearance . . .")

3. Michael W. Andrews, "The Sign of Jonah: Jesus in the Heart of the Earth," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 61.1 (2018): 105-119.
I have felt for a long time now that Jesus died on a Friday (not Thursday) and rose again on a Sunday, which in my opinion is the best way to make sense of "the third day" (not "three days later"). However, the best argument (actually, I would suggest the only good argument) for the "Thursday" view is Jesus' link of His death and resurrection with the "sign of Jonah," which involves "three days and three nights," not as easily reconcilable with a Friday death (though many argue for a Hebrew idiom here; there does seem to be some OT lexical support for this, that "three days and three nights" can sometimes mean "parts of three days").

Andrews argues, however, that Jesus is portraying the "three days and three nights" as beginning His "descent to the underworld" (so to speak), which in essence begins with the Garden of Gethsemane, not His death on the cross (remember, Jonah did not die in the belly of the whale, so the analogy of "Jesus compared to Jonah" is not a perfect mirror either way). His thesis has convinced me, and also conveniently eliminates what I've always felt was the only good argument the Thursday view had going for it.

The article is a bit technical, and deals with a lot of theological themes, and the overall point is not to prove that Jesus died on a Friday. Still, I think that's a corollary effect.

In my opinion, the chronology of Jesus' death and resurrection works better as: Jesus died Friday afternoon (day 1), spent all day in the tomb on day 2 (which began Friday evening and went until Saturday evening), and was raised the morning of day 3 (Sunday;  remember, in all such calculations, the Jewish day began at nightfall). If Jesus died on Thursday, then Thursday is day 1, Friday is day 2, Saturday is day 3, and Sunday would be day 4. The text says "the third day, not "three days later" or "72 hours later."

Honorable mention: Dieter Böhler, "Liebe and Freundschaft im Johannesevangelium. Zum alttestamentlichen Hintergrund von John 21, 15-19," Biblica 96.3 (2015). (In English: "Love and Friendship in the Gospel of John. On the Old Testament background of John 21:15-19").
Now, Böhler did not convince me of his main point regarding the difference between agapaw and philew in John 21:15-17. What he did point me to, however, was the Ezekiel 34 background of this passage, and the "good shepherd" vs. "bad shepherd" motif; I'd never thought of this before. If you read Ezekiel 34, and then read John 21:15-17 in concert with it, this opens up a wealth of application here, especially for pastors: "don't be a bad shepherd, be a Christ-like shepherd!"

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