Saturday, 13 December 2008

Q and A: Divine Identity

There was a period for questions and answers. I fear that perhaps the best questions weren’t always asked or were presented without sufficient clarity for my mind. To be sure there were several really good questions, but I didn’t take notes, and my mind only conjures up my own question and Peter Head’s question on messianism and its impact on divine identity. Dr. Head’s question was especially significant since I’m not sure that the speakers spent much time dealing with Jesus’ Messiahship as a part of his divine identity.

My own question was this:

“We’ve been working under the higher criticism template that the New Testament documents had a low Christology, and that Christology evolved over the centuries until it reached full Trinitarian expression at Nicaea and Chalcedon. Yet you [Profs. Bauckham and Hays] have attempted to smash this template, and to argue for a high Christology in the New Testament writings, along with others such as Prof. Bockmuehl, Prof. Fee in his Pauline Christology, Dr. Gathercole in his The Pre-Existent Son, Prof. Hurtado in his Lord Jesus Christ, and others. My question is, Are you being persuasive, and would you prophesy to us about the future state of the question in about ten years?”

I was satisfied with the answers, and also struck in several ways. Prof. Bauckham expressed his hope that their message would fall on listening ears especially among younger scholars, confessing that many seasoned scholars may already be too entrenched to hear. He also shared with us his own experience of moving away from the old template with which he could have been pleased to keep as his own, except that the evidence itself pushed him to abandon it (as I blogged earlier).

Prof. Hays then stated that the two lines of interpretation have been clearly delineated, and that the conflict between the two sides was fierce. He stated that there are some on the other side of the line who dismiss arguments from his side as poor scholarship. He said much more, but sad to say, I can’t recall several other aspects of his response. I myself have not read the book reviews or heard the polemics play out at meetings such as Society of Biblical Literature, etc. However, I have read one review—James D.G. Dunn’s review of Dr. Gathercole’s The Pre-Existent Son, and judging by Dunn’s comments, I’d have to say that Prof. Hays’ characterisation of the raging conflict is justified.

Richard Hays on Divine Identity in Luke

This is the fourth post in a series of posts dealing with the deity of Jesus.

I’m struggling to find the words to express how good both speakers were. They both gave really, really important papers, made really, really significant points throughout, and spoke very, very persuasively. In my little world, I doubt I could overestimate the value of these two papers. This was indicated by the audience’s expression of appreciation at the end of the day. The applause went on and on and on. The applause seemed more typical of the response an audience would give to a great opera performance. Someone called for an encore….

Interestingly, some people were quite sure that Prof. Bauckham gave the better of the two papers. Not so, in my estimation. Perhaps it was simply my American ears which gravitated toward Prof. Hays’ presentation more so than the subtleties of Prof. Bauckham’s reading. But I think also that I probably have a predisposition for Prof. Hays’ use of narrative to discern Jesus’ identity. I learned a great deal about general methodology in Prof. Hays’ presentation which will be useful not only in the quest for divine identity, but for the whole range of interpretive issues in the Gospels.

Thus, I appreciated Prof. Hays beginning with the question of how narrative impacts the issue of identity: 1) identity unfolds cumulatively through the whole book so that one must not focus merely on isolated pericopes; 2) in order to appreciate the cumulative impact of narrative, one must engage in multiple re-readings—reading it from the back to the front; 3) narrative allows for irony and ambiguity; 4) narrative identity isn’t simply what is unique, but what is characteristic of a person; 5) identity is enacted, and is not merely a matter of one’s nature. All of this I think is extremely important for any understanding of the theology of the Gospel writers and, in regard to divine identity, will ultimately lead the sensitive reader to an understanding that Jesus is portrayed as nothing less than Israel’s LORD/Lord.

Prof. Hays made it clear that he thinks that due appreciation of these five aspects of narrative will result in a high Christology in the Gospels. In this regard, it is remarkable that Prof. Hays makes his stand for a high Christology in Luke—the subject of his paper—which is otherwise reputed to have the lowest Christology of the four Gospels. But Prof. Hays is so overwhelmed by the evidence as it arises through narrative analysis that he can, in good conscience, direct Jesus’ Emmaus road statement toward his sceptical colleagues: “‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25). This was one of the great moments in Prof. Hays’ presentation.

Let me hasten to say that despite my previous comment, I’m not so sure that Prof. Hays would make his stand for a “high” Christology in any book. He does not think the categories of “high” and “low” are helpful. Yet, he does buck against the consensus of modern New Testament critics who deny that the Gospels held to Jesus’ pre-existence or who think that they assume Jesus to be a subordinate being to God. Since I didn’t fully grasp his critique against the traditional terminology of high and low Christology, I will end up retaining it throughout this post with the caveat that the reader should understand that Prof. Hays avoids those terms.

An important corrective for me was Prof. Hays’ claim that Lucan depictions of Jesus as the Son of God entails more than just royal-political identity. For the last 15 years I have thought that in the Synoptic Gospels, the title Son of Man (cf. Dan 7) entails a higher Christology than the title Son of God. I had understood Son of God in the Synoptics to refer to Jesus’ kingly, messianic status as heir to the Davidic throne, as opposed to the Johannine understanding of Jesus being in nature God the Son. In contrast, Prof. Hays argued that Son of God in Luke indicates Jesus’ origins, and serves as a polemic to the worship of the emperors who made claims about their own divine nature. Jesus’ statement about his Sonship in Luke 10:21-22 that “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" must be understood in terms of Jesus’ divine identity and not merely in terms of his right to David’s throne. The fact that this passage sounds as if it had been lifted out of John’s Gospel amidst all its high Christology (what Prof. Hays calls a Jubelruf) reinforces the notion that Son of God in Luke has major implications for divine identity. See also 1:26-38; 3:22; 9:35; 22:29; 23:46.

After discussing Jesus as the Son of God, Prof. Hays turns to Jesus as the awaited LORD of the New Exodus/End of Exile. The Baptist claimed to be preparing the way of the LORD (3:4-6; Isa 40)—the LORD who would bring about the New Exodus. In light of the Baptist’s declaration, who is it that actually comes? What does this say about Jesus’ identity? Was he not the LORD himself? And when the Baptist is in prison and questions Jesus’ divine identity, does not Jesus make further claims about his identity as Israel’s LORD when he tells John to look around and see the fulfilment of Isa 35? This precipitated one of the great moments in the lecture, as Prof. Hays proceeded to recite the lines from the Wesley hymn, “Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, your loosened tongues employ; ye blind, behold your saviour come, and leap, ye lame, for joy.” Thus, Luke depicts Jesus as the “coming one” in fulfilment of those Old Testament passages which speak of the LORD leading Israel out of captivity and back to Zion. The capstone to all of this is Luke’s declaration through the mouth of Peter that this Jesus whom they hanged on a tree, was vindicated by God who raised him to life and is now Lord of all (Acts 10:36). Indeed, reading from back to front, we see that all the references to Jesus as Lord, when taken cumulatively, ultimately blur the distinction of the Lord Jesus and Israel’s LORD.

If Prof. Hays is right in seeing all this as indicating Jesus’ divine identity, then there are a number of elements which fall into place with greater clarity: 1) the fusion of Jesus’ action with God’s; 2) the visitation theme; 3) calling on the name of the LORD; 4) Jesus’ sending of God’s Holy Spirit; and others.

Prof. Hays also remarked on how Luke’s use of sources does not negate the theology explicit in the source. For example, if Luke appropriated pre-existing hymns in Luke 1-2, it means that he embraced their theology. The same is true for Luke’s use of Mark. Whenever Luke does so, it means that he probably liked Mark’s theological emphasis. This is so obvious, but yet a scholar no less than James D. G. Dunn, for example, tries to water down Paul’s high Christology in Phil 2 by suggesting that since Paul borrowed the “hymn” from another source, then it is questionable whether Paul really embraced its theology—an argument strongly refuted in Prof. Fee’s Pauline Christology. All this leads to the conclusion that if Luke appropriates Marcan material without substantially altering it, then Luke also imports Mark’s Christology as well.

On a side note, Prof. Hays expressed some degree of scepticism about Q. His narrative analysis is viable despite either the use or non-existence of Q.

Prof. Hays concluded with several implications for theological reflection on divine identity: 1) Luke’s Gospel requires a fundamental rethinking of God: God is not a theological/philosophical construct, but an acting person (this is why the categories of high and low are not helpful, for God reveals himself in lowliness); 2) Jesus makes good on the Second Exodus prophecies—he is the LORD of the Exodus present with his people; and 3) preaching needs to recover narrative intertextual continuity.

What more can I say? ‘Twas a tremendous day for Cambridge. Ultimately, I walked away feeling that Moses and all the prophets had been opened up to me, as to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, and that I had clearly been shown how the Christ had to suffer and then enter his glory.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Richard Bauckham on Divine Identity in Mark

This is the third blog on this colloquium; scroll down for the first two.

Prof. Bauckham, if he doesn’t already assume this matrix (i.e., as outlined by Don Lewis here) certainly does reinforce it. He emphasises first the assumed monotheism of the earliest Christians and then traces how they incorporated Old Testament language and characterisations of God in their assessment of Jesus’ own identity. As such, Bauckham argues more for a Christology of divine identity rather than divine nature.

Prof. Bauckham himself suggested a matrix for understanding God: 1) God is the sole creator, and distinguished from the creature; 2) he is the sovereign ruler, and distinguished from his subjects; 3) he will achieve his eschatological rule; 4) he has his unique name YHWH; 5) he alone may be and should be worshiped.

This interpretive framework for understanding divine identity was applied to Jesus as the earliest Christians sought to understand his own identity. Jesus was not identical to God, but uniquely shares his identity or is included therein. The whole of Prof. Bauckham’s paper shows how this was worked out in Mark’s Gospel.

One of Prof. Bauckham’s important points was the insistence of the early Christians to apply Ps 110 to Jesus: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’” (the most quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament). The early Christians took the inviolable Old Testament principle that God’s rule cannot be asserted by the creature, yet Jesus is the one who ushers in the kingdom. This has implications for not merely Jesus’ pre-existence, but also for his eternality. If Jesus shares the divine identity, he must have shared it eternally. Along these lines, Prof. Bauckham debunks the low Christology of the old adage which stated that Jesus merely functions as God by asserting that in order for Jesus to function as God, he must truly be God.

Six Passages
Prof. Bauckham commented on six passages in Mark, as quickly outlined below….

In the exorcism of 1:21-27, the striking element is the new authority which Jesus displays. He casts out the demon not by some technique or by prayer to God, but by his own striking authority.

In the healing of the paralytic (2:1-12), Jesus is accused of usurping the divine prerogative to forgive sins. His accusers appear to have made a correct deduction. After all, the psalmist says, “Against you alone have I sinned” emphasising that sin has a personal effect toward God, requiring his personal forgiveness. This is reinforced by the Marcan reference to the Shema (Deut 6:4-6) in the Pharisee’s rhetorical question, Who can forgive sin but God alone? “But God alone” rendered literally is “God is one.” Moreover, the text does not say, “Your sins have been forgiven,” as some have (customarily?) suggested that a priest perhaps might have said in connection with Temple prerogatives, but rather, “Your sins are forgiven.” Indeed, Simon Gathercole suggests that there may be no example in extant literature that a priest ever said, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

In the stilling of the storm (4:35-41), the question of Jesus’ identity becomes an open question, one which is not explicitly answered until late in the Gospel. The motif of rebuke and obeying is found in this text, and is part of a constellation of passages which appropriate divine prerogatives to Christ’s own identity: 1:25, 27; 4:39, 41, 42.

Walking on Water (6:47-52): ego eimi (cf. 14:62).

In Jesus’ conversation with the rich man (10:17-22), monotheism is again reinforced with the same Shema formula as found in Mark 2:7: God is one. Jesus’ reply about God alone being good is not a radical disassociation of himself from the divine identity, but rather a provocative irony.

Only in Jesus’ answer to the high priest (14:61-64) is the question of Jesus’ identity explicitly answered. It comes as a climax to the whole narrative of Mark’s Gospel. It is then reinforced by the centurion at Jesus’ death who declared that Jesus was the Son of God. Strangely enough, however, Prof. Bauckham seemed to deny that the Old Testament text behind this passage (Dan 7) has implications for divine identity, a point which Prof. Hays rightly pressed him on.

Thus, questions regarding Jesus’ identity arise in 1:27; 2:7; 4:41; 10:18; which are finally resolved in Jesus’ answer to the high priest’s question, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” (14:61). I would argue that Jesus’ reply claims more for himself than the High Priest could have imagined, but I’m not sure that Prof. Bauckham himself made this point.

My Reflections
Prof. Bauckham’s background contrasts greatly from my own. He says he used to be perfectly happy with the old template that the New Testament documents began with a low Christology, but evolved over the centuries into Trinitarianism. This all changed, he says, as he looked more carefully at the New Testament documents himself.

In contrast, I have fundamentalist roots, and at Free Will Baptist Bible College, we examined the deity of Christ primarily from the standpoint of prooftexts but also through occasional good exegesis. Certainly the good exegesis was reinforced at Regent College, especially with an appreciation of the appropriation of Old Testament theological concepts by the New Testament writers. Consequently, I’m not surprised at Prof. Bauckham’s conclusions.

In many ways, what Prof. Bauckham presented today is a more nuanced and sophisticated version of the understanding of the deity of Christ that was taught to me back at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Perhaps the most striking difference is in the personalities. On one hand, fundamentalists from Bob Jones University taught me the deity of Christ in the early 1980s. On the other hand, yesterday, a scholar highly respected by everyone, who is at the absolute apex of academia, stood up at the lectern at the University of Cambridge and declared, “Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus as sharing in the divine identity,” which, as far as I can tell, does nothing less than affirm the deity of Christ. If he had done so at Free Will Baptist Bible College, the crowd would have shouted, “Amen.”

A final comment in this regard, I’m not sure I share Prof. Bauckham’s concern to distinguish the issue of Jesus’ nature as being divine and the issue of Jesus’ divine identity. It seems that the emphasis on Jesus’ divine identity leads nowhere else except to Jesus’ full deity in nature.

Primitive Christian Christology

Don Lewis’ Christian History course has been helpful in my understanding of the Christology of the earliest Christians. Here is his basic interpretive matrix: 1) the earliest Christians were fiercely and uncompromisingly monotheistic; 2) they believed that God intervened in human history; 3) this intervention in human history culminated in the incarnation: God became flesh—and this was human flesh, a human being; 4) the incarnation was that of Jesus Christ; 5) God continues to dwell with his people through the Holy Spirit. Whatever your view of Jesus, it must fit into this five-fold matrix if it is to fit into the theological parameters of the primitive Church.

This interpretive matrix falls short of the exactitudes of Chalcedonian Trinitarianism, but provides the basis for its later development. Thus, Gordon Fee can rightly refer to Paul’s “latent” Trinitarianism. This matrix also marks the parameters for Divine Identity in the Gospels. For example, the fierce monotheism of the earliest Christians bars various theories that Jesus was some sort of subordinate deity. Also, the emphasis on the reality of the incarnation bars theories which would claim that Jesus was less than God or less than man.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bauckham and Hays on Divine Identity: Tyndale House Colloquium

Today, Tyndale House featured a premiere conference on “Divine Identity.” The old template which scholars have laboured under for about a hundred years has been that the New Testament documents began with a low Christology and eventually evolved over the centuries, culminating in the high Christology Trinitarianism of 4th and 5th century Nicaea and Chalcedon. Accordingly, Peter, Paul, and Mary or any other early Christian could never have believed that Jesus was God.

Our speakers today smashed the template. It is a tribute to Tyndale House that two scholars of such sterling and high reputation were brought in for a day long conference on this important topic.

The first speaker was Richard Baukham. Yes, of course he is a great scholar and retired professor at St. Mary’s College at St. Andrews University, Scotland. More significantly is that he produces scholarship and books which shake the academic establishment not merely on account of the radical nature of his claims, but on account of the importance of the subject material. The last book of his which I read was Jesus and the Eyewitnesses which made the revolutionary claim that the Gospels actually are traceable to eyewitness accounts. Yes, I know that this is not revolutionary for conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, but it is altogether revolutionary that a major, highly respected biblical scholar would make such a claim. Prof. Baukham is reputed to be perhaps the leading New Testament scholar in all of Great Britain.

The second speaker was Richard Hays, Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. I first encountered Prof. Hays through one of my own professors, Gordon Fee who himself is one of the few really great Pauline scholars. Prof. Fee urged me to read Prof. Hays work Echoes of Scripture way back in 1992, and Prof. Hays’ scholarly capital has done nothing but grow since then. He is currently working on a mammoth project dealing with the use of the Old Testament in the Gospels. This work was reflected in today’s colloquium as Prof. Hays opened up to us how the Old Testament was employed to reveal Jesus’ divine identity in the gospels. I’m pleased to say that Prof. Hays and I share a study carrel together at Tyndale House while he is on sabbatical, and he has consistently been a very kind and considerate person during these last five or six months. I look forward to reading his work in the coming years.

I suppose we had about 125 people for the colloquium. This is a large number, considering Tyndale House did not advertise the event. We had students and professors from way up north in Scotland as well as south England. I had lunch with Dr. K. Brower of Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, and several of his students (two from Russia, one from Swaziland, and one from England). I also met several students from Oak Hill College, an evangelical pastoral training school here in England.

It was a great day for New Testament scholarship, and Tyndale House Warden Pete Williams should be commended for organising such an outstanding event. I will post a couple of more blogs about the lectures themselves.

Incarnation and Omniscience

In trying to sort out the question of the incarnation and divine omniscience, we're mixing together several ingredients. First, we throw in the biblical texts which say a) Jesus is God; and b) Jesus' knowledge was limited. Then, we mix in the divine attributes, including omniscience. Finally, we mix in our philosophical attempts to understand the ins and outs of the Trinity--and since philosophy is rational and since our reason is often faulty, we should expect some uncertainties in this endeavour.

Some ingredients simply don't mix well, and maybe they shouldn't be thoroughly mixed together. I'm not sure. But the point is that it is going to be hard to make all the data fit with each other.

Bottom line:
1) Jesus is God
2) God knows everything
3) The Bible speaks of Jesus' knowledge being limited
4) Somehow the first three points fit together without contradiction

In all this, we should fully embrace the incarnation. Jesus wasn't born fully aware that Mary must eat protein in order to produce the stuff in her mammary glands which would deliver milk from her breasts into his stomach if he capably sucks her nipples, and that his body would produce waste which would soil the clothing rags which Zach the merchant sold to her ten years ago as a blanket. (Forgive me if this is a bit crude--I hope not.) He didn't lie there in her arms sucking her breast and thinking, "Oooh, the pizza she ate last night is a bit spicy."

But by the time he was 12, he did have a sense of his special and unique relationship with God so that he could refer to him as MYFather."

This understanding of his special relationship with God as his Father was confirmed to him by the voice from heaven at his baptism: "This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased." The divine revelation propelled Jesus into the wilderness to contemplate his mission. Yes, indeed, he was God's Son, but the question remained, what kind of Son would he be?

In the baptismal declaration, the divine voice cited passages from Gen 22 (God telling Abraham to take his son, his only son whom he loved) with a Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah. The implication here is that Jesus as God's Son would be the Suffering Servant who would be offered up as a sacrifice; for (as in Gen 22), God himself would provide the sacrifice. The time in the wilderness was a time of contemplation and meditation on the baptismal declaration, and Satan tempted him along those lines: "If you are the Son of God, then...."

All this suggests that while Jesus understood himself as having a unique relationship with God as his Father, Jesus did not have a clear vision of his ministry until about age 30 when he was baptised. The plea at Gethsemane then was a genuine plea that another way would be made manifest.

More remarkably, Jesus' faith in God was a real faith--not one based on the omniscient knowledge of final outcomes. In his full humanity, he trusted God with his life, holding fast to his belief that God would raise him on the third day. Not being omniscient, Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, beaten, mocked and crucified. Not being omniscient, he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Not being omniscient, he could only put his faith in God, as reflected in his final cry, "Into your hands, I commit my Spirit."

This is our God, the Servant King.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Gender Neutrality and Bible Translation

First, let it be clear that I think it is silly for us to have to change language in order to appease the squeaky wheel.

I think that if someone says, "If any man would follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me," everyone knows that he is talking generically. There is no need to say, "If any person would follow me, let him OR HER take up his OR HER cross and follow me."

However, let me point out that those who claim that gender-neutral translations are inaccurate do so on weak grounds. The complaint is that gender-neutral translations change the wording of the Bible. This simply isn't true.

Here is the crucial question: if the Greek uses a masculine pronoun, does it always mean male only, or can it include both genders? The answer to this is, of course, that it can include both genders.

This being the case, then the question arises, Which pronoun in English is best to use in order to convey the inclusion of both genders?

My answer, as indicated in the first couple of paragraphs above, is that the masculine gender is perfectly capable of conveying the inclusion of both genders. However, if an English translation does indeed use some means of conveying the inclusion of both genders, it does not follow that the genderless translation is inaccurate.

If the genderless translation reads, "If any person would follow me, let him OR HER take up his OR HER cross and follow me," it may be cumbersome and pedantic, but it is nonetheless accurate. The same is true for, "If anyone would follow me, let them take up their cross and follow me."

If we want to criticise NLT, NRSV, TNIV, etc., for something, let us criticise them for being so committed to appealing to the spirit of the day as to produce awkward translations. But we cannot criticise them for producing inaccurate translations.

And let us not forget that even the ESV, which in its sales propaganda criticises these other versions for their gender neutrality, consistently translates the Hebrew phrase for "the sons of Israel" as "the children of Israel"--which boggles my mind given the ESV translation philosophy.

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Difference between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology

Systematic theology is an exposition of truth about God and his purpose and interaction with humanity based both on scripture and what can be known or surmised from general revelation (e.g., psychology, science), as it is probed from a person’s contemporaneous perspective and synthesised into a coherent logical system to address the comprehensive life questions facing the world in which he currently lives.

This definition is rather off the cuff and may have some weaknesses, but two points worth emphasising is that 1) systematic theology employs the logical categories and priorities of the contemporary world, and 2) systematic theology is not solely based on scripture (special revelation), but also on knowledge culled from other sciences (general revelation).

This may be compared with biblical theology. Biblical theology is an exposition of biblical truth according to the Bible’s own terms and categories and urgencies. It is limited in terms of its basis to the biblical text itself apart from the sciences, although the disciplines of archaelogy, history, sociology, etc., may shed light on our understanding of the text.

Biblical theology is descriptive, while systematic theology is prescriptive. Thus, biblical theology tells us what they believed back then, while systematics tells us what we ought to believe. Of course, the biblical writers wrote with a view that their theology was something which should be imported and imposed world-wide for all time and for all people, and thus, the prescriptive nature of the text cannot be gainsaid. Yet, the task of biblical theology as a discipline is to sort out their beliefs back then precisely so that systematic theologians can put it into modern categories and logical systems to prescribe to moderns how they should now live.

On a side note, one should distinguish that systematics is an exposition of what one should believe, while apologetics is a defence of that exposition.

Two further observations are in order. First, a person can take a biblical theology approach to individual books and corpuses of the Bible and produce such a thing as a “biblical theology of the Pastoral Epistles” or a “biblical theology of the Pentateuch.” The same is true of the two testaments. There is such a thing as a “biblical theology of the Old Testament” and a “biblical theology of the New Testament.

Of course a proper biblical theology takes into account the entire canon. One certainly cannot do a biblical theology of the Johannine writings and call it simply a biblical theology. This is especially true of a biblical theology of the New Testament; one can produce a biblical theology of the New Testament, but without the Old Testament, it cannot truly be called a biblical theology.

Secondly, biblical theology can be organised in various schema and still be considered a biblical theology. Biblical theology does not require a sequential or a synchronic presentation in order to qualify as biblical theology. In Gerhard Hasel’s Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate, examples of these various schemas are outlined. He discusses 1) Dentan’s paradoxical attempt to present a biblical theology in traditional dogmatic categories, 2) the Genetic-Progressive presentation, 3) the Cross-Section presentation, 4) the Topical presentation, 5) the Diachronic presentation, 6) the “Formation-of-Tradition” presentation, and others (28-114). My point here is that the no matter how you organise or present the “stuff” of biblical theology it will still be recognisable as a biblical theology, so long as it is descriptive of the biblical text and retains its same categories and priorities.

In passing, one should note that the older systematic theologies cannot be relied upon for accurately distinguishing between systematics and biblical theology for the simple reason that biblical theology is a relatively young discipline, with relatively few biblical theology works being published prior to the 20th century, and only blossoming into full flower in the last half of the 20th century.

This concludes my discussion of the differences of biblical theology and systematics. Here are some supporting citations and thoughts from important works (all EMPHASES belong to me):

Waltke (An Old Testament Theology): Dogmatic (systematic) theologians serve the church best when they rely on orthodox biblical theology for explications of Scripture from which they frame abstract universal propositions in accordance with a coherent system APPROPRIATE TO THE CHURCH’S CONTEMPORARY SITUATION (31).

Waltke: [Famed systematician Charles] Hodge failed to realize adequately that the biblical writers had their own priority of ideas and coherency of thought and that the biblical theologian aims to honor that priority and arrangement by tracing the trajectory of the themes that are found in and run through the books (51).

Waltke: Systematic (dogmatic) theologians present the Christian message to the CONTEMPORARY WORLD. They draw the impetus for organizing this message from outside the Old Testament. John Calvin…organized his material according to the four divisions of the Apostle’s Creed. Philip Melanchthon organized his theology according to one book of the Bible, Romans. Since the seventeenth century, theologians typically employed philosophical categories derived from Greek thought, such as Bibliology, (the study of the Bible), hamartiology (the study of sin), penumatology (the study of the Spirit), and so on (64).

Waltke: Biblical theologians differ from dogmaticians in three ways. First, biblical theologians primarily think as exegetes, not as logicians. Second, they derive their organizational principle from the biblical blocks of writings themselves rather than from factors external to the text. Third, their thinking is diachronic—that is, they track the development of theological themes in various blocks of writings. Systematic theologians think more synchronically—that is, they invest their energies on the church’s doctrines, not on the development of religious ideas within the Bible (64).

I. Howard Marshall (New Testament Theology): “[Systematic theology] is intended to DESCRIBE a theology that is not so much a description of what Christians believe as rather what they OUGHT to believe” (43).

Gerhard Hasel (Old Testament Theology): In detailing the birth of the discipline of biblical theology Hasel writes, “…Johann Philipp Gabler…made a most decisive and far-reaching contribution to [biblical theology]…. Gabler’s famous definition reads: ‘Biblical theology possesses a historical character, transmitting what the sacred writers thought about divine maters; dogmatic theology, on the contrary possesses a didactic character, teaching what a particular theologian philosophizes about divine matters in accordance to his ability, time, age, place, sect or school, and other similar things” (17).

Hasel: “Biblical theology is not aiming to take the place of or be in competition with systematic theology as the latter expresses itself in the form of system building based on its own categories either with or without the aid of philosophy” (33).

Millard Erickson (Christian Theology): “So we propose a more complete definition of theology: that discipline which strives to give a coherent statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith, based primarily upon the Scriptures, placed in the context of CULTURE IN GENERAL, worded in a CONTEMPORARY IDIOM, and related to ISSUES OF LIFE… (21).

Erickson: “Theology must also be CONTEMPORARY . While it treats timeless issues, it must use language, concepts, and though forms that make some sense in the context of the present time…. It is not merely a matter of using today’s thought forms to express the message. The Christian message should address the questions and the challenges encountered TODAY” (24).

Erickson: In distinguishing two competing approaches to biblical theology with systematic theology, Erickson writes, “We might today call this the distinction between descriptive biblical theology and normative biblical theology. Note, however, that neither of these approaches is dogmatics or systematic theology, SINCE NO ATTEMPT IS MADE TO CONTEMPORIZE OR TO STATE THESE UNCHANGING CONCEPTS IN A FORM SUITABLE FOR OUR DAY’S UNDERSTANDING” (24-25).

D.A. Carson (“The Role of Exegesis in Systematic Theology” in Doing Theology in Today’s World, Woodbridge and McComiskey, eds.): Biblical theology is bounded in two ways. “First, its subject matter is exclusively biblical…. Second, it organizes its subject matter in ways that preserve corpus distinctions. It is less interested in what the New Testament or the Bible says about, say, the sovereignty of God, than it is in what Paul (or Isaiah, or John) says about this subject…. This means, in turn, that biblical theology is organized chronologically, or better, salvation-historically…--both within any one corpus…and from corpus to corpus (45).

Carson: “Systematic theology, then is Christian theology whose internal structure is systematic; i.e., it is organized on atemporal principles of logic, order, and need, rather than on inductive study of discrete biblical corpora (45).

Since Carson is not so interested in contrasting systematics with biblical theology, some of his statements about systematics which actually do contrast with systematics need to be elucidated. For example, when he emphasises that systematics poses atemporal questions (45-46), this implies that biblical theology addresses the priorities of ancient Israelites and early Christians which may not necessarily coincide with those urgencies facing humanity in other cultures or time spans.

Carson rightly discerns that biblical theology is imminently concerned with the theology of a given corpus (the doctrine of land in Joshua, resurrection in the Johannine literature, the kingdom of God in Matthew, etc.). He also rightly discerns that there is such a thing as unity and diversity between the corpora, and that one corpus might take a different perspective on any subject matter, and that good biblical theology must ultimately integrate these different perspectives into a unified theology. It is important to note, however, that the synthesis of a given theological issue in the various corpora is neither the product nor the task of systematic theology. Such a synthesis is still entirely the domain of biblical theology. Now, if the results of such a synthesis were to be applied to the contemporary and eternal questions which dog humanity, and re-cast in logical hierarchies and categories, as well as integrated with whatever other knowledge can be culled from the realm of general revelation, then the final result would be systematic theology.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Doing Coptic Papyrology in Leipzig

I attended the Second International Coptic Papyrology Summer School in Leipzig, Germany last month. It was a first class experience. We had an 18:6 student to teacher ratio, with 26 lectures, a tour of the Egyptian museum, a papyrus-making practicum, and about 28 hours of hands-on manuscript analysis. Students were given their own Coptic manuscript (dating back to 5th to 8th centuries), and were given responsibility for transcribing, translating, analyzing and presenting them to the Summer School, with guidance from the teaching staff. Additionally, students and teachers alike generally ate all their meals together, affording the opportunity for excellent informal discussion. The setting at the University of Leipzig also was first rate.

Well known Coptologists on the teaching staff included Anne Boud’hors, Stephen Emmel, Sebastian Richter, guest speaker Uwe-Karsten Plisch, and others. Georg Schmelz (Mannheim/Heidelberg) in particular spent hours with me working on my transcription. Students attended from Spain, Sweden, United States, United Kingdom, France, Austria, Germany, Finland, and Canada.

I was given a papyrus manuscript about the size of a regular sheet of paper (27 cm x 17 cm) with seventeen lines of text written lengthwise. The text itself measures 23 cm x 14.5 cm. Perhaps as much as 20-30% of the text has been lost, mostly broken off on the right (especially in four finger-like lacunae), but also due to ink fading and holes elsewhere. The manuscript varies unevenly from a light to medium brown colour, with dark brown ink.

The manuscript is a letter, written from someone named Stephanos John the Less (or perhaps, the Lowly) to a superior named Papa Damine; their names are written on the verso (back side). Given the extensive reference to prayers and to God, a reference to the Church and to a deacon, as well as the reverential tones of address, the letter seems to have been written in a religious setting, perhaps having something to do with a monastery. The main topic of concern, judging from the surviving text, is that certain books had arrived in good order. The Coptic word for book occurs six times. Its provenance is unknown.

This letter had not been analysed previously by any modern scholar. In recent years, it was encased in glass, but had not been catalogued in the old inventory at Leipzig. Indeed, since this was a letter sent from one individual to another, one might assume that I was one of the very few people to have ever read it, now or then. While somewhere deep in my subconscious mind I may have held out hopes that the letter contained clues about the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant, or about some important bit of missing history, letters of this kind usually are not important by themselves. Instead, they are most useful when they are fitted together with scores and hundreds of other letters to give us a picture of life in antiquity.

The text was written in a “regular hand;” the scribe lacked the sort of skill typically requisite for fine literary works. The letters are rather awkward, tight, and thin, without artistic variation in thickness. They typically have a pronounced slant, especially with the letters tau and iota, and were written in unligatured block letters. Sometimes the letters are so tight that they were probably difficult to read even when the ink was fresh. At places, one may easily discern where the scribe had to re-ink his writing tool. Further analysis is necessary to discern if the formation of the letters might suggest a date or provenance.

The text is written in fairly “normal” Sahidic, with few dialectical indications. For example, there is but one occurrence of the beta personal suffix instead of fai. At some points, there is deviation from literary Sahidic, such as the unexpected use of the definite article with holokotte, as if the gold coins were some specific, known coins, as well as the unexpected absence of one or two object markers. There occurs also an otherwise unattested variation of the name Enoch. There appears to be three instances of apparent spelling errors. In the six occurrences of ϫwwme(book), it inexplicably occurs once as ϫwwmi. In addition to nomina sacra, there is one titular abbreviation.

The text seems to follow standard letter writing conventions of the day. A good half of the letter appears formulaic. The actual issue which is addressed is found in the middle nine lines, while the introductory and concluding lines consists of standard greeting and closing formulae.

One of the unresolved difficulties of this letter is the shift of narrative voice. It begins in the first person plural. Then at some point, it shifts to first person singular. Later, it makes a reference to a certain Stephen. This last fact is especially odd since the author’s name is said to be Stephen. Indeed, although the text is lacunose, the closest context is a warning not to look (or consider?) something…of Stephen.

Here is a preliminary translation:

With God, before all things, we greet and bow a multitude of times
before the footstool of the feet of your piety of honoured father
…from least to greatest
…greatly your prayers…
through your fatherhood in… …these two books…
(to receive?) the money in books to us. As for the rest, I sent (and) they…
…to us on the fourth. And they brought them in good shape. Behold God!
your prayers brought the remaining books to us. And…
…the matter which satisfies the will of God. Do not look…
…a book of Stephan to us a little of Marine. You…
…go up to them… …well that…
book and your… God … of the books…
we work well. And as the prayer be upon us, then we are (habitually) doing it for your pi-
ety. And the prayer [be] on us and your holy prayers [be] upon the
church. …bow to your piety…
the Deacon greets you nicely. And Enoch salutes you. Salvation
be to you. Until next time. Be well.

With God of Jesus, Papa Damine. Stephanus the Less.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Developments in Textual Criticism and the Münster Colloquium

25 years ago, people were writing articles about the death of textual criticism, as if everything that could be said about the field had already been said.

Now, we are experiencing some important developments in various aspects of the field. Specifically, we are facing a major attack on the reliability of the transmission of the text, as well as a new method behind the publication of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament text.

Last week, the Institute for New Testament Text Formation Research (INTF) held a major colloquium in which about 55 of the very best text critics were present. If you care to know, I'm talking about people such as Eldon Epp, Larry Hurtado, Barbara Aland and all the Münster people, David Parker and the Birmingham [England] people, the Tyndale House people, Dan Wallace, Bill Warren, Tjitze Baarda and the Amsterdam people, Joel DeLobel, Paul Foster, David Trobisch, Maurice Robinson, Michael Holmes.) No, Bart didn't come.

I was the junior-most member present. I was entirely star-struck, but all the legends of the field were so gracious and warm and welcoming. We all stayed at a hotel which had a couple of lounges which were conducive to sitting down and chatting over coffee, even to the late hours of the evening. We had our meals together too. These personable conversations were so good that the conference was worth attending even if you didn't attend any of the sessions.

Early on, it became obvious that a good number of people think that the transmission of the text from about 80 C.E. to 170 C.E. was so wild and erratic that we will never be able to backtrack from our oldest manuscripts (late second to early third century) to the "original" text.

My PhD project focuses on this particular issue as it is reflected in one particular "wild" manuscript which is one of the oldest manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel.

The other major issue is the new method for assessing textual variation being used by the INTF which produces the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament text. This is THE critical text which serves (more or less) as the basis for all our recent translations of the New Testament, as well as most commentaries.

INTF has developed a computer program which charts the relatedness of a given textual variant to other variants in the same variant unit. They call it the Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), although some people are simply calling it the Münster method. The method is probably too complex for me to understand, let alone explain. In fact, one of the concerns is that so few outsiders understand it well enough to be able to critique it. Nonetheless, the Nestle-Aland 28th ed will be corrected against it in the Catholic Epistles (i.e., James-3 John) when it comes out in 2010.

An interesting result of the Münster method is that it is finding more and more individual Byzantine readings to be more plausible. This accords well with the general flow of textual criticism over the last 20 or 30 years. I should hasten to say that this does nothing to help out the theory of the priority of the Byzantine text, but simply reinforces the notion that one cannot dismiss a reading simply because it is Byzantine.

One would have thought that Maurice Robinson--one of the world's only Byzantine priortists--would have been pleased to hear that the Münster method was pushing for more Byzantine readings. I talked to him about the issue on several times. Prof. Robinson has to be one of the very nicest, most engaging, and most interesting personas in all of textual criticism.

If I understood him correctly, Prof. Robinson says that he has read every article written by Gerd Mink (the brains behind the Münster Method) whether in German or in English. While many were hesitant to accept the method on the basis that they really didn’t understand it, Prof. Robinson was stating that he opposed the method precisely because he did understand it. He claimed that if he were to feed his presuppositions into the computer’s programming, the Münster method would spit out a Byzantine Priority schema.

To be sure, Prof. Robinson often has a way of seeing the otherwise overlooked elephant in the room. However, condemnation from one corner of the room probably is not enough to dismiss the Münster method. It will be interesting to see how people like Dan Wallace (Dallas Seminary), Bill Warren (New Orleans Baptist Seminary), the Tyndale House people, and Epp and Holmes react to it in the coming years. David Parker and Birmingham seem to be solidly behind the method.

One wonders if all this will lead to a competing edition of the Greek New Testament.

For a more robust review and discussion of the colloquium, go here and to the blog posts prior to it:

Goethe-Institut and Learning Theological German

A good reading knowledge of German is important for doing PhD research in the humanities. In addition, a scholar should be adept enough in German to listen to an academic lecture in German. How does one acquire these skills?

The Goethe-Institut is well known and respected for teaching German. The Institute has an extensive program from the beginning steps in German to advanced German. Unfortunately, although there are many strong points about the Goethe method itself, the program is not suitable for academics.

I attended the Institute located in Hamburg. The facilities are truly first rate and conveniently located across from the central train station. The personnel are friendly and dedicated. Perhaps one of the strengths of Goethe is that as soon as you walk into the facilities, there is such a concerted emphasis on German-only that you almost feel guilty for speaking English.

My A4 Intensiv course (four weeks) consisted of an initial introductory day of placement testing on the first Monday, followed by daily (Mon-Fri) instruction over a period of three weeks, until the fourth week. On the fourth week, classroom instruction concluded on Tuesday which comprised a review for those taking the course exam. These details are important to note, for all the course details on the website and correspondence otherwise suggest that the last day of instruction is on the final Thursday of the fourth week. For my part, I did not find out otherwise until the final Tuesday afternoon, an hour prior to conclusion. This had major implications for my travel itinerary. Moreover, instead of getting a good four weeks of instruction, in effect, the A4 Intensive provides only 15 days of classroom instruction, or 16 days if you count the review for the exam.

Classroom instruction was from 9:00 to 1:30. This included a 30 minute lunch break and an additional 15 minute short break.

Classroom instruction was very effective. In my program, we had a 1:6 teacher-student ratio. This was supplemented usually by the presence of a Goethe-Institut teacher-in-training assistant so that we actually had a 1:3 teacher-student ratio for most of the time.

Teaching was generally very lively and engaging. The course was taught 95% in German, even from day one. Not only was this method desirable, but it was nearly necessary since we had two Russians, an Iranian, and a Mexican in my class. There were times, however, that an explanation for a German word would go on and on and on, when a simple English translation would have been more time-efficient. The classroom instruction was effective in helping us students become accustomed to speaking conversational German.

My class had the misfortune of having our initial teacher go on holiday. Then, our assigned substitute missed several days due to illness. We ended up having four different teachers. One got the impression that some exam material was overlooked in the process.

My major disappointment in the classroom instruction was that grammar was taught assuming that students had no background in it. Consequently, the instructor spent a huge amount of time explaining the concept of the accusative case, for example. After several hours, I began to wonder how long it would take to teach the dative case…. On the other hand, some of the other students seemed to never fully grasp the concept and were left with their heads spinning.

On a related matter, the scholar seeking a German Sprachkurs should be aware that Goethe-Institut aims its instruction at a 20-something audience wanting to learn to say things like, “I meet you at the disco at 10 pm” and “I like to go on cruises.” We had one lesson on German beer lexicon.

Another misfortune was that, in my case, I had previously actually finished an entire course book on reading German, and had translated some very difficult academic German. However, because I could not say things like, “I would like a hamburger and coke,” I was assigned to the very beginning German course. To be sure, I needed to take beginning German precisely because I couldn’t say such things. However, I desperately needed to improve my ability to read German, but Goethe-Institut did nothing to help me in this matter.

When I approached the personnel at Goethe-Institut about this problem, I suggested that a reading group would be very helpful. This seemed to the Institute director to be a sensible solution. However, despite her enthusiasm and expressed intention, such a reading group never materialised.

Seeing that my reading skills were going undeveloped, I ended up hiring a private tutor. This was a very beneficial move, especially since my tutor was so good. I paid him 15 euro/hr, and met with him an hour a day. When classroom instruction ended so abruptly for me, I was able to meet with him three to four hours a day over my last four days in Hamburg.

Goethe-Institut is very expensive. For many people, the expenditure may prove entirely beneficial. You get a great teacher-student ratio; you get first rate teachers with a first rate teaching method; you get first rate facilities. However, perhaps a better approach for some people would be to attend a less expensive program and apply the savings to hire a private teacher.

Another indicator that Goethe-Institut is designed for non-academics is its textbook. I can’t recall the title of it, and I can’t look at it to see because I simply threw it away when I was done. It is full of pretty pictures and seems more designed to impress the reader with the notion that learning German is fun rather than being a bona fide grammar. Using the book as a supplemental workbook might be a good idea, but the German student needs a grammar with which he may become intimately familiar so that he can quickly consult it again and again for future reference.

Goethe-Institut has a cultural program to supplement its classroom instruction. The Institute makes this a prominent feature in its promotional literature and website. In my case, it consisted of various cultural experiences in the afternoons daily (perhaps an evening or two as well). I participated in two events: a city tour and a visit to a coffee shop to experience authentic German coffee along the riverfront. I found both experiences of minimal benefit. The city tour in the open-top bus was conducted entirely in a German which was spoken so quickly as to be entirely incomprehensible to most of the students. Consequently, each of us simply conversed to his own friends in his own native language. The authentic German coffee experience was similar, except that we ended up sitting at Starbucks since the other café was too crowded. Both events consumed the entire afternoon. Ultimately, I decided I could more profitably spend my time studying. This was altogether unfortunate, because I think the cultural program could be of great help if only there were some very simple German lessons built into the events.

If my sole purpose in attending Goethe-Institut had been to work on speaking and hearing German, then I must confess that it helped me enormously. If the course had assumed that the students had a basic understanding of language systems, then we could have approached grammar more aggressively, and I would have had even more practice at dealing with more complex sentences. However, one of my major goals was to work on my reading skills, but I regretfully say that Goethe-Institut was of no help to me at all in this regard. For this reason, I would recommend that the academic who needs to develop his German should try something else.

One possibility would actually involve Goethe-Institut. The Institute does offers special classes for businesses. If there were perhaps five or six academics willing to take a course together, I suspect that Goethe-Institut would be flexible enough to offer a course for academics. If so, I think that this would be extremely beneficial, and that Goethe-Institut would be perhaps the best place to do it.

Here's my shorter review in German:

Ich hatte leider nur 16 Tage Unterrichts bzw. 3-3/4 Stunden jeden Tag. In meiner Klasse waren wir sechs Schüler. Weil wir einen Praktikanten gehabt haben, war das Verhältnis von Lehrern zu Schülern 2:6.

Die Einrichtungen waren prima und modern, die Angestellten waren freundlich und professionell. Nach dem Unterricht bot das G.-I. jeden Tag ein Kulturprogramm an. Die Veranstaltungen, denen Struktur fehlte und die auf junge Leute abzielten, halfen leider nicht, Deutsch zu sprechen.

In mancher Beziehung war der Unterricht nützlich. Wir übten vor allem, miteinander zu sprechen. Das war mir hilfreich, weil ich bisher nur Lesen gelernt hatte. Da ich nur wenig Deutsch spreche, platzierte das G.-I. mich in Start Deutsch A-1.

Es hat weitere Enttäuschungen gegeben. Weil der Unterricht nicht auf Akademiker und Gelehrte ausgerichtet war, war die Grammatik sehr langsam und langweilig und oberflächlich. Der Unterricht hat meine Lesefähigkeit gar nicht verbessert. Weil das Lehrbuch viele schöne Bilder aber nicht viele Grammatikdiagramme oder Grammatikdaten hat, ist es nicht so gut. Ich werde nicht weiter mit diesem Buch arbeiten können.

Ich bat darum, dass das G.I. eine Lesegruppe als einen Teil des Lehrplans anböte. Das ist aber, trotz anfänglichen Wohlwollens, leider nicht geschehen.

Deshalb engagierte ich einen Privatlehrer. Wir trafen uns miteinander für jeweils eine Stunde an sechs Tagen, dann für je 3-4 Stunden an meinen letzten vier Tagen. Wir konzentrierten uns erst auf das Lesen, dann auf die Satzstruktur, danach auf das Verfassen von Texten und schließlich auf das Reden. Außerdem verbrachte ich viele viele Stunden mit Deutschlesen und -hören.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Papyri and the KJV-Only/TR and Byzantine Text Type

In their overturning of the Textus Receptus, Westcott and Hort had no access to early papyri discovered these last 100 years or so. If they had, then they would have said, "And what's more, the Byzantine Text Type is not represented in the papyri."

The discovery of the papyri also had a counterbalancing effect, though. Westcott and Hort thought that Codex Vaticanus represented the pure form of the Greek New Testament. To be sure, Codex Vaticanus almost certainly represents the purest manuscript available to us, but it is only "relatively pure."

Some people on the Byzantine Priority side of the debate have gotten hold of some of this latter argument, and have claimed that certain readings which conform to the Byzantine Text Type give evidence that the Byzantine Text Type was early. This is a misrepresentation of the evidence. Yes, some individual Byzantine readings are early, but a Byzantine text type or text cluster is not represented in the papyri.

Eldon J. Epp divvies up the papyri according to four groups: A (Byzantine, with Codex Alexandrinus its early representative); B (Alexandrian, with Vaticanus its leading representative); C (P45, W, and other mixed manuscripts somewhat mixed between the Alexandrian and Western text types, formerly conceived of as the Caesarean text type); D (Western Text, with Codex Bezae its leading representative.

The following chart, which shows which papyri belong to which group) reveals how wrong the Byzantine prioritists misuse the data:

A (Byzantine): none prior to the sixth century

B (Alexandrian): 37 prior to sixth century

C (Western-Alexandrian mixed): 5 candidates prior to sixth century

D (Western): 11 prior to sixth century

["The Significance of the Papyri for Determining the Nature of the New Testament Text in the Second Century" in Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism by Epp and Gordon D. Fee; the article was written in 1988, and more early papyri have since been found, none of which can be classified as Byzantine.]

The point is that the Byzantine Text Type is not represented in the now over 125 papyri presently extant.

One thing is absolutely certain: the papyri do nothing to help the Byzantine Text Type advocates and the KJV-only/TR advocates. They only disallow the rejection of individual Byzantine readings solely because they're Byzantine.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

What Is the Majority Text Type

What is the Majority Text Type?

The question is misleading and needs qualified.

Is it the text reflected in the majority of Coptic manuscripts of the Bible?

Is it the text reflected in the majority of Greek manuscripts dated to the first four hundred years? Or to the first eight hundred years? Or altogether?

Is it the text reflected in the Latin manuscripts New Testament which was favoured by the western Europeans used at the time of Erasmus?

Majority Text advocates and some people aligned with them think that we should use the text type represented in the majority of Greek manuscripts. What they don't want you to know, however, is that their favorite text type does not become the majority until the eighth or ninth century.

Out of the 125 papyri manuscripts (generally dated prior to 4th century), that text which gradually evolved into the Majority Text Type of the late middle ages cannot be found—not even a single representative. The late middle ages Majority Text Type does not seem to have existed until the late fourth century. The earliest manuscript evidence for the late middle ages Majority Text Type are A and C which date to the fifth century, and even these are only 80% toward the evolved state of the late middle ages Majority Text Type.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Deacon Phoebe--Paul's Man for a Tough Job

Important Background Information on Romans

I think it is clear that Phoebe was a high ranking representative of the church of Cenchrae who was sent by Paul as his representative to deliver the highly sensitive document known as the Epistle to the Romans to the many disparate churches in Rome. He cites her rank and title by way of introduction to the churches. If he were guilty of exaggerating her position, it could end up being a big mistake.

Think about how significant this woman Phoebe was. Paul entrusted her with the task of delivering his epistle into the midst of a very explosive situation.

After Claudius kicked out the Jews, the Christian churches lost their entire church leadership, leaving Gentiles to arise to the occasion of taking over leadership of their churches. Thus, overnight, the churches in Rome flipped from being predominantly led by Jews, over to not having any leadership, and then over again to be being led by those less familiar with the Old Testament.

All this was enough turmoil in and of itself. But when Claudius' ban was lifted a few years later, many if not most of those Jewish Christian leaders returned to Rome, expecting to be reintegrated back into church leadership.

Imagine, as pastor of your church, the previous pastor showed up expecting to resume his ministry!

Meanwhile, while the Jews were away, the Gentiles gave up living like Jews, and they ate all meats. Which was fine, until the Jewish Christians showed up again. Thus, you have chapters 13-15 of Romans.

So, Paul wanted to say a positive word to help the Jewish and Gentile Christians to get along with each other, to be altogether united. But his big goal was to solicit sponsorship for his Spanish mission and to see if any of the Christians in Rome had ties to the Roman administration in Spain (or at least, this latter point has been deduced by Robert Jewett in his massive Hermenia commentary on Romans).

At any rate, the whole situation was extremely sensitive. And so Paul sent his best man to handle the job, which, in this case was a woman. She was no ordinary lowly servant-girl of the Lord. Jewett brings us up to date on where scholarship is today in regard to Phoebe the deacon:

Although earlier commentaries interpret the term διάκονος as a subordinate role,
it now appears more likely that she functioned as the leader of the
congregation. That διάκονος was an official title of leadership has been shown
by Borckhaus and Holmberg, and is strongly indicated by earler references in Rom
11:13; 12:7; and 13:4. In the light of its use in 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4;
11:15 and 23 to refer to missionaries, including Paul himself, it is no longer
plausible to limit her role to philanthropic [i.e., womanly] activities.
Fiorenza contendst that... '[she] is a missionary entrust with preaching and
tending churches...It can be concluded, therefore that Phoebe is recommended as
an official teacher and missionary in the church of Kenchreia.' However, in the
light of the possessive qualification, 'deacon of the church in Kenchriea,' it
seems more likely that she functioned as a local leader rather than as a
traveling missionary."

As it turns out, the big reason why earlier commentators thought that the term διάκονος meant a lowly servant here and not a church leadership position in 16:1 was simply because Phoebe was a woman! An honest look at comparable usage pushes the conclusion that Phoebe was indeed Deacon of Cenchrae, and that Paul entrusted her with this significant responsibility of organizing a support network for his Spanish mission.Why would Paul entrust such a big job to a woman? Perhaps because so many of the church groups in Rom 16 were headed up by women.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Scholarship, Byzantine Text Type, Majority Text, and the Textus Receptus

Text Scholars who advocate the Byzantine Text Type, the Majority Text, and the Textus Receptus are so few that they could all sit in my living room, more or less comfortably.

Foremost on this list is Maurice Robinson who, with William Pierpont, published The New Testament in the Original Greek. This Greek New Testament represents what Robinson believes is the purest form of the Byzantine Text Type, and therefore, what he thinks is closest to the original Greek. There is much to be admired about this work, if one assumes that the Byzantine Text Type reflects the original texts of the New Testament writers.  Robinson, however, despite his considerable efforts, has not been persuasive. Robinson teaches at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and is a member of the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, and is a most gracious member of the (informal) textual criticism guild.

Hodges and Farstad produced their text essentially by a majority vote, without asking which reading might be older. The title, The New Testament according to the Majority Text conveys that whichever reading is attested by a majority of manuscripts is most likely to be original.

The standard critical edition of the Greek New Testament is the Nestle-Aland/UBS text, or the lately produced SBLGNT (Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament). A third option is due out in 2018 from Tyndale House, the evangelical think tank/foundation in Cambridge England. These three will be relatively close to one another. If you don't like one of these, your only other options are the Hodges/Farstand or Robinson/Pierpont editions, unless you resort to out of print editions (which are out of print for good reasons).

If you decide to use one of these alternative editions, you should be aware that few Christian colleges and seminaries use them. You should also be aware that none of them have been used as the basis for a standard Bible translation in any language; certainly this is true for publishers of English versions. And you should also be aware that no Bible commentary series in any language is based on them.

We all should be circumspect about whom we trust to tell us which reading is God's word and which isn't. Indeed, the paramount importance of the text of the Bible is so great as to justify the learning of Greek and the science of textual criticism. Otherwise, we are absolutely dependent upon other people who have.

In the case of Hodges and Farstad, and in the case of Robinson and Pierpont, they are all godly men (Pierpont died a few years ago). On the other side, however, is a full, overwhelming array of evangelical scholars (and others, too) who are the giants in the field of New Testament. These scholars have judged these two critical editions as having failed in their effort to establish a viable edition that contains a more ancient textual tradition.

This reality in itself does not refute Byzantine priority or the Majority Text Type. However, for those who don't have the time or means to weigh the arguments carefully, this reality should make them more circumspect.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Why a Wedding Ceremony?

What is the wedding ceremony?

It is when a couple swear on solemn oath before God and many witnesses that they bind themselves in holy matrimony til death part them.

Ceremonies develop for a reason. You just don't throw it out for the sake of throwing it out.
In the old days, the solemnizing of oaths before God and many witnesses was designed to protect the family, especially in regard to the woman and any product of the civil union (i.e., God's blessing of children) who might otherwise fall into crippling deprivation should the man run off. The man swears that whatever is his is hers, and vice versa, and to be responsible for the welfare of their children.

This solemnizing of oaths was done publicly. It was a matter of public record, so that if someone broke their vows, the greatest shame and reproach was brought down upon the guilty party by the entire community.

We should retain these good things as much as possible. Thus, if you are one of the groomsmen in a wedding, and the man subsequently abandons his family, you should be personally insulted and grieved and should hold the groom accountable, and give every measure of aid and comfort to the bereaved wife and children.

Marriage counseling should include a full explanation of ceremony. Pastors should tell the couple that they are swearing on oath before God and many witnesses, and that they are putting their highest honor on the line in making such vows. If they break such a solemn vow, then their word in regard to anything else is meaningless.

Tough stuff. Right stuff.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Isaiah 53 and Penal Satisfaction View of the Atonement

The Penal Satisfaction View of the Atonement, briefly, is the understanding that the purpose of Jesus' death was to satisfy the wrath of God against sin. God is absolutely holy, and his holy nature requires the sin be punished. Because God is just, he must punish sin. Thus, because God loved the world so much, he sent his Son Jesus to die and bear the punishment as a substitute for our sins. God poured out his wrath upon Jesus (instead of us) when Jesus died on the cross, so that whoever might believe on him would be united with him in his death so that the believer's sin debt would be paid.

This position is not universally accepted. Some Wesleyan theologians and Eastern Orthodox strongly oppose this. Isa 53, however, is very clear on this subject.

Here are the points one must touch when looking at Isa 53.
  1. the Servant was wounded for our transgressions
  2. the Servant was inflicted with the stripes of whips for our healing
  3. the Servant had the iniquities of us all laid upon him
  4. the Servant was but put to death for the transgression of the people "to whom the stroke was due,"
  5. Yahweh was pleased to bruise the Servant
  6. Yahweh put the Servant to grief
  7. the Servant's soul was offered as a sin offering
  8. Yahweh will see the travail of the Servant's soul and be satisfied
  9. the Servant will bear their iniquities
  10. the Servant bore the sins of many

In sum, God wounded, bruised, whipped, grieved, and put Jesus to death as a sin offering for our transgressions, and thereby was "satisfied." If this isn't penal satisfaction, then I don't know how else the prophet or the Apostles could make it clearer.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Pastor's Page: Down to the Water to Pray

This is a short devotional formatted to fit a church bulletin page (in a large print font) which churches may freely reproduce, if the blog address is cited.

What is baptism? Is it something which must be done to infants to keep them from hell in case they die? Is it something you do for salvation? Is it like a kindergarten graduation ceremony or a birthday party to make someone feel special? Baptism is too often misunderstood and underappreciated by the Church, even by us Baptists who carry its namesake.

The first urgency, the first order of business for a new follower of Jesus, is to obey his command to be baptized. Baptism is not optional. Nor is it to be deferred for the sake of one's personal feelings or preferences. If one fails to be obedient to this first command, what is the point of following Jesus at all?

Yet, baptism is not something which saves. Rather, it is for the person who is already saved. It is for those who have already decided to follow Jesus.

Indeed, baptism is a person's declaration to the world: "I am a Christian. I follow Jesus. I pledge my life and devotion to him." As such, baptism is not a private event. It is a public event, to be undertaken before many witnesses.

Moreover, baptism is a multifaceted symbol: 1) the washing away of sins through faith in Christ; 2) the dying and burial of the old life, and the begin-ning of the new life; 3) the placement of a person into the family of God, the Church.

If you are already a believer but have not received believer's baptism, why don't you join us down at the water to pray?

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Feet Washing? Yes! An Act of Worship!

Last week, I happened across a great deal on a volume in a very scholarly series (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplements) on feetwashing in John 13 by John Christopher Thomas. I bought the book and found out that Thomas studied at Princeton under Bruce Metzger and that this study came to completion at the University of Sheffield under A.T. Lincoln. I also discovered that Thomas is a professor at Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland Tennessee, a school with which I would have some affinity in terms of our mutual Arminianism (though I might not quite fit in on other issues).

As it turns out, Chris Thomas has just arrived here at Tyndale House for some intensive reseach at our wonderful biblical studies library. We had an enlightening discussion yesterday.

The book is entitled Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community. Skimming through it, the point was emphasized that feetwashing was not just a one time event which happened during Holy Week. We must assume that John included this story in his gospel to argue that feetwashing was to be normative within the church life. We might also assume that the Johannine churches (if we are permitted to use such terminology!) practiced feetwashing as an act of worship, closely connected with confession of sin.

Chris made the point in our discussion (perhaps also in his book) that nowhere else in all of antiquity is there any example of a social superior stooping to wash a socially subordinant or inferior person's feet. This makes Jesus' use of the towel and basin a shocking feat (sorry about that).

This has two implications. First, the historicity of this event cannot be doubted, for in accordance to the standard liberal scholarly criterion of dissimilarity (, a gospel writer nor the Church would have ever invented such a strikingly unusual event (Chris attributed this argument to another scholar whose name escapes me). Secondly, feetwashing in the Johannine Community was practiced in such a way as to supercede any mundane cultural practice; it was done as an act of worship.

This last implication then has a consequent implication. If the early Church practiced feet washing as an act of worship intricately connected with confession of sin, and in such a way as to transcend their culture rather than of practical necessity, doesn't this oblige the modern Church to do the same?

It seems that most Christians--even those who are very deeply submitted to the Bible--look at me with the strangest of expressions when I tell them that I practice feetwashing, as if the concept were akin to snake-handling! One gets the impression that Christians automatically dismiss feetwashing without giving it the first serious consideration. This reaction is all the more striking seeing how emphatic John's portrayal is of Jesus' insistence that the disciples wash one another's feet, and how John obliged his churces to do the same fifty years or so later

I should note that my friend J. Matthew Pinson (President, Free Will Baptist Bible College) who is well qualified by any standard to say so, has told me that Baptists in North America typically practiced feetwashing until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One must surmise that the demise of the practice is hardly due to biblical considerations. While the practice may not be esteemed in Western Christianity, I suspect that the more newly established churches in the developing world may in fact practice it more regularly.

In addition to the scholarly exegesis found in Chris Thomas' book, Pinson's work, The Washing of the Saints Feet (156 pages) is a good start toward a biblical reintroduction of feetwashing as an act of worship into our modern churches:

Pastor's Page: Pilgrim Warlfare

This is a short devotional formatted to fit a church bulletin page (in a large print font) which churches may freely reproduce, if the blog address is cited.

Stories are told of the Italian armies in WWII occupying some of the remote Greek islands (cf. Corelli's Mandolin). Political life in Italy was quite unsettled, and events turned so that some army units became isolated and abandoned for much of the war. Cut off from their top commanders, these Italians, who never were enthusiastic about Mussolini or Hitler, settled into daily village life and quickly forgot their status as soldiers of the Italian army. When British and American naval units arrived, the Italians didn't know whose side they were supposed to be on!

The Italians' assimilation into Greek life may have worked well for the Allies, but the same can not be said about Christians living in this old world.

St. Peter is fond of reminding us that we our pilgrims. Although we are God's "elect" people, he says that for now we are "strangers in the world" (1:1). In preaching this theme, Peter borrows exodus term-inology, telling us to "gird up the loins of our minds," as we prepare to move out of Egypt (1:13). He urges us to live our lives as strangers, not contenting our-selves with this world's trappings, since we have been rescued out of its darkness (1:17; 2:10). In 2:11, Peter appeals to us as pilgrims and strangers as the basis to abstain from this world's sinful desires.

Such desires "war against [your] soul," Peter says. In this war, we better know which side we're on!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Refreshing Communion

Communion is the Church's most solemn act of worship and should be its apex. This being the case, all participants, from the pastor to those in the pews, should apply themselves to realize the fullness of its meaning. Here are some considerations, theological and practical, which I've learned over my years of ministry and reflection which are often overlooked in many services. I'm hopeful my blog prompts others to share their suggestions with me as I aspire to grow further in my experience of Communion.

In the Church's more recent history, with the strong emphasis on Open Communion, we have not been restrictive enough on who is invited to participant. Too often, the minister issues an open invitation to participate to anyone who simply believes in Jesus and has accepted him as Lord, without further restriction. Let me suggest that the invitation should be less open: only baptized believers should participate. Baptism is the outer sign of entry and participation in the Covenant people; as such, it assumes priority over Communion. If certain believers have not yet professed their faith before many witnesses in the waters of baptism, they should not yet share in the privilege of Communion. I don’t think the congregation need dismiss unbaptised people form this act of worship as the early Christians did, but I think the minister can fairly indicate that Communion is for baptised believers, without too much ado. Ultimately, for those churches which (rightly) practice Open Communion, the individual, baptised or not, is the one to make the decision, but the pastor can do much to encourage baptism first.

Along these lines, I have been amazed at how politically correct the Church has become in its efforts to be all-inclusive. No minister wants to make unbelievers feel uncomfortable in excluding them from participation, and hence, much effort is made to tone down the inevitable exclusivity of this act of worship: "If you don't feel comfortable about participating, just allow the bread and wine pass you. It's no big deal." Quite the contrary! It is a big deal. In fact, I make a point of it. I say something to the effect, "If you aren't a believer, then, as you pass the bread and wine on, let it be a reminder that you are still in your sins and are excluded from Christ's salvation." Incredibly, a trend in overly seeker-friendly churches is to invite participation from people solely on the basis that they've been feeling warm fuzzies or are simply seeking spiritual renaissance, or some rot, thus robbing the Spirit of the opportunity to convict unbelievers as they observe Christians participate in this symbol of communion with their Lord.

One of the great missteps of the Church in our present age is the failure to prepare spiritually for Communion. Nearly any given Communion Sunday (for congregations which observe Communion monthly or quarterly, or even less), the members of the church arrive at worship without the first thought of Communion until they see the Communion table bedecked with the Communion elements. They have arrived without giving a moment's thought to repentance, spiritual renewal, or special Bible readings and meditations, let alone fasting. Such lack of preparation reduces significantly the participant's openness to the Spirit during the actual act of worship.

Several practical things can be done to counter this, primarily in regard to raising the congregation's awareness of the need to prepare. Simple things can be done such as prior bulletin notices and announcements to the congregations and at special meetings in the days preceding the Communion service. I made it a practice to send out mailings to all the members of the congregation simply urging them to come prepared for Communion. Such letters also encouraged attendance, especially in those churches which observed Communion quarterly, for if someone missed Communion Sunday, he would end up going six months without it—and for some, even longer, a neglect which the apostles could scarcely understand.

Communion is also a time to reach out to those church members who have been negligent in their church attendance. Contact through letter or in person can be made informing them of Communion and asking them to renew their commitment to Christ and his church during this special time.

One unfortunate problem with Communion observance is that too often it is tacked on to the end of the service, as if it were an epilogue, rather than the apex. In addition to these aforementioned practical suggestions, the service itself can be crafted to emphasize Communion from the beginning of the worship to the end, more or less obviously. In particular, the call to worship (in whatever form) can be designed to prepare for Communion. The announcements can help the congregation prepare by mentioning Communion particulars in advance, an explanation of Communion can be given to the children during the children's sermon, and, most importantly, the sermon itself can emphasize some aspect of Communion. If the service is crafted to point to Communion as its apex, then the congregation will perceive Communion as the service's apex.

Communion is multifaceted. A theologically and exegetically deep preacher can hardly exhaust its complexity. Too often, we get stuck on the one theme of Christ's sacrificial suffering on our behalf, and our unworthiness. While this theme is central to this act of worship, such themes as our community with our fellow believers, our future eschatological fellowship, our present fellowship with Christ, our Passover deliverance from Egypt (i.e., sin), our newness of life, and many other themes ought not be neglected. Preachers would be wise to think on these various themes as they prepare their regular sermons, so that they can draw these themes out in practical application.

To bring freshness to Communion observance, churches may consider varying the mode of distributing the elements from time to time. Each mode has its own theological significance. The practice of coming forward to receive the elements may signify the believer's coming to Jesus in worship. The practice of distributing the elements while the congregation is seated affords the opportunity to emphasize the unity of the saints, in that all may actually partake simultaneously. A more creative means of observance, space and time permitting, is to arrange tables for thirteen place settings, and serving Communion in groups; the thirteenth place remains empty to represent Christ's presence, and a church leader is appointed in advance to say the words of the institution, distribute the elements, and pray.

One of my pet peeves is that the Communion bread itself sometimes is cheap and distasteful. Sometimes, it gives a person the impression of Styrofoam. The joyful resolution to this is to ask a breadmaker in the congregation to make homemade bread for the Communion element. The serendipities of this practice are several, not the least of which being that the pastor normally gets a free loaf out of it! Likewise, since I typically have done ministry among grape juice churches, I buy the best tasting sparkling grape juice I can.

When the words of the institution are read, the minister may add to the congregation's appreciation of them by enacting them. Thus, as the reader says that Jesus took bread and broke it, the minister may lay hold of the bread and tear it apart in dramatic re-enactment. Likewise, the minister may pour the wine from the flask into the chalice as the reader reports Jesus' saying about the cup being his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sin.

To underscore Communion as a special experience in believers' lives, some churches recognize and celebrate a person's first communion. This can be done more or less elaborately, depending on congregational sensibilities, even including furnishing the communicants with their own keepsake special Communion chalice and plate. To some, such celebrations seem a bit outlandish, but personally, I regret not being able to recall my first Communion, and such recognition would remedy such loss.

Communion deserves afterglow. Instead of rushing through the end of service, I often invite the congregation to share something of their spiritual journey and walk with the Lord as the Communion service draws to a close. I announce this in advance so as to encourage an openness to the Spirit's leading. Or, sometimes the congregation would stand holding hands in a large circle, and individuals would express their own thankfulness in spontaneous final prayers. These afterglow moments were well received by many people in the congregation.

The ultimate in Communion afterglow, however, is feetwashing as an act of worship. I am told by one of my Baptist historian friends that the vast majority of Baptists in North America practiced feetwashing up to the beginning of the 20th century. To most people, however, it sounds like quite an oddity. The uninitiated may not ever appreciate feetwashing, but for those who practice it, feetwashing leads to such a self-humbling and Christian intimacy which is so much the essence of discipleship that its practice seems entirely befitting for Communion.

No matter how committed to Christ people may be, some will inevitably miss Communion Sunday. It is incumbent upon the church, then, to offer a make-up Communion service, with appropriate prior notice. Ministers should also see to it that homebound members receive Communion regularly. While some constraints are in order, even these private Communion services should be done with scripture readings, songs/hymns, and prayers. Communion is best observed between several people, and ministers would do well to involve several others at such opportunities.

Pastor's Page: I've Been Changed!

This is a short devotional formatted to fit a church bulletin page (in a large print font) which churches may freely reproduce, if the blog address is cited.

We are blessed from time to time with wonderful divine encounters which move us emotionally. Often we are so filled that we are moved to tears and could shout, "Glory to God!"

These are wonderful moments to be cherished. Many of us especially experienced this when we first accepted Christ. We'd love to linger in these moments, but the world is too much around us. After a while, even the afterglow starts to dim.

While some may think that the emotional experience is what is supremely important, this is not the essence of true spirituality. True spirituality is centered in our relationship with God. The essential product of that relationship is Christ-likeness. Our goal is not some spiritual "high," as wonderful as it truly is. Rather, the goal is a changed life, especially as we live in a world which is hostile to Christ's kingdom.

Week after week, I pray that people would be changed through our Sunday worship. Certainly, I pray for radical change which comes through our initial experience of God's saving grace. But more basic for God's people is the change which occurs little by little every week as we gather around Christ's throne and worship him every Sunday morning.Let's be faithful to all our services, truly worshiping Christ, so that all may see how we're becoming to look like him!