Jul 7, 2012

The Sufficiency of Human Language

“Theologically we must assess human language as a gift of the speaking God. The idea is that it is inadequate to convey truth about God and his purposes is one of the non sequiturs of both liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. While we recognize that there is mystery in God and his ways, and that the human mind and spirit cannot plum the depths of God’s being, it simply does not follow that human language is not able to express such truths as God means to reveal to us. Such a negative assertion is itself a use of human language to say something meaningful that is supposed to be meaningful about God. If God chooses to reveal himself and his plan of salvation, and if he chooses to regenerate the minds of his people to receive such revelation, there is no need for us to claim exhaustive knowledge in order to understand it, for we know that the truth we have is from the one who alone has exhaustive knowledge.”

Graeme  Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012), 49-50.

Jul 6, 2012

Asking Questions of the Text

"The art of biblical exegesis, put very simply, involves learning how to ask questions of a biblical text. Two major problems can cause this to go awry: (1) We can ask 'trick' questions, or (2) we can ask good questions but refuse to listen to the responses that the text gives. When we ask only questions which we think we already know the answers, these are nothing but trick questions. When we dare to ask real and open questions but then resist being surprised or troubled by what the text replies, we have shut our ears to its voice."

Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 81.

Latest Issue of Review of Biblical Literature

The latest issue of Review of Biblical Literature is out. Reviews can be accessed by clicking the links below.

Milton Eng
The Days of Our Years: A Lexical Semantic Study of the Life Cycle in Biblical Israel
Reviewed by Paul Korchin
John Fitzgerald, Fika J. van Rensburg, and Herrie van Rooy, eds.
Animosity, the Bible, and Us: Some European, North American, and South African Perspectives
Reviewed by Miriam von Nordheim-Diehl
John Horman
A Common Written Greek Source for Mark and Thomas
Reviewed by Simon Gathercole
Ian Christopher Levy, ed.
The Letter to the Galatians
Reviewed by Ian J. Elmer
Reviewed by Akio Ito
Kristen H. Lindbeck
Elijah and the Rabbis: Story and Theology
Reviewed by Sonya S. Cronin
Mikeal C. Parsons, Martin M. Culy, and Joshua J. Stigall
Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text
Reviewed by John DelHousaye
Hayim Tadmor; ed. Mordechai Cogan
"With My Many Chariots I Have Gone Up the Heights of the Mountains": Historical and Literary Studies on Ancient Mesopotamia and Israel
Reviewed by R. Russell Mack
Leigh M. Trevaskis
Holiness, Ethics and Ritual in Leviticus
Reviewed by James W. Watts
Leslie W. Walck
The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew
Reviewed by Donald Senior

Jul 5, 2012

Analogies to the David Story in the ANE?

I found the following point interesting, especially the last sentence.
"Assessments of David as king range from Machiavellian scoundrel to a combination of saint and political genius, and there is much to be said for both portraits. The biblical story of David is ‘warts-and-all’ blunt, especially from 2 Samuel 11 to 1 Kings 1. His affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) was no mere peccadillo. He was guilty not only of coveting and adultery but also of committing murder to cover up his misdeeds. There is no analogy for this sort of story in ancient Near Eastern fiction, lending credibility to the claim that such traditions about David are grounded in historical memory.”

George E. Mendenhall, Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, ed. Gary A. Herion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001),112.

Jul 4, 2012

Zondervan Atlas of the Bible on Sale

Christian Book Distributor's Mid-Week Markdown sale has the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible on sale at 63% off which comes out to $14.99. In my opinion, this atlas is one of the better, if not the best general atlas available.

The Aim of 1 Peter

I am always interested to see how other interpreters sum up a book of Scripture. Here is one for 1 Peter.
“It was the common practice of the early Church commentaries on the Bible to identify the aim of a given biblical book right from the start. What then is the aim of 1 Peter? Peter writes to the churches in five regions (see 1:1) to prepare them for suffering in imitation of Christ. As members of God’s household, they need to know their new identity in Christ, learn how to relate to others both within and outside the Church, and be ready to undergo affliction for their faith. In fact, the characteristic feature of the letter is the sharp contrast between the sober call to suffer in imitation of Christ and the ‘indescribable joy’ (1:8) that is ours because of our new standing in Christ. Like a sympathy that moves back and forth between major and minor keys, 1 Peter oscillates between the expression of profound joy on the one hand and the call to endure trials on the other. Peter’s aim is to show that the Christian life, characterized by a living hope and deep joy, will also be marked by suffering for the sake of Christ.”

Daniel Keating, First and Second Peter, Jude, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 17–8.

Jul 3, 2012

Flint Striking Steel in Preaching

"In the final analysis, effective application does not rely on techniques. It is more a stance than a method. Life changing preaching does not talk to people about the Bible. Instead, it talks to the people about themselves—their questions, their hurts, fears, and struggles—from the Bible. When we approach the sermon with that philosophy, flint strikes steel.  The flint of someone's problems strikes the steel of the Word of God, and a spark emerges that can set that person on fire for God."

Haddon W. Robinson, Making a Difference in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 94.

Jul 2, 2012

F. F. Bruce on the Gospel

I enjoyed reading the following excerpt from Tim Grass' recent biography on F. F. Bruce.

So for Bruce, an evangelical was one who embraced the grace of God offered in the gospel. But what was the gospel? He answered this most fully in an early Rylands lecture, ‘When Is a Gospel Not a Gospel?’ In it he differentiated between true and false gospels, as Paul on occasion had to do. On the one hand he distinguished the reliable accounts of the life of Jesus found in the canonical gospels from non-canonical documents bearing the title 'Gospel' such as the Gospel of Thomas, which some argued offered alternative sources for understanding the life and teaching of Jesus. On the other hand he argued that a distinction between true and false gospels could be made with reference to the way in which hearers were said to benefit from the events proclaimed in them: 'The gospel which was no gospel probably did not differ from Paul's gospel with regard to the basic recital of saving events. Where it differed was with regard to the terms on which the benefits accruing from the saving events might be enjoyed.'" In Bruce's understanding of the New Testament evidence, a gospel was not a gospel when (i) it became detached from the Jesus of history; (ii) it gave little or no place to the passion of Christ; (iii) it exalted human achievement rather than the grace of God; (iv) it added other conditions to what God required; and (v) it treated righteousness and purity as things which those who were spiritual had outgrown. It was a gospel when (i) it maintained contact with the Jesus of history; (ii) it embraced 'the offence of the cross'; (iii) it extended grace to human beings for their acceptance by faith; (iv) it relied on the Holy Spirit to make its preaching effective to hearers; and (v) it issued in a righteous life sustained and directed by the love of God. 

Tim Grass, F. F. Bruce: A Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 154-55.

Grass is drawing from F. F. Bruce, "When Is a Gospel Not a Gospel?" BJRL 45 (1962-3): 319-39.

Jul 1, 2012

A Review of Paul through Mediterranean Eyes

Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).

Let me begin by noting how much I appreciate the work of Kenneth Bailey in general. I feel that I have benefited from the insights that he brings to the text drawn from his experiences of living and working in the Middle East and especially enjoyed his Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes which was published a few years ago.

So I was really looking forward to going through Bailey’s most recent book, Paul through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians. Having gone through the book now, I am still generally enthusiastic, but this volume is hard to evaluate because it does not claim to be a commentary. Yet, in many ways it reads like a commentary. Introductory matters are addressed, the argument and basic structure of the book are outlined, the text is explained, and practical implications are identified. This raises the question as to whether a work that does not claim to be a commentary (p. 19) but acts like one should be evaluated. Having wrestled with the issue, I have decided to follow the well-known aphorism that “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck” then it is a duck. So “cultural studies” notwithstanding, we will treat Paul through Mediterranean Eyes as commentary on 1 Corinthians.

As a commentary, there are a number of features that make Paul through Mediterranean Eyes a helpful contributory tool for studying 1 Corinthians. One valuable, and really unique, contribution is Bailey’s interaction with a number of Arabic resources in the form of translations and commentaries (e.g., pp. 52, 82, 200, 204, 215, 237,287, 331, 354, 377, 379, 466, 497, 498). Bailey also brings interesting Middle Eastern cultural insights to the discussion (e.g., his discussion of the foot, p. 341). Another contribution is Bailey’s insistence that 1 Corinthians is better read as Hebrew rhetoric which often results in a ring/chiastic structure with paired cameos (pp. 33-53). While this reviewer is not convinced that the structural suggestions made in this work always work, the focus on structure is sometimes overlooked in some commentaries. A third feature that I appreciated was Bailey’s admission that Paul through Mediterranean Eyes is a confessional commentary in that Bailey writes as a Christian for Christians (p. 18). As such, he does not hesitate to tease out the theological and practical implications of the text at hand, especially at the end of his analysis (e.g., 71, 100-1, 323-24). Finally, it is clear that Bailey is interacting with top-shelf resources on 1 Corinthians (e.g., Barrett, Conzelmann, Fee, Murphy-O’Conner, Thiselton, Garland) but he does his own work and makes his own contributions. One might be able to say a number of things about this work, but “rehashed” is not one of them.

My criticisms of the work are fairly minor. I have already noted that I did not find all of the ring/chiastic structures to be convincing, and I sensed at times that the suggestions were a bit forced and thus, artificial. As with any commentary, readers will disagree with certain points. For example, some interpreters will not agree with Bailey’s presentation of agape/agapaō as a “higher level of love” (p. 349). As D. A. Carson and others have noted, such distinctions might be exegetically fallacious. In sum, Paul through Mediterranean Eyes is a book worth considering as a supplementary text for those that want to dig a bit deeper into 1 Corinthians or those who are already well-versed with the standard resources.