Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Heiser’s Free Book)

Michael Heiser, The Naked Bible, is offering the first draft of his book FREE (329 pages) Subtitle: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. I’ve really enjoyed the preface.

…My life has been spectacularly mundane…It‘s kind of like watching It’s a Wonderful Life…looking back I see the ordinary deeds of steadfast friends and passing acquaintances, frivolous remarks that provided unintended clarity…providence.

I’m a big fan of God acting in the mundane. Heiser continues:

…I came to suspect that the key to understanding [difficult] texts—and really the entire biblical revelation—was to approach them the way the ancients would have on their own terms. People who claim to be serious about the Bible often expend a lot of energy talking about how it needs to be interpreted in context—but then turn around and filter it through their own traditions. The context for correctly understanding the Bible is not…(p. 6)

…After reading the Old Testament and other ancient material from the biblical period closely, I discovered a number of items that didn‘t jive with traditional ways of formulating biblical theology. I had to make a choice. Was I willing to side with the Bible when its own content, illumined by a deep knowledge of the ancient world in which God moved people to produce it, deviated from what I had been taught in my modern evangelical context? Again, a special grace compelled me to think that choosing the Bible wasn‘t going to hurt my faith. God was the same God then as he is now. I wasn‘t going to understand the text by making its writers fit into molds created by theologians who lived centuries after its creation and who worked without access to its ancient cultural context. The Bible would be okay, and so would I.(p. 6).

…. I can say with confidence is that you‘ll never look at your Bible the same way again. And while we‘re on that subject, I need to say a few things about what the Bible is and isn‘t…. (p. 7)

Introduction: “The Bible–How Much Do You Really Believe It?”

…we aren‘t as open to the supernatural as we think we are. Many Christians are supernaturalists who think like skeptics. Ask yourself what would be going through your mind if a Christian friend confided in you one day that they believed they had been helped by a guardian angel, or that they audibly heard a disembodied voice warning them of some unforeseeable danger, or that they had seen an image of Jesus in some moment of crisis…

…our modern, rationalistic evangelical sub-culture has trained us to think that our theology precludes these experiences or this kind of contact. [Yes, Heiser recognizes abuse and excess.] (p. 11).

Whether we want to admit it or not, since we live in a modern scientific age, we are prone to think these kinds of experiences are misinterpretations of some other happenstance, or something that is treatable with the right medication. We would think it absolutely unwarranted to insist on scientific evidence for the virgin birth, insisting that faith is required. Why then do many Christians call on academic SWAT teams to explain away other ―weird passages? Aren‘t those important? Does acceptance of the supernatural extend only to the items referenced in creeds and confessions?

Think of this book as my offer to drive you home to the faith (13)

 Download his FREE book and enjoy. You may find it as fascinating as I did just to click (skim) through the entire document for the big picture.

On faith and the academic pursuit of correct answers (Yoda)

I was in a silly mood this morning while corresponding with a friend about young students wanting direct answers from their profs. It got me thinking about my own academic and spiritual journey.  My five-year-old son has become a Star Wars fanatic, and many conversations in our home are now conducted now with a Yoda voice. So in my best Yoda imitation, here is my response to a younger me.

Right answers seek you?

Truth. Very difficult.
Much confusion in the world there is.
Through a glass darkly many facts we cannot know.
Answers maybe not helpful.

Dogmatic world: someways easy.
But too much they deny.
In fear many live.
Stuck in past they are, but no more sense all makes today. Some yes.
But too much Good News dogma misses.

Even here, only guesses we can offer.
Try we do.
But reality are they?
A much bigger world there is.

Like Peter, where else go we? The Dark Side?
Much worse it is.
In faithful community refuge seek.

The deeper Wisdom, very hard for you now, my Padawan.
I know. I know. Hmmmm…
But your feelings you must probe.
Why? OK to ask.

Trust God you must.
Faithful to Jesus you can be.
Through fresh eyes, the Bible read we.

To others listen.
Different cultures understand.
Marginalized reach out to.
Touch them.
Loving, you must become.

For Peace, Jesus ask.
Answers? Not so much.
More knowledge? Maybe.
First, much suffering you will have.
Much pride from you he must remove.
Till you become as a child.
In openness and humility, solutions lie.

Your fear, he must conquer.
Your questions, he must change.
Deeper Wisdom, he will give.

But much time it takes.

Paul believes in BOTH predestination AND freewill (Kirk and Sanders)

Tucked in his ongoing series of blog thoughts on Douglas A. Campbell’s, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, my favorite New Testament scholar says,

…Now I know that on many of these issues you don’t think Ed Sanders has gotten things as straight as needs be. Fair enough. But one thing he said around the seminar table has stuck with me and resonated as true to much of early Jewish literature: “Paul believed both in predestination and free will, and so did the other Jews of the first century. Do you know what the Qumran community called themselves? The elect. You know what else they called themselves? The volunteers!”

It seems more than a little likely to me that what we consider theological contradiction a first century Jew might consider paradox or mystery. This is one reason I’m less than eager to base my assessment of Paul on an idealized reconstruction of theories. I’m not persuaded that our only other option is to relegate Paul to the realm of contradiction and confusion.

Both/and might be an alternative to either/or…

JRD Kirk, More on the Reformed Traditions in Campbell

I’ll just add that my African colleagues tend to have an easier time handling these BOTH/AND paradoxes than my linear Western EITHER/OR friends do. That’s just one more benefit of doing biblical studies in the African context.

Onesimus Online: a blog to stir your thinking (Bill Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Ask any of Bill Black’s students here about him, and they will probably say: “he provokes; he really challenges us to think.”   Thankfully, for the rest of us, Bill blogs at Onesimus Online: history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff. If you are at all interested in theology, theological education in Africa, global Christianity, missions, evangelicalism, American cultural Christianity, and other related topics, you might enjoy his blog–and having your thinking provoked and deepened. I know Bill appreciates the broader dialog.  Bill and his wife are both pastors, graduates of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, PhDs from Cambridge, and teachers here at NEGST.  Previously, they taught in Ethiopia. Plus, they are a lot of fun to talk to;  I’ve learned a lot from them.

Here are a few “sound bytes” from some of Bill’s posts to whet your appetite:

The passing of evangelicalism

…We Western Evangelicals thought we were the center of the Christian universe, only to discover that the glory seems to have departed and moved south to Africa, Latin America and Asia. Those tongues-speaking, hallelujah-shouting, other-side-of-the-tracks-dwelling so-called Pentecostals, even more derisively labeled as ‘holy rollers’ by the upstanding Christians in my home church who, of course, knew better, have become the most explosive force in the global expansion of Christianity ever. There is not a single individual person in my systematic theology class who would not identify themselves as either Pentecostal or Charismatic. On the ‘mission field’ at least, the old paradigms of missionary Christianity are in the process of being leap-frogged entirely. ..
…Anyway, the point of all of this is that things have changed. Radically. Decisively. The old verities and polarities don’t work anymore (if they ever did). The systems and structures which we created to manage the world as we knew it are being pressed into service beyond their capacity to cope. This is not a call to somehow change Evangelicalism. It’s actually too late for that. Its day has passed and cannot be recovered. Instead, …

A Plea for Civility, Sanity and Integrity in Theological/Political Debate (3 personal examples)

Theology is not safe:

…there is another reason why I am undertaking this blog. Theology is a dangerous thing. Theology that attempts to reduce God to what I can understand about God is an attempt to tame God. But the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures is untamable. Our Western theological traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, are attempts to mount God onto a specimen board, attempts to dissect and label God’s constituent parts, attempts to deduce divine physiology from divine structure. But efforts to catalogue the parts fails to apprehend the whole. Our orthodoxies miss the point…

…This blog then is becoming increasingly like my own incident at the fords of the Jabbok, my own wrestling with the one who refuses to be named and categorized…

The Western Captivity of African Christianity

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Brain tumors, theological education and the church

The human brain is an unimaginably complex piece of work…Though my extended parable may be like the tumor it describes – a malignant profusion of words that obliterates the intended purpose – the purpose itself remains. The concern of this post is with theological education as it is actually practiced, especially at the higher levels, and its relationship with the church it’s intended to serve. My concerns come from my own experience as one who has benefitted from theological education and who has gone on to serve several churches in a professional ministerial capacity, and from my observations of theological education in actual practice…

…I think there are likely a number of reasons contributing to this fundamental dysfunction in our churches. First,…

….The breathtaking irony of all this is, having created such an institutionalized system for training our leaders (the theological education industry), a system that has succeeded in taking us further and further afield from that which Christ is calling us to be, we heedlessly presume our institutional model to be the most effective way to train Nigerians or Indians or Chinese or Ethiopians for the ministry…

Africa, Spiral Logic, Systematic Theology, and the Perils of Theological Education

The Indefensible Evangelical Habit of Shooting Our Wounded

Last week there was a gun battle outside our gate. Four gangsters had hijacked cars and shot drivers and the authorities finally caught up with them just over the fence from my house. In the ensuing firefight, two of the carjackers were killed outright, one escaped over the fence (and through my garden!), and the fourth lay wounded on the road…

Believers Baptism vs. Infant Baptism, Must it Matter?

Evangelicalism Inc.

…Not only are the Western Prosperity gods raking it in, but developing-world prosperity-god-wannabees are trying desperately to get in on the cash…Dare I even mention the Evangelical publishing industry, which seems to have taken on the role of God in conservative academic and popular religion circles, raising up this one and ignoring that one, and on the grounds of whether or not it is ‘marketable’. I can’t imagine Jeremiah being able to secure a publishing contract from this crowd…

…Then there are the incredibly large and wealthy Christian aid organizations poised globally to respond immediately to the latest front page disaster and who must raise gazillions of dollars not only to feed the starving, but to buy the planes and Toyota land cruisers and computers and iPhones and Blackberries and pay the travel fees for all the conferences and meetings and consultations that must happen in the background for the hungry to be fed…

Does this bother anybody else?

…I do not deny the good intentions of most (I hope) of my fellow Christians involved in these so-called ‘ministries’. But I can’t help but thinking that we Evangelicals have become like addicts hooked on methamphetamine. We’ve got to have more, more, more. We’ve got to be successful, or at least appear successful, because if we are or appear so, more people will be drawn to our ‘ministry’ which will make us all the more successful. But like the meth addict, this stuff is destroying us…We dare not take a genuinely prophetic stance on anything, because if we do, someone will be offended and we will lose support. We’ve become like Ahab’s court prophets, cunningly discerning which way the wind is blowing before committing ourselves on any issue, and viciously smacking down anyone who does not toe the party line.

We Evangelicals are seriously compromised. And seriously compromised people are like salt that’s lost its savor…

And much, much MORE.

My Book

He’s baaaack!!! The blogger formerly known as Sibboleth (Kirk)

I’m happy to announce that Daniel Kirk (the artist formerly known as Sibboleth) has returned to blogging at “Storied Theology: Telling the story of the story-bound God.” His first post Communal Story & the Face of God.

As a New Testament scholar and a blogger, he writes:

…My guild exists for the purpose of high-level, carefully developed, carefully articulated, fully digested assessment of data and arguments. A blog entry is an impression, a first thought, a work in progress. This means that a blog is a strange genre for a New Testament scholar. We need to continue the task of cultivating a new category for “blog,” one that assumes that the author’s thought is a work in progress, one that anticipates change, adaptation and growth of ideas expressed in public…

Update your blogrolls and set your RSS feeders to: http://www.jrdkirk.com/?feed=rss2

The New Testament is a short book; know its context (Keener)

…the NT is a short book, as far as scholarly disciplines go, and NT scholars ought to know its context better [Hengel]…It is simply naive to take a document written to a particular ancient setting, written in Greek, using figures of speech and cultural allusions that were shared assumptions by the ancient author and the author’s intended audience, and assume that we can read it without taking any of that into account.  I’m not saying that we can’t get many correct ideas from a translation without additional background, but you will also miss a lot.

Craig Keener, interview on Romans with Nijay Gupta. (Read the whole interview here.)

Ken Schenck has some harsh words for Carson, Beale, and Piper for their “innoculation” of the complacent

In Who’s a scholar, Ken Schenck (Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University) has this to say:

…It seems like whenever a study or trajectory of real significance arises, some “conservative”–meaning someone resistant to change–then commissions a counter-study to address it. Such counter-studies, far from actually disproving the new development, more innoculates the complacent, who can now simply say, “You can see that the new book by D. A. Carson or John Piper shows that this or that is not in fact true but another liberal conspiracy to corrupt the masses.”

….Justification and Variegated Nomism…the “scholarly” excuse for ignoring genuine developments. Of course the volumes themselves are far more “new perspective” than old…

So also N. T. Wright introduces the actual ancient background of the New Testament into his interpretations of Scripture and it begins to make its way down into the masses. Commission a study! So John Piper produces a “scholarly” volume refuting it to innoculate the masses. Sorry. Just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you haven’t been caught with your theological pants down.

Another reactionary “scholarly” innoculation is D. A. Carson and Greg Beale’s Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Sorry. The truth doesn’t care. The New Testament simply isn’t majorly concerned with the context and original meaning of Old Testament passages. [Jim West complains about this last sentence, but see Peter Enns’s chapter on the Christotelic interpretation of the Old Testament in the New Testament – Inspiration and Incarnation. ]

There have been a glut of new commentary series it seems this last decade, but most of them promise to fill Amazon with this sort of innoculatory rubbish. Books to allow us not to grow, not to wrestle truly with hard issues.

Oh where is objectivity to be found? Nowhere, of course, but there are better and worse examples of the attempt. It used to be that we simply ignored the experts. Now the anti-intellectuals have infiltrated them, across the spectrum of scholarly disciplines in America.

Read the whole post– Who’s a scholar. I have a lot of respect for John Piper. I appreciate many of his books and sermons, and he has done some wonderful things, and I think that he genuinely has the glory of God at interest. However, I have to agree with Shenk on this point, and I think the harsh truth needs to be told.

In a somewhat related issue (for those of you that aren’t already completely ensconced in the biblical studies blog world) Scot McKnight responds to Dan Wallace’s frustrations about biases against evangelicals in scholarship (more than 500 comments so far.) David Miller has collected some of the links to this issue and says,

… AKMA‘s comment (scroll down to #38) on the Jesus Creed is the most helpful I’ve read yet. There’s plenty of good advice in the comment thread for students interested in graduate schools too.

*For other posts on the same general subject see Biblia Hebraica, kata ta biblia, Exploring Our Matrix.
For my own thoughts on the intersection between faith and scholarship, see here and here.

No matter how original a scholar’s imagination, . . .

“No matter how original a scholar’s imagination, no matter how penetrating and critical his judgment, society does far more of the writing of any book that lives than the author himself.”[1] However humiliating it may be formulate such a principle, its justification scarcely requires demonstration. We can no more escape the influence of our cultural climate than people at the equator or in the Arctic regions can remain unaffected by their physical conditions. This seems plain enough when pointed out, yet in theological discussion it is rarely thought necessary to take account of the environment in which ideas are formulated and the motives of their sponsors. A book is cited and a name mentioned in connection with an attractive theory; let it be endorsed by a few impressive authorities and it rapidly spreads; in due time it may be regarded as critically orthodox. But how did that theory come to be formulated? What precedents did it have in its own field, and what prompted the author to put it forward. Most significant advance in thought are the product of long processes, brought to an issue by a gifted person…(George Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Last Days, 1998, p. 1)


[1] C. C. McCown, The Search for the Real Jesus (New York, 1940), 18.

A Goldmine of NT Resources (Powell)

The companion site for Mark Allan Powells Introducing the New Testament has an incredible amount of (free) resources for teaching New Testament – all the sidebars and maps from the book.  See: http://www.introducingnt.com/

all of this material can be used in the classroom—you may print and reproduce it, display it on screen in the classroom, or use the information in PowerPoint slides. Even if you are not using this particular book in your classroom, you will find resources here that are helpful for teaching any New Testament course.

Here are some examples of the hyperlinked resources for Luke:

  • Powell-int-book-3d-web7.1. Content Summary: Expanded Overview of the Gospel of LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.2. Authorship of Luke’s GospelDownload as a PDF
  • 7.3. The Community of Luke: Clues from the Gospel and ActsDownload as a PDF
  • 7.4. Distinctive Characteristics of Luke’s GospelDownload as a PDF
  • 7.5. Passages from Mark Omitted by LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.6. The Journey Motif in LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.7. Worship in the Gospel of LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.8. The Last Supper and Other Suppers in the Gospel of LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.9. Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and SaviorDownload as a PDF
  • 7.10. Jesus as the Promised OneDownload as a PDF
  • 7.11. Pagan Images for Jesus in the Gospel of LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.12. Luke’s Use of “Today”Download as a PDF
  • 7.13. The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.14. Parallel Stories of Jesus and John the Baptist in LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.15. Two Christmas Stories: Similarities and DifferencesDownload as a PDF
  • 7.16. Jesus as Son and Servant in LukeDownload as a PDF
  • 7.17. Luke in the Revised Common LectionaryDownload as a PDF
  • 7.18. Bibliography: The Gospel of LukeDownload as a PDF
  • HT: Mark Goodacre, Duke, who is impressed with the book, but not happy about how it presents the Synoptic issue.

    Free access to ALL SAGE Journals till 31 Oct

    Just a reminder that SAGE is offering FREE online access to over 500 SAGE journals 1999–current, until October 31Register HERE or you wait and pay $25/per day/per article ;-). (It’s relatively painless; I’ve been registered for years–no obligation.)

    Biblical Studies & Theology

    Some examples of SAGE journals in other fields that interest me:

    Race & ClassJournal of Asian and African StudiesCross-Cultural ResearchCultural DynamicsCultural GeographiesCultural SociologyCulture & PsychologyCurrent SociologyDiscourse Studies,

    DiogenesEthnicitiesEthnographyInternational Journal of Cultural StudiesJournal of Black StudiesLeadershipMemory StudiesManagement in EducationTime & Society, (many, many more)

    Do 46% of evangelical scholars support creation by evolution?

    Bruce Waltke recently conducted an interesting survey “each president of the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents (FESP)” and wrote a 13 page white paper detailing his results: Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process (PDF).

    1. The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method [hereafter assumed], cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution. (44%)
    2. The genealogies of Genesis do not harmonize with evolution (23%)
    3. Evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine that Adam brought death and decay into the world (34%)
    4. Evolution calls into question Adam as the father of original sin and of Christ as the Redeemer from the effects of sin (28%)
    5. Evolution is bad science in part because it presumes an old earth (19%)
    6. Evolution is bad science, even though the Big Bang occurred 13.73 billion years (8%)
    7. ID explains the origins of species better than evolution (36%)
    8. “Scientists only have the present—they do not have the past,” ruling out the possibility of science to theorize the history of origins (17%).
    9. The apparent age of the universe can be explained by reckoning that God created the universe with apparent age (18%).
    10. The gap theory explains the fossil record (6%)
    11. The framework hypothesis does not harmonize with evolution (7%)
    12. None of the above. I can accept the theory of theistic evolution (46%)

    659 Evangelical professors visited Waltke’s (Zoomerang “radio button”) survey site, but only 264 completed it. (I wonder why the other 60% chose not to participate.) You might find Waltke’s  survey details and conclusions interesting; he notes some definitional problems.

    I’d be interested to see more surveys of this kind distinguish the opinions of different types of evangelical scholars. For example, I’m guessing that there might be a significant difference of opinion between Old Testament scholars and systematic theologians. Environment–the  kinds of people they generally interact with–likely makes a big difference too.

    Some of you might also be interested in this paper from the BioLogos foundation:

    • “Adventist Origins of Young Earth Creationism” by Karl Giberson
      Download full PDF
      Many evangelicals believe that young-earth creationism is the only authentic and Biblical way for Christians to understand origins, and that until the advent of Darwin’s theory of evolution, young-earth creationism was the only view held by Christians. However, in this excerpt from his book, Saving Darwin, Karl Giberson explains that young-earth creationism is a relatively new phenomenon that stemmed from the 20th century fundamentalist movement.

    HT: Thanks to Karyn Traphagen via Twitter. Karyn’s Boulders 2 Bits blog has had a lot of fun posts lately including Shewa fight (for you Hebrew scholars) and 21 Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn (for the rest of us).

    African theology’s window of opportunity

    Like the theology of the early church fathers, genuine African (Christian) theological reflection arises out of the dialog between cultural ways of thinking and the Biblical story. African theologians today have a unique opportunity to enrich Christian theology in many of the same ways that the early church fathers did by authentically engaging and translating the gospel into new cultural frameworks (Kwame Bediako—Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa (Regnum, 1992). During the era of independence, there seemed to be an explosion of energy for African theologies, but current efforts seem not to be getting the attention they could be.

    Unfortunately, this unique window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

    The very old African Christians who understand and appreciate their traditional cultures are dying off. Many of of the youngsters today either don’t know or don’t appreciate their traditional cultures. In some parts of Africa, it is already almost too late. Where we find third and fourth generation Christians, believers tend to be more conservative and Western in their Christianity—they grew up in schools of older missionary thought that condemned almost every component of the traditional cultures. The younger generation, which could be more open to incorporating African cultural values into their theology, has become so thoroughly secularized or westernized that most of them never learned their own traditions—some don’t even speak the mother tongues of their parents. There are still some older Africans who are in touch with their traditional roots and we should take advantage of their presence while we can. Some of these elders have thought deeply about how the Gospel speaks—or could have spoken—in ways that resonated better with the African worldview. (Some of their analysis has been generated by watching Westerners do inculturation of the Gospel badly.)

    The sobering conclusion is that we may have a narrow window of opportunity within which to take advantage of some of the rich African cultural heritages to enrich global theology before the chance slips away forever (in some places 20-30 years before this older generation dies with their rich cultural knowledge). African theologians will continue to gain prominence, and the legacy of older traditions will always endure is many respects, but maybe not with the richness with which they are lived, understood, and remembered today.

    The realization that certain theological insights from African cultures were slipping away hit me two years ago when I was interviewing a seventy-year-old Christian couple on the shores of Lake Victoria about eschatology. This couple clearly loved Jesus, loved the church, and had some incredibly rich reflections on how the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and power over death could have meaningfully transformed Luo burial rituals (while maintaining some of the core elements). The church of Western modernity had tried to scrap every aspect of the cultural practices wholesale. As this elderly couple talked, their fifty-year-old son entered the room. He was already a generation too late, and wasn’t aware of half of the things they were telling me; these things simply weren’t a part of his world of experience. That day, I left with an fuller understanding of the hope of the resurrection. I also left with a sense of urgency—that our generation might be missing out on an incredibly wonderful ideas.

    During a PhD seminar here, a recognized scholar of the Pentateuch was talking about Leviticus and casually asked for some experiences with sacrifice from the various African cultures represented in the room. As the stories started flowing, he had to ask for pen and paper so he could take notes. It was clear to him that these students had a lot more first-hand information about ritual and sacrifice generally than he had been able to uncover in his extensive library research.

    When we finally grasp the potential contributions of African cultures to theological reflection, will it be too little too late?

    Coming up:  Institutional barriers to doing genuine African theology and quotes from African theologians.

    Note: I had been saving this topic for a time when I could give it some extra attention, but some of my friends have urged me to post it “as is” in hopes that others (from my very limited sphere of influence) might help encourage the conversation.

    Scot McKnight on writing a commentary

    In his review of Joel Marcus’ new Anchor Bible commentary on Mark (Vol. 2), Scot McKnight has an interesting take on writing commentaries.

    "Commentary" is a unique genre, unique both for users and writers. My own story of commentary writing is spotty. My first contract as a young professor, which arrived with a personal invitation from F.F. Bruce, led to seven years of misery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I wanted to reinvent the wheel on interpreting the Gospel of Matthew. Well beyond half of those years, I realized, when I was still working on chapter 1 and thinking that all I had written was rubbish, it would take two volumes to write the commentary. F.F. Bruce had passed on to his eternal reward and Gordon Fee had been appointed as the general editor of the series, and he gave me permission to write two volumes. After another year or so, now into chapter 2 of Matthew and convinced it was still rubbish, I ashamedly asked Gordon to excuse me from the contract, and I promised myself I’d never do that again. I’ve since finished a commentary on James (due in 2010), but I learned some valuable lessons early on.

    I could generalize my experience into "don’t ask young professors to write substantive commentaries,"but some, like my friends Ben Witherington and Joel Green and Craig Blomberg, have managed to write commentaries effortlessly for more than two decades. My own conviction about commentary writing is that one can write out what one knows and get the thing done in a year or two or three, or one can work for a long, long time. Joel Marcus, whose second and concluding volume on Mark has just appeared in the ever-evolving Anchor Yale Bible series, belongs to that latter group. Marcus, a professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, confesses that he worked on this commentary on Mark for approximately sixteen years, and it looks like it.

    In Marcus you will find the ultimate dream attempted when it comes to commentaries: mastery of the text itself, the historical"background"and contributing influences, the scholarship that continues to grow and shift and accumulate options and alternatives—and Marcus is not afraid to enter into the theological and pastoral significance of his exegesis and his conclusions. This commentary…

    Scot McKnight The Cross-Shaped Messiah: Volume 2 of a major commentary on Mark. (Books and Culture Sept. 11, 2009)

    PS: I’ve never had any aspirations for writing a commentary; it has never seemed like it would be fun, so thanks to all you who’ve ground them out.

    NPP on Paul and Judaism papers available on Leuven conference site.

    The following papers are available (PDF) from the programme site of the upcoming  Leuven Conference on the New Perspectives on Paul and the Jews (Sept. 14-15). (Get them while they are free.)

    • Michael Bachmann (Germany): Paul, Israel, and the Gentiles: Hermeneutical and Exegetical Notes
    • Michael Bird (UK): Salvation in Paul’s Judaism
    • Thomas Blanton IV (USA): Paul’s Covenantal Theology in 2 Cor 2:14–7:4
    • William Campbell (UK): Covenant, Creation and Transformation in Paul
    • Philip Cunningham (USA): Paul’s Letters and the Relationship between the People of Israel and the Church Today
    • James Dunn (UK)  Unfortunately unable to come at the last minute but has offered to contribute an Epilogue to the seminar publication
    • Hans Hermann Henrix (Germany): Paul at the Intersection between Continuity and Discontinuity – On Paul’s Place in early Judaism and Christianity as well as in Christian-Jewish Dialogue Today
    • Daniel Langton (UK): Some Historical Observations Regarding the Emergence of a Jewish Interest in the Apostle Paul and its Relation to Christian Pauline Scholarship
    • Mark Nanos (USA): Paul’s Relationship to Torah in Light of His Strategy “to Become Everything to Everyone” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
    • John Pawlikowski (USA): A Christian-Jewish Dialogical Model in light of New Research on Paul’s relationship to Judaism
    • Anne-Marie Reijnen (Belgium)
    • Hans-Joachim Sander (Austria): Sharing God with Others or Dividing God from Powerlessness

    The conference is organised around 8 questions:

    1. What nomenclatures best represent the Judaism that Paul was in dialogue with: covenantal nomism, variegated nomism, ethical monotheism, etc.? What are the notions of covenant or works-righteousness that lie behind the use of these terms?
    2. Is covenant a central notion in Paul? What are the merits of a semantic domain linkage between diatheke and dikaiosyne? Can one argue for an embedded covenantal framework in Paul’s thought? If so, does this framework supersede the Mosaic covenant (cp. 2 Cor 3:7-18)?
    3. What is the relationship between creation and covenant in Paul’s thinking, specifically the motif of kaine diatheke and kaine ktisis (2 Cor 3 and 5 respectively)?
    4. Does Paul move away from an Israel kata sarka to a notion of Israel kata pneuma? Is the new reality the ekklesia tou theou? Is this church part of, or distinct from, Israel?
    5. Was Paul Torah-observant? Did Paul’s Christ transcend the Law, embody it or something else? Is Paul in continuity or discontinuity with the prophetic reading of the Law? Is Paul an interpreter or manipulator of Israel’s scriptures?
    6. What is the relationship between Pauline studies and Jewish-Christian dialogue? Should Pauline studies take into account the post-Shoah context of contemporary ecumenical and interreligious dialogue between Christians and Jews?
    7. Are the classical interreligious and soteriological models of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism acceptable or useful for Christian/Jewish dialogue? How do they relate to the typical dialogical positions of single and double covenant schemes? What is the best way forward?
    8. Are the religious ends of Christianity and Judaism compatible? Is the church in mission with or in mission to the Jews? How should this apparent tension be portrayed in homiletics, liturgy, catechetics, etc?

    Peter Enns reviews Witherington’s “The Living Word.”

    In case you haven’t seen it, check out Peter Enns’s the Review of  The Living Word of God by Ben Witherington 3.

    …I am, I think it is clear, largely disappointed with the book. Perhaps if W’s promises were no so inflated at the outset I would have read this volume with a very different set of expectations—perhaps not as a fresh corrective but as the latest iteration of standard Evangelical introductory issues. There are, to be sure, some interesting twists and turns thrown in, all written with a certain flare, but on the whole I did not come away thinking that I have just read a book that contributes to a fresh rethinking of the theology of the Bible.

    I am chiefly disappointed because I feel Evangelical readers, many of whom are really struggling with ways to articulate a theology of the Bible that is thoroughly conversant with the many challenges such articulations face in the contemporary world, need much more than what W provides. W’s efforts here will not enter into a much larger (and more crucial and interesting) debate over the viability of any biblically attentive Christian faith. However relevant W’s book might be to those engaged in older conversations, in my opinion it will be of little to no help to those with a much broader universe of discourse and therefore in need of truly fresh articulations of the theology of the Bible.

    A hypothesis about Adam’s “rib”

    Scott F. Gilbert & Ziony Zevit, Congenital Human Baculum Deficiency, Scott F. Gilbert & Ziony Zevit, Cabinet, Issue 28 Winter 2007/08 (See Dr. Claude Mariottini)

    …Our opinion is that Adam did not lose a rib in the creation of Eve. Any ancient Israelite (or for that matter, any American child) would be expected to know that there is an equal (and even) number of ribs in both men and women. Moreover, ribs lack any intrinsic generative capacity. We think it is far more probable that it was Adam’s baculum that was removed in order to make Eve. That would explain why human males, of all the primates and most other mammals, did not have one. The Hebrew noun translated as “rib,” tzela (tzade, lamed, ayin), can indeed mean a costal rib. It can also mean the rib of a hill (2 Samuel 16:13), the side chambers (enclosing the temple like ribs, as in 1 Kings 6:5,6), or the supporting columns of trees, like cedars or firs, or the planks in buildings and doors (1 Kings 6:15,16). So the word could be used to indicate a structural support beam. Interestingly, Biblical Hebrew, unlike later rabbinic Hebrew, had no technical term for the p3nis and referred to it through many circumlocutions. When rendered into Greek, sometime in the second century BCE, the translators used the word pleura, which means “side,” and would connote a body rib (as the medical term pleura still does). This translation, enshrined in the Septuagint, the Greek Bible of the early church, fixed the meaning for most of western civilization, even though the Hebrew was not so specific.

    In addition, Genesis 2:21 contains another etiological detail: “The Lord God closed up the flesh.” This detail would explain…[read the rest of the letter.]

    You’ve got to love biblical scholarship. This  first appeared in the American Journal of Medical Genetics in 2001. Scott F. Gilbert, a professor at Swarthmore College, teaches developmental biology, developmental genetics, and the history of biology. Ziony Zevit is a professor at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

    The limitations of grammatical-historical method for Christians (McCartney vs. Beale)

    A friend just pointed out this gem by Dan McCartney, Should we employ the hermeneutics of the New Testament writers? (ETS 2003).

    Favorite quotes: “Method, even a strict grammatical-historical method, does not guarantee correct results. What matters more is the questions one is expecting a text to answer, and the assumptions made about the text in question…The idea of a singular, methodologically isolatable and static historical meaning that we humans can precisely define is an illusory modernist pipe-dream. Meaning is always dynamic and personal.”

    [Later] Biblical study cannot be impersonal and strictly controlled. I’m afraid we are going to have to relinquish the illusion of impersonal scientific control of biblical study by strict method, for three reasons:

    1. It is unsuited to the nature of the Bible as divine book (noted already).
    2. Knowledge, meaning, and interpretation is tied up with the person who knows and interprets (Polanyi).
    3. Method alone cannot force all rational people into agreeing on what a text says (quite apart from the question of its truthfulness).

    Following are some longer excerpts to help you get the flavor of his argument and whet your appetite. The further you go, the more interesting the article gets [all bolding and italics were added by me].

    Should we employ the hermeneutics of the New Testament writers? The answer to this question is usually framed in one of two ways. The approach of Longenecker is to acknowledge that the apostles, in accordance with their age, did things quite differently than our grammatical-historical approach would allow, and concludes, “Our commitment as Christians is to the reproduction of the apostolic faith and doctrine, and not necessarily to the specific apostolic exegetical practices.” 1

    The other approach is that presented by Greg Beale in his article in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? (hereafter RDWT), 2 who argues that “In fact, of all the many Old Testament citations and allusions found in the New Testament, only a few plausible examples of non-contextual usage have been noted by critics … [and] it is by no means certain that even these examples are non-contextual….”, 3 and concludes that the New Testament did (at least most of the time) follow what is effectively the grammatical-historical meaning, and we should follow their exegetical practice.

    I want to suggest a third answer: The New Testament writers were not doing grammatical-historical exegesis nor did they consistently interpret according to original historical contextual meanings, but we should follow their exegetical lead anyway

    All would agree, I think, that the New Testament writers do sometimes follow “natural” or contextual meanings, and I think most would also agree that at times they find meanings in the Old Testament which are hard to justify by strict grammatical-historical interpretation. The question before us is whether and to what degree we can legitimately find meanings by means that do not conform to grammatical-historically derivable meanings…

    …If we do not adopt the viewpoint of Jesus and the apostles that Christ’s death and resurrection is the key focus of the Old Testament, that Christ is himself the centerpiece of all God’s promises, that Christ is the true Israel, true Son of God, that the meaning of the biblical texts for the present-day people of God has to do with our relation to God in Christ, then how can our interpretation be deemed in any sense Christian?

    But Beale also concedes too much to modernism. Beale, and many others dealing with this issue, also feel the pressure of conforming to modern expectations regarding grammatical-historical meaning. In order for an interpretation to be true, it is assumed that it must be, on some level, grammatical-historical in nature. 6 Thus the approach of Beale and other recent interpreters is to make a valiant attempt to exonerate the New Testament writers of any “non-contextual” interpretation. 7 They argue that (a) the New Testament writers found their christological meanings either in direct predictive prophecy, or more commonly by doing “typology,” rather than force-fitting allegories, (b) typology is not the same as allegory, because it builds on historical correspondence, and (c) the unity of God’s purpose in scripture means that typology is a derivative of grammatical-historical interpretation.

    Typology is not grammatical-historical. I very much accept the validity of typological interpretation. But

    Continue reading

    A quick reference to biblical studies journals available on-line (EBSCO, JSTOR, Cambridge, Oxford, etc.)

    Over the last few years, I’ve developed a quick reference document to help me streamline the process of searching for on-line articles. Whenever I identify an article through a bibliography, footnote, or the ATLA religion database, I scan the attached “Quick Reference” and decide where (and if) I can obtain the article from EBSCO, JSTOR, Oxford, Wiley, Cambridge, University of Chicago, or even free from an on-line website).

    **On-line journals – biblical studies (PDF) (Word)

    Journals for church, missions, Christian education, Linguistics, Africa, and social sciences–less comprehensive (PDF)(Word)

    Tyndale House Library has a more comprehensive list of biblical studies journals here–about 550 journals. (They include all the ones that are only available by hard-copy library subscription.)

    (Note also: BTB, ExpT, JSNT, JSOT, JSP and other biblical studies journals are often available for FREE from Sage publications 2x a year – usually in November and sometime in the spring.)

    The document looks something like this for 170 different journals:

    AUSS Andrews University Seminary Studies http://auss.info/
    Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics EBSCO/ATLAS
    AJSR AJS Review
    Association of Jewish Studies Review
    JSTOR 1976-2002Cambridge: 2002-
    Athenian Agora JSTOR 1953-1998
    Baptist History and Heritage EBSCO/ATLAS
    Bib Biblica – http://www.bsw.org/project/biblica/ WEBSITE 1998-

    I’ve posted this as a brief example (click on attached links for the full document in word or PDF.)

    On-line journals – biblical studies (PDF)

    On-line journals – biblical studies (Word)

    This quick reference will be most valuable students and staff of institutions that subscribe to EBSCO, JSTOR, Oxford, Cambridge, University of Chicago, and Wiley but don’t have an integrative web search.

    For those of you who live in the land of fast “instant-response” internet, this probably isn’t an issue, but some of us in the rest of the world cannot afford to wade through multiple searches trying to find a particular journal.

    NOTE:

    • EBSCO – Now includes ATLAS*. Dates listed for EBSCO are starting dates only.
    • JSTOR– (most recent articles not normally available; 3-5 year moving wall)[1]
      – holdings on Classical Studies, Literature (not fully listed here)
    • Oxford – normally last 10 years available.
    • Websites: available to the general public (all others through authorized server only).

    [Last updated December 2008; Please e-mail errors, additions, and changes to Ben Byerly]


    * ATLAS references with a “*” are missing some titles. http://www.atla.com/products/titles/titles_atlas.html

    [1] The majority of journals in the JSTOR archive have moving walls of between 3 and 5 years, but publishers may elect walls anywhere from zero to 10 years. In other words JSTOR availability will need to be updated each year. – e.g. an end date of 2002 (6 year moving wall) will be 2003 next year (in 2009).

    5 books that helped shape how I read the Bible

    I’ve been tagged by Karyn Traphagen with a book meme:

    Name 5 books or scholars that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. [Ken Brown has collected responses.]

    I’m going to come at it a little differently than some. These books are more representations of communities and experiences that have shaped my reading of Scripture.  As you can see, some do not directly address how I read the Bible per se, but they had a radical impact on my hermeneutics in a contextual kind of way.

    1. Peter Enns – Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament along with classes by Doug Green and Mike Kelly at Westminster (also Kenton Sparks – God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.—though more recent (2008), he gets at many of the same issues.) I guess half of you will disown me at this point; sorry.  These same Old Testament professors helped me appreciate a redemptive-historical approach to the entire biblical canon–the whole Bible as God’s story of redemption.
    2. NT Wright – The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God . (Also his most recent books, but the starting point was his article on How Can the Bible be Authoritative (or pdf)—the 5th Act elaborated more in his recent book on Scripture The Last Word).
    3. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith– Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the problem of Race in America (in conjunction with other books on ethnicity & race)  helped me see how a lot of “biblical interpretation” is driven by our sub-cultures and desires to preserve certain comforts and privileges. Social environment plays a huge role in our hermeneutical stance and which texts we choose to listen to or to ignore.
    4. Kwame Bediako – Theology and Identity : The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa.
    5. Laurenti Magesa – African Religion: The Moral Traditions of the Abundant Life provides some African religious context as a worldview setting for reading and inculturating the Bible). Provides the bookend with #1 in the dialogue between cultures of biblical times and Africa today into which God speaks.

    [And since I always cheat on memes, a few more]:

    1. Walter Wink – Naming the Power series (helped me piece together together my biblical, American, and African misunderstandings of the spirit world in a somewhat unusual way—more on that some time in the future.)
    2. Anything demonstrating the more Jewish orientation of Acts (Tiede, Jervell, etc.)
    3. Sperber and Wilson – Relevance: Communication and Cognition – This book actually does a very poor job of communicating or achieving “relevance”, but the ideas that emerge out of it are important for hermeneutics and communication. (Ernest Gutt makes it more clear in Relevance Theory Guide to Successful Communication in Translation )

    My hermeneutical journey went something like this.

    • At Wheaton College, perhaps the most significant “eye-opening” experiences were learning Greek, Hebrew, and textual criticism. It helped me begin to see the Bible as a living document in different ways than I had been raised to believe.
    • After my BA, I thought that if I could only figure out how the early church father’s interpreted the Bible, then I might be able to solve many of the disputes we have over interpretation today.
    • Then I studied the church fathers and realized they were just as confused and driven by culture as we are (Bediako’s book gets at that)—back to direct exegesis of the Biblical texts.
    • Through Trinity and Westminster, I became disillusioned with presentations of systematic or dogmatic theologies. (I have a relatively long list of books that paradoxically convinced me that their way of reading the Bible was untenable. The harder they tried, the less convinced I became.)
    • Meanwhile the African-American brothers and sisters began to open my eyes to the racist sub-culture of American Evangelicals and their limited readings of the Bible. They helped me appreciate the Exodus story (Exodus/New Exodus readings of the Bible) and the the importance God places on justice throughout the biblical narrative.
    • Peter Enns (I & I) and the other Old Testament profs at Westminster (Al Groves, Doug Green, and Mike Kelly) opened up the biblical cultural worlds and methods of interpretation during the second temple period. The key epiphany there was the christotelic (towards Christ) hermeneutic of the apostles. (They also introduced me to N.T. Wright.)
    • N.T. Wright opened my eyes to the Second Temple context and a more “Jewish”—story of Israel—reading of New Testament texts. Wright further helped reframe my worldview.
    • More recently, Laurenti Magesa helped me think of contextualizing the gospel in different African cultures, and along with Bediako helped me appreciate how understandings of African worldviews can enrich our understandings of the Gospel and our readings of the Bible.

    And le voila; here I am: more confused than ever, but hopefully confused at a higher level. All in all, I have developed a far deeper respect for Scripture and how God continues to speak through it the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ to peoples of different times, places, and cultures. May God be praised!!

    If they feel like doing some variation of this, I tag: Rombo Kins (who you’ll probably have to catch on Twitter); Eddie Arthur; Pastor M; David Ker; Michael Kruse; Brad Wright; the newly minted REV. Simon Cunningham; and David Bawks (who should be done with exams and student council business in a couple of weeks.)