A Milestone (Reflections, Lessons & A Prayer Request)

Last night I reached a big milestone – I finished Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek. Now, my journey through teaching myself beginning Greek has been…interesting, to put it neutrally. I’m actually rather embarrassed because I initially royally failed. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that it was almost a year-and-a-half ago that I first announced that I was going to start learning Greek. Here I am, finishing much later than I had anticipated; not only that, but there was a huge gap of about a year when I had abandoned it completely.

I’m a bit of a detail-oriented perfectionist. When I learn things, I like to know why everything is the way it is and what everything means. I also like to get everything perfectly before I move on to the next thing. And this was the cause of my initial downfall in learning Greek and why I gave up (well, having too many review books is also to blame. You know you’re extra nerdy when academic books are the main things that distract you from Greek studies).

When I first started teaching myself Greek last February I only made it through the first nine chapters of Mounce’s grammar before abandoning it. I think part of the reason was that I was trying to understand every exegetical insight, every footnote, every advanced information section at the end. Furthermore, there were a lot of things that weren’t explained in the text and I was all hung up on the “why’s.” In the workbook I often felt completely frustrated and hopeless because I had a very hard time with the last section of translations (advanced translations). I was trying to understand/master/do everything in every chapter before moving on, and it was so much (and frankly probably impossible for a beginning student teaching himself) that it broke me pretty quickly and I gave up.

So here’s my first tip for anyone teaching themselves beginning Greek with Mounce’s grammar: do not worry about anything in the previous paragraph if you’re struggling and frustrated. Just get the basics, the skeletons in the book and workbook and move on. And keep moving. Then after you get through everything, go back through the grammar and workbook again, and this time worry about the footnotes, advanced information, exegesis sections, advanced translation exercises. Oh, and in between (as in, during your “first” run-through) be sure to go back every few chapters. When I say I just finished Mounce, I’ve actually gone through most of the chapters three times. That’s because as you’re going through each chapter, things will be pretty hazy (Mounce calls this the “fog”). But as you move on, the fog moves with you (Mounce’s description). So as you’re moving on, things from previous chapters should be becoming clearer, so it’s good to work in chunks of several chapters and go back and review each chunk before moving on.

So after abandoning Greek over a year ago without even having finished the noun system, I didn’t pick it up again until about two months ago. And the past two months have been a self-imposed Greek bootcamp because I’m hoping to test into NT Greek Exegesis I at TEDS this fall. And here’s where you come in. Please, please, please pray for me to use these next/last two weeks of studying well and that I’d be able to pass the placement exam. Needless to say, it would save a lot of money to not have to take beginning Greek. Not only that, but I’m eager to get into more advanced NT courses, so taking beginning Greek would also set me back by a year.

This brings me to my last tip, which will include some thank-you’s. If you endeavor to teach yourself Greek, be sure to make friends with a few people who are skilled with the language (advanced students and professors). If you don’t know anyone (I didn’t when I started), join the Facebook group Nerdy Language Majors. I’m so thankful for this group, not only because people were so kind and helpful the few times when I posed questions, but also because through the group I’ve made some online friends who have given me even more help through private messages. I would especially like to thank Thom Chittom, Jacob Cerone, Todd Scacewater, Geoff Ng, Joe Liu, and Kevin Chen for answering questions and/or providing me with some excellent resources.

Alright, please pray for me! I’m terrified. Just terrified. The placement exam is on August 21 at 8:15, but I really only have until August 14 to prepare because I will be driving to Deerfield on the 15th and from the 16th-20th I will be participating in a retreat for Mosaic. I hope to have good news to report in about a month!

The Early Text of the New Testament (Charles Hill & Michael Kruger ed.)

Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, ed. The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012. 498 pp. $50.00.

Early TextIn response to the recent burgeoning of new textual materials and renewed scholarly interest in NT textual criticism, editors Charles Hill and Michael Kruger felt that it was time for a radical and thorough review in light of the major text types. The Early Text of the New Testament brings together some of the best scholars of the early NT texts to present an impressively comprehensive set of essays that “provide an inventory and some analysis of the evidence available for understanding the pre-fourth-century period of the transmission of the NT materials” (2).

In Part I, four essays cover the textual and scribal culture of early Christianity. First, Harry Gamble discusses the book trade in the Roman empire, addressing the commercial book trade, the non-commercial book trade, and finally the publication and dissemination of early Christian books. Early Christian texts “were produced and disseminated in much the same way as other literature in the larger socio-cultural environment,” (31) and hence susceptible to the same hazards. Next, Scott Charlesworth examines indicators of “catholicity” in early Gospel manuscripts. He notes that the use of standard-sized codices and standardized nomina sacra in the early manuscripts of the canonical gospels prove the notion of “catholic” consensus and collaboration among early Christians. This catholicity, Charlesworth points out, does not indicate uniformity. The upshot of all this is that “[t]he evidence for later second- and second/third-century “catholicity” presents real problems for the Bauer thesis” (46).

In the third essay Larry Hurtado focuses on the sociology of early Christian reading, arguing that “there is a distinguishable Christian reading-culture, another ‘specific sociocultural context,’ and that early Christian manuscripts are direct artefacts of it” (49). In the final essay of the first part, Michael Kruger addresses early Christian attitudes toward the scribal process. He examines early testimony regarding the scriptural status of NT texts (such as 2 Peter 3:16 and The Epistle of Barnabas 1:14), and early testimony regarding the reproduction of NT texts such as the Deuteronomy 4:2 formula. Kruger concludes that “a high view of these texts (and concerns over their transmission is not mutually exclusive with the existence of significant textual variation” (79).

Part 2 comprises eight chapters devoted to a detailed and up-to-date assessment the early manuscript tradition of the NT, proceeding by book or groups of books. These essays are quite technical and detailed and are not as accessible as Part 1 and Part 3 to the nonspecialist. This section concludes with an essay on the witness of the early versions by Peter Williams in which he issues some words of warning in regards to Bruce Metzer’s The Early Versions of the New Testament and that particular tradition of using the early versions. Specifically, Williams argues that “while the early versions are indeed important for historical, cultural, and linguistice reasons, in one respect their contribution has been overestimated: they have been held to play an important role in deciding between Greek variants concerning which actually they give no clear testimony” (239).

The final sections contain eight essays that deal with early citation and use of the NT writings. In the first essay of this section, Charles Hill examines methods and standards of citation in the second century. He first looks at the Greek tradition and provides examples such as Homer and Herodotus to demonstrate that accuracy in reproducing another author’s words was not part of the tradition of classical Greek. To show that this same tendency characterized the citation of sacred literature, Hill brings forth examples from sources such as Philo and Josephus. Hence, “even a stated and sincerely held regard for the sacredness of a text did not necessarily affect an author’s practice of what we would call loose or adaptive citation” (277). Hill concludes his essay with some important implications for not only attempts to extract an underlying text, but also for the study of reception history of biblical writings as well. The rest of the chapters examine the citation and use of the NT in a variety of early writings: the Apostolic Fathers (Paul Foster), Marcion (Dieter Roth), Justin Martyr’s 1 Apol. 15:1-8 (Joseph Verheyden), Tatian’s Diatessaron (Tjitze Baarda), early apocryphal Gospels (Stanley Porter), Irenaeus’s Adversus haeresus (D. Jeffrey Bingham and Billy R. Todd, Jr.), and Clement of Alexandria (Carl Cosaert).

The Early Text of the New Testament is a must-read for students and scholars of the NT and particularly for those with interest in the early manuscripts and early citation of the NT texts. While some of the essays (mainly the ones in Part 2) are quite technical, the essays in Part 1 have broader appeal and could benefit the thinking lay Christian and pastor who is curious about the scribal culture during NT times, canon formation, and apologetic issues surrounding Scripture (and the NT in particular). This book presents the latest research on the early manuscript tradition of the entire NT and also addresses key issues in the discipline of textual criticism. As such, I think it’s essential reading for those taking a New Testament textual criticism course at the seminary level. One final note: this book was originally published as a hardcover retailing at $175 (standard for academic monographs). Last year OUP published a much more affordable paperback that retails at $50, which is a steal for this type of book. Buy this book if you’re a serious academic student of the NT, and especially if you’re interested in the manuscript tradition.

Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

John S. Hammett. 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 336 pp. $21.99.

40 Q B&LSThough baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been almost universal practices among Christians throughout the ages, disagreements about what they mean and how they are to be practiced are littered across church history and continue into our day. While there is a healthy ecumenism concerning these topics among evangelicals today, it would be unhealthy to assume that these so-called second order doctrines are not important to Christian theology and practice.

Indeed, the importance of these two topics is thankfully recognized as recent years have seen a number of books addressing them (e.g. Understanding Four Views on Baptism and Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper). One might ask why 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is necessary when there are already a handful of books that address the key issues related to these two sacraments. The author John Hammett (professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) addresses this in his introduction, noting four ways this book is unique: it addresses both baptism and the Lord’s supper, whereas most books deals with just one of the two; it covers a much wider range of topics; it addresses practical issues; and the table of contents lists each of the forty questions, providing a helpful reference for readers who want to look up specific issues.

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NIV 50th Anniversary

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the (commissioning of the) NIV, the most widely read modern English translation of the Bible in the world. Celebrations began at ETS last year with a dinner hosted by Zondervan and will culminate this fall with the release of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. I am pretty excited about this study Bible. I haven’t read the NIV in years and wasn’t expecting to want to read it exclusively ever again, but when this study Bible lands on my doorstep I plan to read it cover-to-cover right away.

A bit of background is warranted, I think, for those reading this who might be where I was just a few years ago. My history with the Bible is that from spiritual inception ten years ago to about a year in, all I read was the NIV. It was the Bible I was given when I became a Christian, and it was the only Bible that the people I knew used, taught/preached from, talked about, etc. But then I discovered the NASB. I loved the idea of a faithful, word-for-word translation; and so, I abandoned the NIV and exclusively read the NASB. Fast forward another year, and I had become a rabid cage-stage young, restless, Reformed Calvinist. So of course, I became ESV-only. With the advent of the 2011 NIV, my already low opinion of the NIV (due to a lack of understanding about Bible translation) sunk to its nadir due to the new NIV’s gender neutering. I say all this in case someone reading this holds the misguided notions I once did. It’s a great time to give the NIV another chance with the forthcoming NIV Zondervan Study Bible. This study Bible is edited by D.A. Carson and it was the full-time project of Andy Naselli for four years. If my words mean nothing, surely theirs have a lot of clout!

Check out the video below to hear some of the members (e.g. Doug Moo, Karen Jobes, Bill Mounce, etc.) of the translation committee talk about the ongoing work they do to ensure a faithful and beautiful translation. The video after that is of Dr. Doug Moo’s talk at the NIV celebration dinner at ETS last year entitled “We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr” (PDF here for those who prefer reading). The last video is of Dr. D.A. Carson talking about some of the features of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. And finally, though the year is just over half over, the special 50th anniversary free NIV Bible App is still worth checking out for limited time access to some NIV study Bibles and other resources. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on the NIV in general as well as the new study Bible.

Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Simon Gathercole)

Simon Gathercole. Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. 128 pp. $19.99.

Defending SubstitutionDefending Substitution is the latest volume in Baker Academic’s Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology series. Sponsored by Acadia Divinity College and in conjunction with its Hayward Lectureship, this series is designed to offer brief, accessible volumes that present the cutting edge of academic biblical and theological scholarship in a form amenable to the nonspecialist. In Defending Substitution, Simon Gathercole offers a brief and accessible overview of the most prominent objections to substititionary atonement and provides a brief but robust positive defense of the the doctrine.

Gathercole begins in the introduction by setting forth his modest aim of arguing that “Christ’s death for our sins, in our place, instead of us, is in fact a vital ingredient in the biblical (in the present discussion, Pauline) understanding of the atonement. It should be emphasized, however, that the argument here does nothing to undermine the importance of representation and participation. Rather, the point is that substitution can happily coexist with them” (14). He also briefly defines substitutionary atonement and clarifies what he will and will not address in this short volume. Specifically, the focus is narrowly on substitution as Christ’s death instead of us, in our place and not on related issues such as representation, propitiation, and satisfaction. Gathercole concludes the introduction by briefly addressing some common theological, philosophical, logical, and exegetical objections to substitution. It is exegetical objections that are the focus of this study.

In chapter 1 Gathercole addresses three prominent cases against substitution: the Tübingen understanding of representative “place-taking,” interchange in Christ, and apocalyptic deliverance. He notes the strengths of each of these positions but also points out their difficulties and weaknesses. Gathercole points out their common weakness of downplaying the importance of individual sins/transgressions. The next two chapters make a positive case for substitution, with chapter 2 focusing on 1 Corinthians 15:3 and chapter 3 focusing on Romans 5:6-8. Chapter 2 first makes a case for the central importance of Christ’s death “for our sins” in Paul, then examines the influence of Isaiah 53 on 1 Corinthians 15:3, next draws attention to the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death in 1 Corinthians 15:3, and finally looks at 1 Corinthians 15:3 as a test case for whether the Tubingen view of representative “place-taking” works. Next an excursus is devoted to responding to the objection of why Christians still die if atonement is substitutionary. Gathercole notes four elements or “kinds” of deaths (literal deaths of believers, metaphorical deaths of believers, deaths of nonbeliever, death of Christ) that need to be seen in the background in order to see how this objection is not valid.

In the final chapter, Gathercole mines the classical literature of antiquity to show that “Paul’s language about Jesus dying ‘for us’ echoes very closely the language used frequently in non-Christian literature to describe substitutionary or vicarious deaths” (85). The upshot is that “Jesus’s death is both similar and different: it is comphrehensible to a gentile as a substitutionary death like other, more familiar cases, but it is also a shocking instance of it” (86). He notes examples of conjugal love (Acelstis), friendship (Phintias and Damon), and family members (Philonides). In comparison of these classical examples with what Paul wrote in Romans 5, the point of commonality is that there is a death of one person for another. The difference is that in the case of Christ the death is for an enemy, not a spouse or friend or family member.

Defending Substitution is an excellent introduction to some of the scholarly debate surrounding the atonement and provides a brief and accessible exegetical defense of substitutionary atonement through two Pauline texts. It’s a great book for laity with academic interest in soteriology as well as beginning Bible college or seminary students. Given its intended audience and intentionally limited scope, there’s really nothing to criticize in this book.

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon


A Unique New Greek Resource

This past week an exciting new resource was launched at Exegetical Tools – Colossians Greek Reading Videos by Todd Scacewater. Todd is a Ph.D. candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary writing his dissertation on the use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:7-10 under Dr. G. K. Beale. Todd has also been teaching Greek at WTS for a few semesters.

This series of videos walks through the whole Epistle to the Colossians a few verses at a time, dealing with the vocabulary, grammar, parsing, and a bit of syntax. If you have at least the equivalent of a year of Greek, then you really must check these out. See what Todd himself has to say about these videos, and then watch (at least) the first video. Whether you are teaching yourself Greek, brushing up in between degree programs, have been out of seminary for years, or are preaching/teaching through Colossians, I think you’ll find this to be a valuable resource that will not only help you review, retain, and improve your Greek, but will also serve the ultimate purpose for which we want to retain our Greek – to read the Greek New Testament.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Michael Licona)

Michael R. Licona. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. 718 pp. $45.00.

resurrection liconaThe bodily resurrection of Jesus is a foundational tenet of the Christian faith. As such, it’s frequently addressed in apologetics books. In the biblical studies guild this topic also receives an enormous amount of attention, being considered the “prize puzzle of NT studies.” With approximately 3,400 scholarly journal articles and books on the topic of the historicity of the resurrection from 1975-2010 alone (19), can a new tome on the topic really contribute anything new? Indeed, it can. In The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach Michael Licona has accomplished something rather remarkable and largely unprecedented by providing a rigorous examination of the approach taken by historians outside of the biblical studies guild and then applying the methodology to an examination of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. The result is a historiographical examination that is impressively expansive and rigorous on any count, but especially noteworthy and possibly unprecedented on a biblical subject.

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Free Resource Alert – Brian Small’s Dissertation “The Characterization of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews”


This dissertation accomplishes three things. First, it identifies the literary and rhetorical devices that the author of Hebrews uses to construct his characterization of Jesus. Second, it reconstructs the portrait that emerges from the author’s characterization of Jesus. Third, it indicates how the author’s characterization of Jesus is important for his overall argument.

This dissertation lays the methodological groundwork through an examination of characterization in both modern literary and ancient rhetorical theory and practice. The analysis reveals that characterization in ancient rhetoric demonstrates many affinities with modern literary theory and practice.

The author of Hebrews employs a variety of techniques to construct his characterization of Jesus. First, the author uses encomiastic topics, which are categories by which the attributes of persons were conceived in the ancient world. Second, the author utilizes a variety of devices such as amplification, synkrisis, vivid description, attributed speech, and literary tropes to develop his portrait of Jesus. Finally, the author appeals to divine testimony to give authoritative support to his portrayal of Jesus’ character. The author depicts Jesus as a person of exemplary character who exhibits the highest of human virtues but also divine attributes as well. These traits reveal both Jesus’ greatness and moral excellence.

The author’s characterization of Jesus is significant for his overall argument. First, Jesus’ character produces many benefits for his followers. Believers in some sense share in the same status and privileges that Jesus possesses. Jesus’ exemplary character also produces many soteriological benefits for his followers. Second, his character entails certain obligations from his followers. Jesus’ exemplary character is a model of imitation for his followers. The author frequently urges his audience to exemplify virtues that are also characteristic of Jesus. Jesus’ character also serves as a warning for his followers to avoid disobedience and unbelief. Finally, Jesus’ character serves as encouragement for his followers to persevere and mature in their faith, and to approach God boldly in worship.

Download it here.

(HT James McGrath)

Saturday Sillies

If Mexicans celebrated the 4th like Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans!

Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Logos Edition)

Mark A. Seifrid. The Second Letter to the Corinthians.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014. 579 pp. $50.00.
Logos | Amazon

2 Cor SeifridThe Pillar New Testament Commentary series is one of the best mid-range commentary series. Written by some of the finest NT scholars of our day, these commentaries are informed by the most rigorous scholarship but avoid the overly technical details that might not interest the typical preacher, teacher, and interested lay reader. One of the newest volumes in the series is Mark Seifrid’s contribution on 2 Corinthians. I love this series and every new volume catches my attention, but I was especially excited for this volume because I have tremendous appreciation for Seifrid’s work as a Pauline scholar. I am grateful to Logos Bible Software for providing a review copy of the Logos edition, and will comment very briefly on the commentary itself before moving on to the unique benefits of having this commentary in Logos.

In the introduction, Seifrid first provides a background into what prompted Paul to write 1 Corinthians, themes therein that impact the interpretation of 2 Corinthians, and the issue that prompted the writing of 2 Corinthians. Next, Seifrid offers some brief comments on the vexing issues of Paul’s opponents in Corinth and the purpose of 2 Corinthians. Here, he argues that a minimal mirror-reading of the opponents is best and that “[i]t is the Corinthian misunderstanding of the apostle and the Gospel that is finally at the center of the argument” (xxix). He subsequently addresses the integrity of 2 Corinthians and contends that although the theory of it being a composite letter should not be rejected outright, it is not likely to be true. The introduction concludes with a few comments on the theology of the letter. Whereas some commentaries begin with an overly lengthy and technical introduction (~100 pages) that can be difficult for nonacademic readers to plow through, Seifrid’s introduction in this volume suffers from the opposite by being too brief. At a mere ten pages in a commentary proper of 500 pages, it would have been appropriate and helpful to have a more robust introduction. The introduction would have benefited on a more detailed treatment in any of the four sections, but especially in the theology section. Here Seifrid offers brief comments on the fundamental issue at stake, namely, the marks of a true apostle. I found it surprising that clear themes in the letter (such as salvation) were not noted and expounded upon.

In terms of the commentary proper, it’s in general more theological than is typical. And because it is theological, it should be a surprise that his own theological position at times comes through. One place this can be strongly seen is in his treatment of 2 Corinthians 5:21. Here Seifrid describes Paul understanding of reconciliation to God as forensic (260), Christ’s “place-taking” as exclusive and substitutionary (262), and the righteousness of God as “simultaneously God’s act of judgment and the justification of God” (264). Interestingly for Protestants, Seifrid notes that Paul’s language of justification here “cannot rightly be reduced to the area of an imputed righteousness. He speaks of the human being created anew in Christ” (265, italics original). He goes on to make two concluding observations from the above points. First, while stressing that for Paul justification is extrinsic and forensic, Seifrid warns against the Protestant error of wrongly assuming that justification becomes the Christian’s inherent possession. “Justification is not found in a bare declaration (which must be believed to be effective, in any case) but in a relation, an apprehension or grasping of the crucified and risen Christ” (266, italics original). The second observation Seifrid makes is that the usual Protestant understanding of justification as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness must be grounded in a more comprehensive understanding of salvation. Interestingly, Seifrid gives preference to union with Christ over and against an ordo salutis as the construct in which justification is to be located.

Because most commentaries are grounded on exegesis and largely neglect theology, the more theological nature of Seifrid’s commentary on 2 Corinthians can be seen as a strength. This commentary is a worthy addition to the library of any serious lay student of the Bible, as well as teachers, preachers, and even scholars. Most would benefit a more exegetical and technical commentary in addition to this one, such as George Guthrie’s volume in BECNT (currently in pre-pub status on Logos, which means you can get it for cheaper than what the price will be once it’s fully funded).

Why Logos?
It was just a mere months ago that I was a full print snob, including for commentaries. But I’ve come a long way recently in seeing the value of being able to access your books anywhere, especially commentaries and academic books. But there are many varieties of digital books; what makes Logos stand out? It is the power of a Logos library and the way all your resources are connected. I’ll admit that I can’t resist a good Kindle deal here and there, but for the most part I now try to keep my digital book purchases to Logos so that every new digital book purchase is added to the Logos system and increases the power of my library. If you own a resource that is referenced, you can either hover over the resource for which a pop-up of the cited text will display, or you can click on the resource which will open it in a new tab in Logos. Of course, the flip side is that if you buy a book in the future that references this commentary, you will be able to reap the benefits of being able to access the cited portions with two clicks.

In the screenshot below (click to enlarge the picture) I had clicked on footnote 15 and then clicked on 1 Clem. 47:1-7 within the footnote. You can see that Logos opened 1 Clem. 47 in a new tab. This feature is more valuable for academic books since they have way more footnotes and citations.

Logos 2 Cor Footnote

Of course, you might not be reading this commentary cover-to-cover or coming directly to a particular portion of the commentary. You  might be studying a particular passage of 2 Corinthians using the “Passage Guide,” in which case this volume would show up in the “Commentaries” section. I think these are the two main features that would distinguish a Logos commentary from commentaries on other digital platforms. Watch the video below for some unique things you can do with Logos commentaries. You can also check out the video here for information specific to the Pillar New Testament Commentary series.

Thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy!

Purchase: Logos | Amazon


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