Friday, November 28, 2008

Zane Hodges Passes Away

Scholar and Majority Text advocate, Zane Hodges, died this past weekend at 75. Read more here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ETS Paper Stirs a Debate Over the ESV

Mark Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, read a paper on "Why the English Standard Version Should Not Become the Standard English Version: How to Make a Good Translation Much Better." You can find it here. The paper has created a bit of a controversy with Bill Mounce promising to respond at next year's ETS meeting. While I have been reading the ESV since it first came out I found some of Strauss' comments insightful while others seemed to miss the point of what the ESV was trying to do. To give one example Strauss points out how often the ESV uses the word "behold" and says that "virtually no one speaking English uses the word this way." After a discussion on the difficulty of translating the word he says his "counsel would be for literal versions to retain 'behold' and for standard English versions to either drop it or use 'look' or 'see' when appropriate." So why bring this up? Since he includes it in his discussion of "archaisms," is this an archaism that is OK to use but the others are not? Strauss talks a lot about the ESV not using "contemporary English." But I don't look at the ESV as a "contemporary" translation but one that seeks to maintain a literary level that sometimes elevates the language above the common use. I don't want my Bible to sound like the chit chat of my workplace break room. If I want that I'll read The Message.

Finally, I don't understand when Strauss says, "I need to say first of all that I like the English Standard Version (ESV). After all, the ESV is a moderate revision (about 6% I believe) of the Revised Standard Version (RSV; 1952), which itself was done by very competent scholars." But he then describes the translation as "overly literal—full of archaisms, awkward language, obscure idioms, irregular word order, and a great deal of 'Biblish.' Biblish is produced when the translator tries to reproduce the form of the Greek or Hebrew without due consideration for how people actually write or speak." With that said what's there to like? He says it's a "good supplement to versions that use normal English." Why? How is a translation so plagued with problems a good supplement?

I will watch with great interest to see how this plays out. Also, there was a paper read on another translation which has not had enough visibility--The Holman Christian Standard Bible. You can find that here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

ZECNT 3 - Worship Service or Christian Court?

Another feature of the ZECNT series is the "In Depth" sections. These are shaded boxed areas which treat a specific topic. These are really nice and I found myself wanting more. Today I want to look at James 2:2-4. James talks about showing favoritism to those coming into the "assembly" who happen to be in fine clothing. The question is what is the context of this scenario. Most lay people would read this as a worship service. (I checked several study Bibles and none of them indicated anything other than a worship service. I mention this because for many lay people a study Bible is closest thing they have to a commentary.) Blomberg and Kamell (hereafter B/K argue that it is probably better understood as a "courtroom setting." Why a courtroom? 1) The use of legal language ("favoritism," v1, "you have discriminated," and "judges" v4), 2) The use of the term "synagogue" instead of the usual word for church (ecclesia, which is found in 5:14). 3) The probably allusion to Lev 19:15 which is in a legal context. 4) Parallels to later rabbinic texts which also condemn favoritism toward the rich in a legal setting. 5) Finally, the mention in v. 6 of the rich dragging poor Christians into court. B/K conclude "The Jewish parallels, legal language, and background in Lev 19:15 prove most decisive." (111)

This is not a new interpretation and the more recent commentaries address the issue. I think B/K have got this one right. This is one of those cases where a surface reading of the text can lead you one way but in fact the details, when properly understood, point in another direction. But the question becomes what difference does it really make? Isn't the point the same no matter what the original context--don't show favoritism!

In one sense this is true. It is possible to wrangle over details of interpretation and then miss the main point. On the other hand if our goal is to understand the Bible and to explain it accurately then we can't simply bypass these issues. And while in this case the application is not affected one way or the other, this may not be true in other passages. Competent application is always built on solid exegesis. Sometimes faulty applications are read back into passages and therefore skew the interpretation. I'll give one brief example. Often we see Gen 31:49 "May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other" as a divided pendant worn by two people as a sign of their love for each other and to trust God to care for them in their absence. The problem is the context of the passage is one of distrust! The next verse Laban says to Jacob, "If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me." (Note the NIV Study Bible text note says, "May . . . other. The so-called Mizpah benediction, which in context is in fact a denunciation or curse." (en loc)) But we are so used to seeing the verse applied in a loving context we assume that's how it was originally intended. With that said, I think it is worth understanding the original meaning of the text. That's why I read commentaries!

Back to ZECNT. In summary these "In Depth" sections, few as they are, are an added bonus in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite commentaries to recommend to pastors and small group leaders.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Study Bible Notes Compared 2 - Heb 6:4-6

Today we'll look at a very difficult and controversial passage: Hebrews 6:4-6. As a reminder this blog series is not intended to contribute anything new to the discussion but rather is a survey of the various study Bibles and the notes that are made on those passages. In particular we want to look at passages which allow for more than one interpretation. Hebrews 6 certainly qualifies. The central issue in the debate over this passage is can a genuinely saved person lose their salvation. Five major views have been offered. 1) These are genuinely saved people who do in fact lose their salvation through an act of apostasy. 2) These are genuinely saved people who are not pressing on to maturity and therefore are risking the loss of rewards but not their salvation. 3) The passage is only making a hypothetical warning. No real loss is experienced. 4) The passage is talking about the community as a whole and not individuals. 5) These are not genuinely saved people but rather those who have gone through the motions and have experienced a superficial taste of what it really means to be a Christian. There is no loss of salvation because the people were never saved to begin with. So, how do the study Bibles compare?

For this text I compared the following Bibles: ESV Study Bible, TNIV Study Bible (the notes in this Bible are the same as the NIV Study Bible), NLT Study Bible, NKJV Study Bible, The Life Application Study Bible, The MacArthur Study Bible and The Ryrie Study Bible. The first to note is all these study Bibles come from varying degrees of a Calvinist perspective which leads one to ask don't the Arminians have a study Bible? Well, they certainly don't have the choices that the Calvinists do. A couple that have gone out of print are The Reflecting God Study Bible (which was an adaption of the NIV Study Bible and the old The Wesley Study Bible. There is a new Wesley Study Bible due to come out next year from Cokesbury. Otherwise some have pointed to the Life in the Spirit Study Bible which is Arminian but also Pentecostal. The Society of Evangelical Arminians has a small write up on this Bible and its treatment of election which some will find useful. With that aside let's look at the "Calvinist" study Bibles.

The ESV Study Bible offered the most view points (4). It certainly has the longest note and dedicated a couple of different notes for the passage. It argues heavily for the view that these are not genuine Christians and salvation may not be lost. The TNIV Study and the Ryrie Study Bible name three different views. The former leans in the direction of these being "professing Christians" and the latter, while a bit vague, seems to lean in the direction of the hypothetical view. (This is, in fact, his viewpoint if you check his Basic Theology, p 385-86.) MacArthur presents only one view at the verse itself but offers more discussion in a section called "Interpretive Challenges." In typical MacArthur fashion he states, "There is no possibility of these verses referring to losing salvation." The NLT Study Bible and the Life Application Study Bible offer an interpretation but do not indicate there are other options. The former does say it is "one of the most difficult" passages.

Overall I think the ESV study Bible has the best coverage (from a Calvinistic perspective). The TNIV Study Bible would be my second choice. Let's remember notes are just that--notes, not dissertations. While it is nice when a study Bible offers a little lengthier note (as in this case with the ESV) that is not always possible. If a note at least alerts the reader of interpretive options then they can pursue further study if so desired. Those that offered only one interpretation (NLT Study Bible and Life Application) would be last on my list. What about Ryrie and MacArthur? I understand that in these notes I'm getting the author's unique perspective. I don't expect them to give alternate views although I think it is nice when they do.
Next week we'll look at I Tim 2:12 and the issue of women in the church.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic

I've been anxiously awaiting this book. I have been a fan of Beckwith's writings for some time and was surprised at his conversion to Roman Catholicism. Although I was surprised at his conversion I was more surprised and very disappointed at the reaction from protestants. Far too many comments were pejorative and and did little more than belittle Beckwith personally. Beckwith comments on how one person in a radio interview expressed surprise that "someone with [Beckwith's] intelligence could become Catholic, seeming to imply that Catholicism does not have the intellectual resources a person with real accomplishments, gifts, and theological commitments would find compelling." (13) This sort of intellectual elitism is uncalled for.

The first two thirds of the book is dedicated to his journey back to Catholicism. Here he recounts is childhood and how and why he left Catholicism for Evangelical Protestantism. At the end of this account he says that "virtually every Evangelical Protestant I knew during this time was a former Catholic." (45) He then asks, "is there anything that we did that helped facilitate the departure of these talented and devoted people from our communion?" (45) This section of the book was very personal and helpful.
But then Beckwith recounts how he started hearing the same question. On a number of occasions, either after a lecture or in personal conversation, someone would ask, "Why aren't you Catholic?" This got Frank to thinking and he began a journey that would eventually lead him to the Catholic Church.
The final third of the book Beckwith deals with what he saw as the deal breakers in becoming Catholic. Namely, the doctrine of justification, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the teaching authority of the church (including apostolic succession and the primacy of the pope) and penance. Other issues, like the Marian doctrines and Purgatory, were not "big deals" since he reasoned if the Church was right on the bigger issues then these protestant "stumbling blocks" just "withered away" because "the Catholic Church would in fact be God's authoritative instrument in the development of Christian doctrine." (79) Beckwith says that once he abandoned "methodological Protestantism" he could no longer find the "substance of the Reformed view of justification" in his reading of the New Testament. (106) Furthermore, he found the "Catholic" practices to be affirmed early on by the Church Fathers. These include "the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, infant baptism, penance and confession, an ordained priesthood, and an episcopal ecclesiology and apostolic succession (as well as other 'Catholic' doctrines including prayers for the dead and purgatory)." (114) Beckwith provides footnotes to each of these doctrines for those interested in further reading. Surprisingly, sola scriptura didn't factor much in his thinking since he "could not find an understanding of sola scriptura convincing enough that did not have to be so qualified that it seemed to be more a slogan than a standard." (79)

Here the reader will have to judge how well Beckwith does in presenting his case. Important to remember is that Beckwith is not offering a "sophisticated apologetic" for Catholic doctrine. Rather he is trying "to communicate, as best I can, the internal deliberations that convinced me that I ought to embrace it" [Catholicism]. (97) Beckwith calls himself an "Evangelical Catholic" and interacts extensively with the ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) press release on why a Catholic could not be a member, much less president of the society (which Beckwith was at the time of his conversion and hence the reason he resigned both his position and membership). Here he argues forcefully for full inclusion of Catholics within the society. On this point I heartily agree.

Many protestants will not be persuaded by Beckwith's reasons. That's to be expected. Others will want to read further in some of the sources that helped Beckwith in his journey. Catholics should read this not only because it recounts the return of one of their own but it will also provide insight to Protestant thinking. Protestant pastors, in particular, would do well to read this to help them understand the attraction that many protestants are finding in the Catholic church. Many protestants are just becoming aware of the 1,500 years of church history that predated the reformation. And with that awareness is coming a whole new set of questions for people and their faith.

For my own part I must say, "Frank, almost thou persuadest me to be a Catholic."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ZECNT 2 - Structure of James

Does James have any kind of structure to it or is it just random thoughts thrown together? A number of years ago a pastor at a church I was attending preached through James. It was a great series but it was a series on various topics as presented in James. I never got the impression that there was anything tying these thoughts together or that they had any relationship to each other. Enter Blomberg and Kamell (hereafter B/K). Readers of Blomberg have already had a taste of his thoughts on James from two previous publications: Neither Poverty nor Riches, and From Pentecost to Patmos. He has made a few adjustments (most notably in his outline) but substantially his views have remained the same. Commentators are all over the map on the structure of James. Some seeing a good deal of structure while others see none (Dibelius is the one everyone points to on this one although Luther didn't see much organization either). On the scale of things B/K see a good deal of structure although they are cautious with their conclusions. They readily admit "that we may still be imposing more structure on the text than James had in mind. . . Still, even if this outline enables us merely to identify the three dominant themes of the letter, it seems worth generating." (26) What are those themes? They are: 1. Trials in the Christian Life, 2. Wisdom, and 3. Riches and Poverty. Indeed, they see a chiastic structure in the book which ends up placing the theme of riches and poverty as the most important of the three. (See the chiastic outline in From Pentecost to Patmos, p. 391, regrettably this chart was not included in the ZEC.) B/K see these themes introduced in 1:2-11 and restated in 1:12-27. These themes are then picked up again and expounded in 2:1-5:18. Riches and poverty are treated in 2:1-26, Wisdom and Speech in 3:1-4:12, and Trials and Temptations in 4:13-5:18. While I'm not entirely convinced on some of the details the general outline is growing on me. Even those who don't see as tight a structure as B/K, (ala Moo) they do seem to appreciate the repeating themes present in the book. All in all I think the outline deserves attention. Later this week I'll address a couple of individual passages in James.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Commentary Series from Zondervan 1

Do we really need a new commentary series? After spending the weekend with Zondervan's debut volume of a new commentary series, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, I have to say yes. The first volume in this series is authored by Craig Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell on the book of James . Blomberg talks about his hesitancy of doing another commentary but after seeing the prospectus and the format distinctive he was sold. Having worked through the book of James over many years he felt most qualified to do this entry in the series. He says, "I have had to study this epistle more intensively than any other book of the Bible." (13). Shortly after accepting the project he asked his research assistant, Mariam Kamell, if she would like to work on the commentary. Kamell had done her M.A. thesis on aspects of James. She accepted and the result is truly collaborative effort. Blomberg explains more of this in detail in the "Author's Preface."

I'll talk a little about the format in this blog and later I will comment on specific issues in James. The series is targeted towards the "busy pastor or teacher" and is designed for a "one-stop shopping approach to adequate sermon preparation or lesson planning." In order to better facilitate this goal Zondervan consulted with pastors, teachers, ministry leaders, and seminary professors to glean what would be most helpful in a commentary that would be useful to the church. The result is a commentary which devotes seven sections to each passage of Scripture treated. The first is the "Literary Context" which helps the reader see the connection between what precedes and what follows that particular material. I especially enjoyed this section as it kept me from getting lost in the details of the text. Too often we forget the larger context and can't seem to follow the "train of thought" the author is presenting. The next section is the "Main Idea." Here the main idea of the passage is presented in one or two sentences. For preachers looking for the "big idea" of a passage this will be very welcome. Then follows the "Translation and Graphical layout." Here the author provides their own translation and then diagrams the passage. This is really nice. The diagramming of a passage helps the reader to visually see how the text flows together and how the parts relate to each other. The "Structure" section describes the "flow of thought in the passage and explains how certain interpretative decisions regarding the relationship of the clauses were made in the passage." (11) The "Exegetical Outline" provides a more detailed outline of the passage. The "Explanation of the Text" is where you find the verse by verse exegesis of the passage. The final section is "Theology in Application." Here you will find the theological message of passage summarized and suggestions on "what the message of the passage is for the church today." (12)

Pastors and small group leaders will want to take full advantage of this new series. Don't let the size fool you. This is a first-rate commentary at the beginner/intermediate level. It does interact with the Greek which make some avoid using it. But there is plenty in here for those who don't know Greek.

Next time I will talk about the structure of James and how Blomberg/Kamell understand it and I'll look at a couple of passages of interest.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Study Bible Notes Compared 1

One of the questions I get a lot is "What is the difference between the NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Study Bible?" Realizing I don't have much time to describe all the various features, I often describe the difference like this: The NIV Study Bible is like reading the Bible with a teacher over your shoulder. The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) is like reading the Bible with a pastor over your shoulder. I've found this helpful as have my customers. As is true with any general description there are exceptions. The LASB does provide some academic notes and the NIV Study Bible does provide some application notes. But, in general the description seems to fit. Over the next few weeks I will be comparing the notes between various study Bibles. I'll be looking at not only the two I've already mentioned but also the two newest study Bibles: the NLT Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible. In particular, I will look at passages which allow for more than one interpretation (although I'll look at other passages as well). How many viewpoints does each study Bible present and does it show a bias or argue for the validity of one over another. I will note other study Bibles on occasion such as the NET Bible or one of the single-author study Bibles like the MacArthur Study Bible or the Ryrie Study Bible. But for the most part I will confine my comments to the major study Bibles that have the majority of the market. Just as it is true that it is good for people to own more than one translation I think we will see that it is also beneficial to own more than one study Bible. Also, for the most part I will not be looking at specialty Bibles like The Archaeological Study Bible or The Apologetics Study Bible . There may be a time to examine these and, where applicable, I certainly will. Check back to see how your favorite study Bible compares.

Next week we will start with the very controversial passage of Hebrews 6:4-6.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Goldingay on Psalms now complete

The three volume Psalms by John Goldingay in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms Series is now complete! Volume 3 was released this month, and its 2195 pages (the total pages of the three volumes) rivals Kraus' masterful 3 volume commentary in the Continental Commentary series, and Erich Zenger's 2 volume Hermeneia commentary. The benefit of this series is that its more traditionally conservative comments and approaches taken for the interpretation of the Biblical text. By "traditionally conservative" I mean the Masoretic Text (MT) is considered reliable, and the specific dating/authorship is of less practical importance than in traditional historical criticisms. More on this later. He has already given us a depth and breath of material on Old and New Testament material including his erudite commentary on Daniel in the Word Biblical Series. Goldingay tends to be a middle-of-the-road scholar on most areas of higher criticism (for example, in Daniel he offers a well defined position that the book was written at about 300 BCE, whereas most conservative scholarship places it around 600 BCE and liberals place it around 165 BCE, or after the events of the books have happened), and the Psalms are no exception.

Amongst a myriad of methodological approaches to the Psalms, Goldingay's approach is from a Canonical context (think Brevard Childs). He sees almost no need to identify the author, or the Sitz im Leben, the "situation in life" in which the Psalms were composed for. In this way, he matches the series goal to write a commentary for "ministers, seminary students, and Bible study leaders. Of these groups we have most in mind clergy and future clergy, namely seminary students." (Volume I: Psalms 1-41, p. 8) But if you think the academic and textual comments are scant, think twice. Goldingay gives his own translation of each Psalm, followed by a large volume of textual notes both in the text and in footnotes. He then gives his interpretation and the "Theological Implications" of the Psalm.

After reading his 70-page introduction to the Psalms I had some reservation in giving the book a warm and positive review. This was partly because I have extensively studies the Psalms and read quite a bit of material on Psalm Studies. He believes that the Psalms anonymity, including the "Davidic" ones (see his notes on the Hebrew le in the superscriptions for his wonderfully grounded argument) open up the Psalms for use in both Israel and our own churches. Given the patriarchal society of the Old Testament this anonymity also may protect the fact that some of the Psalms may have written by women (although he only mentions this in passing).
He gives a good account for the MT's inclusion of the superscription in the text itself as well as a good synopsis of the words which appear in the margins of most translations as notes for singers/choir directors, eg., selah. He also gives a good overview of Hebrew Poetry and the use of parallelism.

The reason for my positive and warm review is that the introduction complements the actual commentary very nicely. The book is well organized, the layout is simple to understand and the writing is conversational and the book is actually enjoyable to read. Even for someone who has read so extensively in Psalms studies I was able to learn very valuable insights in the Psalter and how the church can benefit from them in their own worship.

Eric Karloski works in the Used Book Department at Baker Book House and has recently been accepted for a position as Professor of Old Testament Studies at Life Theological Seminary, Bhubaneswar, India

Gospels Now Complete in BECNT Series

The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) is praised by a number of scholars and commentary guides. D.A. Carson in the sixth edition of his New Testament Commentary Survey lists six of those published at the time as part of his "Best Buys" recommendations. John Glynn lists the series third in his recommendations in the "Evangelical and Technical, Semitechnical" category. With this latest edition of Mark by Robert H. Stein the gospels are now complete. Luke was authored by Darrell L. Bock. Carson says this commentary is "recent, comprehensive, well written, and intelligent. If you buy this pair by Bock, you do not need the other two commentaries on Luke that he has written." (New Testament Commentary Survey, p. 63). Andreas Kostenberger wrote the entry for John and Matthew was recently released by David Turner. Those looking for a good set of commentaries on the gospels would do well to add these to their libraries. Pastors have especially enjoyed this series since they don't get bogged down in a lot of scholarly discussions but are nonetheless informed by them. For a complete listing a volumes available in this series as well as projected forthcoming volumes look here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say He Is?

I can't say that I've ever had a big interest in Feminist theology but I found this book fascinating, easy to read and extremely helpful. Kostenberger provides a survey of various feminist theologians ranging from the radical feminists to evangelical feminism. Radical feminists are those who feel no obligation to be guided in their theology by the Bible or Jesus. Included in this category would be Mary Daly, Virginia Mollenkott and Daphne Hampson. "Reformist Feminism" are those who selectively use the Bible to reconstruct a "positive theology" for women. Included in this category would be Letty Russell, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In the "Evangelical Feminist" camp Kostenberger includes Aida Spencer, Ruth Tucker and Linda Belleville. These authors are those who believe the Bible "rightly interpreted, teaches complete gender equality."
This book is primarily a survey although Kostenberger does provide critiques along the way. Those looking for hearty critiques may sometimes be disappointed but she does provide further resources in numerous footnotes. As the title suggests the book focuses on Jesus and therefore most of the discussions are on the Gospels. A number of times I had to remind myself of this as I kept wondering why she wasn't dealing with this or that passage from Paul. Furthermore, I sometimes wished for more interaction with certain authors like William Webb. However, because Webb does not work much with the Gospels she concludes the "Gospel evidence does not feature prominently in [his] hermeneutical scheme." (169) She does interact with other prominent evangelicals such as Grant Osborne, Douglas Groothuis, Ben Witherington, and R. T. France.
An important issue for Kostenberger is Jesus' selection of twelve men as apostles. She asserts "Despite advancing various explanations, feminists have not been able to account satisfactorily for the fact that Jesus appointed twelve men as apostles." (213) Egalitarians will counter that Kostenberger is overstating her case and simply dismissing their responses as wrong without sufficient argument. Kostenberger devotes one chapter to various passages from the Gospels of Jesus and women. Here she persuasively demonstrates how difficult it is to portray that Jesus was in any meaningful sense a feminist by 21st century standards (radical, reformed or evangelical). It appears that if a strong case is going to be made for feminism then it can't be found on the basis of anything Jesus said or did. The case must be made elsewhere and this is precisely how so many today are arguing. Most prominent have been those who follow along the lines of Webb in his redemptive hermeneutic. See for example Scot McKnight's most recent book The Blue Parakeet.
Because the feminist debate so frequently ends up centered around Pauline texts (at least in evangelical circles) this is a refreshing volume to remind us that the Gospel evidence must not be neglected. For those interested in the spectrum of ideas represented in Feminist Theology this is an excellent introduction.