Nov 29, 2014

The 50th Anniversary of the Commissioning of the NIV

Three parts of the recent 50th anniversary dinner and program celebrating the commissioning of the NIV at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in San Diego are worth noting. First, there was a paper presented by Doug Moo. His paper was printed and distributed by Zondervan as a free booklet but you access the free PDF here. Second, there was a lively and interesting panel discussion involving Moo, Richard Hess, Karen Jobes, Bill Mounce, Jeannine Brown, and Mark Strauss. See this live blog for a transcript of the questions and answers. And third there was a surprise presentation of a festschrift for Doug Moo. I will talk about this book in a future post.

You can read a story about the meeting here.

Nov 28, 2014

Josephus as Historical Authority?

I recently picked up Steve Mason’s book Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins: Methods and Categories and found this introductory statement to be interesting.

“The following study addresses what seems to me a fundamental problem in the use of Josephus’ writings for studying Roman Judea, namely his status as an authority. I begin from the observation that Josephus is, and has always been (though for changing reasons), regarded as a peerless authority for first-century Judea, and this assumption runs even more deeply than we perhaps realize. My argument, simply, is that he should not be so regarded. This is not because he is unworthy or ‘unreliable’ or only partially reliable—or because of anything to do with reliability. It is rather because the whole appeal to reliable authority in the discipline of history is an error of categories. History has, or should have, a problem with authority” (Steve Mason, Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins: Methods and Categories [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009], 7).
I am not sure that I agree with Mason, and I know this is not his main point, but I find it annoying that whenever Josephus and the Gospels or Acts appear to be in conflict regarding a historical matter, Josephus is usually treated as sacrosanct. I have argued that this is not good historical method.

Nov 26, 2014

Vern Poythress' Proposal Related to the Human Authors of Scripture

Vern Poythress makes a provocative and interesting suggestion regarding the human authors of Scripture in an article that appears in the most recent Journal of the Evangelical Society. Here are the first four paragraphs introducing the article.

How important is it for biblical interpreters to focus on the human author and his intention? For many books of the Bible, we know little or nothing about the human author, except what we might tentatively infer from the text itself. We who are inerrantists say that we believe that Scripture has a divine author, and that we have come to know him. What gains are there in focusing on the human author whom we do not know?

People might list several benefits: (1) focus on the historical and social environment, as a context for the text; (2) reckoning with human capacity, the characteristics of human linguistic communication, and the limitations of human understanding; (3) reckoning on limited canon available at the time; (4) reckoning on the structural coherence of a single biblical book, written by a single human author.

All of these are indeed valuable benefits. But a robust conception of divine authorship and divine purpose leads to exactly the same benefits. In addition, focusing on the divine author leads to fewer interpretive problems, because problems are generated by what we do not know about an author.

We will use Zeph 1:2–3 to illustrate the difficulties. In the process, it may seem at times as if we are multiplying the uncertainties about human intentionality. But I believe we can have confidence on the other side of the uncertainties."
Poythress goes on to conclude the following. “My concluding advice with respect to the focus on an isolated human author is that we give it up. Period. There is no gain to it, and much loss. We who are scholars work on the intentions of human authors as if this focus will give us answers. But we are living an illusion. Instead, let us seek God. If we do so, we will get more spiritual health, because we are encountering God seriously. We will get more accuracy, because we can settle many interpretive questions concerning authorial intention. We will get more candor, because we can give up concealing from ourselves that in most cases we do not know anything about the human author except what we infer from the text, and that many such inferences are questionable.”

My take

Poythress raises interpretive problems related to the relatively scant information regarding many, if not most, of the human authors of Scripture. And it is probably true that many interpreters pay little if any attention to the divine Author. But I am not sure that Poythress’ proposal is the way forward. My concerns are threefold. First, the attribution authorship, as in Zephaniah, is part of the inspired text. Simply put, God apparently wanted us to know that Zephaniah was the author. For me, that suggests that we should strive to understand how and why the authorial attribution might be important. If jots and tittles are important surely the name of a prophet might be as well. Second, while focusing on the divine Author is commendable, I wonder whether we can assume to know His intentions any more than we know the human author’s. Or in other words, the same ambiguities that dog the human author might also apply to the divine Author as well. Third, I get the feeling that many of the issues raised by Poythress are not so much related to ignorance concerning the human author but of how prophecy should be interpreted and how it functions in general.

In sum, I found the article to be thought-provoking but remain unpersuaded. If you have read the article, please feel free to leave you feedback in the comments section.

Vern Poythress, “Dispensing with Merely Human Meaning: Gains and Losses from Focusing on the Human Author, Illustrated by Zephaniah 1:2–3,” JETS 57 (2014): 481, 499.

Nov 24, 2014

Dale Ralph Davis on Joshua 22

In looking at the altar-making crisis in Joshua 22, I found the following point by Dale Ralph Davis to be spot on.

“Now to chapter 22; let us try to mount the right hermeneutical horse at the outset. Clearly, the keynote of this chapter is the pervasive passion for fidelity to Yahweh (e.g., vv. 5, 19, 29, 31). Hence, we must beware of moralizing the text into anything less, such as the peril of rumor, the tragedy of misunderstanding, or the need to talk out problems reasonably. Those may be commendable concerns, but they do not constitute the main freight of chapter 22” (No Falling Words: Expositions of the Book of Joshua [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988], 167).

I know that Davis’ point may cause some sermons to be reworked but he captures the issue at hand so well and so succinctly.

Nov 23, 2014

Satan and Isaiah 14?

See this post by J. Carl Laney on Isaiah 14 and its possible connection to Satan. Whether one agrees with Laney or not, he does raise textual issues that need to be considered.

BiblePlaces at SBL

A few days ago I noted that those going to SBL might want to stop by the Bibleplaces booth (#411). I did today. They have significant discounts on the collections, plus a free volume of choice for just stopping by. If you teach the Bible and are looking for an outstanding collection of Holy Land photos then you really should check it out..