Category Archives: Biblical Studies

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I wanted to do this for a while. I had some time today. One day I’ll get a good camera and give this thing some real production value.

B”H

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The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary

Hultgren, Arland J. The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000. Pp. xxix + 522. Paper. $42.00. 

For the last few months we’ve been doing a Bible study series on Jesus’ parables at my church. As I’ve prepared to teach there have been three books that have become indispensable. The first has been Klyne Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, which I reviewed a few years back. The second is Eugene Peterson’s Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, which was graciously given to me by my friend Robert Jimenez. The third is the title under review, Arland J. Hultgren’s The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary.

Hultgren’s volume was published in 2000 and sat on my shelf for a few years before it got any regular use but has since become invaluable in my preparation to discuss Jesus’ most popular form of teaching. This book served as the basis for the introductory class I taught that gave us the basics on how to read and interpret Jesus’ parables. Hultgren begins with an introductory chapter that gives the reader the who, what, when, where, and whys of parables in the Gospels, namely how to identify and interpret them and what makes Jesus’ parables unique (or not).

The working definition that drives Hultgren’s study is that “A parable is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between God’s kingdom, actions, or expectations and something in this world, real or imagined” (3). He says that there are two types of parables: narrative parables and similitudes, which is somewhat simplistic compared to the categorization that Snodgrass uses, but workable in a general sense. Under this definition and these categories Hultgren identifies 38 units that can be treated as parables.

He separates them thematically and treats them as:

  1. Parables of the Revelation of God
  2. Parables of Exemplary Behavior
  3. Parables of Life Before God
  4. Parables of Final Judgment
  5. Allegorical Parables
  6. Parables of the Kingdom

There are also chapters on the Evangelists as interpreters of Jesus’ parables as well as parables in the Gospel of Thomas. Each individual parable receives the same general treatment although the length of the treatment varies from one parable to the next. But Hultgren’s approach is to first provide a translation of the parable followed by notes on the text and translation. He then gives exegetical commentary before moving on to exposition while rounding the studies out with select bibliographies. Sometimes he provides general comments on the texts when a parable appears in more than one place (e.g., “The Lost Sheep” in Matt 18:12-14//Luke 15:4-7; Thomas 107; Gospel of Truth 31-32).

It’s quite helpful to see how non-canonical material draws certain parallels with the Gospels but also where that material differs. For the most part Hultgren doesn’t go into the depth that Snodgrass does but his volume is half the size so we wouldn’t expect him to. Where I find him to be at his best is in the exposition, which is full of theological reflection and insight for practical application. He makes it clear early on in the book that his approach is to interpret the parables in light of the canon and for the benefit of the church. He does this well by building the foundation for his exposition on exegesis.

Is there room for disagreement in his interpretation of certain things? Of course! But that doesn’t detract from this volume any more than it detracts from others with a similar focus. Perhaps the section that will receive the least disagreement from scholars but possibly the most from those steeped in tradition is the chapter on the Evangelists as interpreters of the parables. Here Hultgren assumes Markan priority and proceeds to discuss the ways in which Matthew or Luke adapt, revised, or altered Mark’s material. This is in no way certain and it could have been helpful to see the alternatives explanations based on Matthean or Lukan priority. But this is a minor complaint.

In all, this is a wonderfully helpful commentary that is sure to aid anyone who is studying or teaching the parables. I wouldn’t say that it should be the only volume you should consult but in the event it was the only volume you could consult then I wouldn’t be too worried. Hultgren’s evenhanded discussions are more than enough to get the student heading in the right direction.

B”H

On Bultmann’s Clarity

30 years ago today Rudolf Karl Bultmann died. I’ve noted many times on this blog that he was an exceptionally clear communicator and I thought to commemorate the anniversary of his death that I’d mention it again. He was a biblical scholar and theologian of the first rate. Sure, many of his ideas are quite simply wrong, but he was able to put them across in such a way that one doesn’t have to guess at what he’s saying. This is quite different from many of his German contemporaries (e.g., Karl Barth) or those who came after him (e.g., Pannenberg or Moltmann). It is my honest opinion that he was the best German to ever put pen to paper when it comes to biblical studies and theology. Not because I agree with so much of what he says—I don’t—but because I can understand it (at least in English translation).

B”H

In Which I Wax Eloquent on Bible Software (@emschumacher)

Eric Schumacher asked for some advice on Twitter about whether he should go with BibleWorks or Logos since he’s just switched over to a Mac. To complicate things I threw Accordance into the mix. The reality is that all of these programs are great and they can all run on either Windows or OS X nowadays. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Accordance was the only game in town for exegesis on a Mac. Then Logos crossed over and from what I understand, the early version of Logos 4 for OS X was buggy and not a great joy to use. They’ve come a long way. I’m still using Logos 5 even though 6 is out and I love it for the things I use it for.

And that’s the issue. Logos, for me at least, is a great searchable digital library. I mainly use it for reading and searching the texts that I’m reading as well as it’s fantastic cross referencing features (you don’t know the joy that it brings me to be able to hover over a footnote in one of Craig Keener’s commentaries to an ancient writing and have the Greek or Latin version of the writing along with an English translation [thanks to the Perseus collection!] ready to be referenced at the click of a button). I know that it’s capable of doing intense exegetical work but compared to Accordance and BibleWorks it takes too long. To be honest, the mobile app is what I love most about Logos, and when I say love, I mean it! That app is fantastic and if ever I do use Logos for exegesis it’s when I’m out of the house and have the app handy.

But Accordance and BibleWorks both fly through even the most difficult tasks. Sure, over the years they’ve built up respectable book packages, but nothing that comes close to rivaling Logos’ massive library options. But that’s not a problem since they’re both great for—you guessed it—exegesis! Now a couple weeks back I noted how I’m just getting back into BibleWorks 9 even though it’s the reason I put a virtual machine on my MacBook Pro in the first place. The reason I stepped away is because I’ve been using Accordance. Honestly, they’re both equal in my eyes, but Accordance offers a little more customization in terms of the user interface. I like that. I like it a lot.

But this is all stuff I’ve said before. Just search through the technology category on this blog and you can find my thoughts on all of these programs as I’ve used them throughout the years. The bottom line—and this seems to be the sentiment of most that I’ve discussed this with—is that Accordance & BibleWorks are preferable for exegesis; Logos is preferable for building a strong digital theological library.

B”H

Late to the Game: Some Scattered Thoughts on BibleWorks 9 (Mostly about NT Manuscripts)

Introduction

I know that BibleWorks 10 has been out for a little while now and from all I’ve seen it looks fantastic. My introduction to BibleWorks came with version 8 and it was incredible. I used the program daily in my study of the Bible and ended up writing a series of review posts sharing some of my thoughts on the features I used most. Then came BibleWorks 9 and I was provided with a copy for review… 2+ years ago!

My apologies for this delayed response. I’d love to say that the cares of life kept me from using the program but that just wouldn’t be true. The truth is that I had installed BW9 on my Toshiba Satellite Pro and after doing one of the routine updates it began to crash every time I opened it. This went on for quite a while and I tried to fix the problem by doing multiple system restores in Windows Vista. That didn’t work.

It took quite a bit of deliberation for me to finally decide to do a fresh install. The main issue was that my laptop’s screen had given up the ghost and I had it hooked up to an external monitor. The laptop was, for all intents and purposes (not intensive purposes!), a desktop. But it was situated in a spot behind the monitor in the dark recesses of my desk that made the disc drive difficult to access. A reinstall would mean more work for me than I had really wanted to do.

But a fresh install I did, and I ended up loading the program on an external hard drive since my Toshiba’s hard drive was nearly full and slowing daily. So onto the 1TB Seagate it went. I was finally able to open the program without issue but then I became gun-shy with updates, refusing to install any. The truth is that after the reinstall I really didn’t take advantage of any of the new features of the program. I used BW9 just like I used BW8. And then I got a Mac.

When I got the MacBook Pro I installed Logos 5 on it and that was my go-to Bible software in the earliest stages. Then I contacted Accordance because I wanted to see how well their software worked on the machine it was designed for. It works great by the way. But I still wanted to use BibleWorks and it was now a possibility on OS X. There are three options: native, virtual, dual boot. I opted for running it in a virtual machine so I installed Parallels, Windows 8.1, and finally BibleWorks 9.

I will note that BibleWorks 9 was the sole reason that I put a virtual machine and Windows on my MacBook. It’s also the sole reason that I bought Apple’s overpriced Superdrive since I had the installation DVDs and needed to get them onto the laptop without a disc drive. That’s how much I cared about this program!

Scattered Thoughts

So how does BW9 work on my Mac? It works great! It’s fast as ever once opened but it does take a moment to load initially (longer than Accordance but that shouldn’t be a great shock). But it seems to me that the real difference between BW9 and BW8 is the addition of the fourth window and all of the manuscript features (pictured in part below).

Screenshot 2015-05-19 07.33.11(2)

The addition of transcribed versions of Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Bezae, Washingtonianus, Boernerianus, and GA 1141 including high resolution images of the actual manuscripts is a boon to those engaged in textual criticism. I don’t do much textual criticism these days and in the interest of saving precious space on my limited hard drive I have opted to install Sinaiticus alone (which can be seen in the above screenshot).

I was somewhat surprised to find that only the NT portions of Sinaiticus appear in the program. It would have been desirable for the OT portions to have been transcribed and images included as well. One might argue that much of the OT material is fragmentary, which is quite true, but there are entire books (e.g., Jeremiah) that do appear in the manuscript, and access to those portions of Scripture would have been quite helpful.

There are a number of image processing options that are designed to allow the user to alter things such as the color or sharpness of the manuscript in order to get a better look at hard to read portions. I haven’t found that any of the alterations I’ve tried have made the text any easier to read, in fact, I think the original image provided is probably the best quality I’ve seen.

Screenshot 2015-05-19 21.52.18

The transcriptions themselves are what I find most useful though. It’s immensely satisfying to have a searchable text that includes the nomina sacra (which can be copied from BW9 and pasted into MS Word, Pages, or even a WordPress blog post in unicode – Χ̅Ω̅ Ι̅Υ̅ – by the way!) and does the work for me in separating the scriptio continua. I’m well aware that there are people who enjoy working through manuscripts and deciphering such things but I’m not one of them. I also enjoy reading the occasional transcription note that appears below the manuscript image (see below).

Screenshot 2015-05-19 22.00.28

The Center for New Testament Textual Studies’ New Testament Critical Apparatus appears, as far as I can tell, to be a powerful tool. I’ll admit that it frightens me a bit and I don’t quite know how to use it to its full potential just yet. Thankfully, the BibleWorks website has a page explaining just what it is, what it does, and how to use it.

Screenshot 2015-05-19 22.13.47

There are undoubtedly thousands of other features that I’ve yet to discover, and I’m pleased to report that everything I loved about BW8 (e.g., the diagramming, the lightning fast searches, the ability to create custom parallel texts, etc.) has been carried over into BW9. I look forward to getting back to my roots and using this program more in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Who knows, maybe I’ll get proficient in it one day and make the move to BW10. More anon, I’m sure.

B”H

Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology

Orr, Peter. Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. Second series 354. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. Pp. x + 259. Paper. € 79.00.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for this review copy!

Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology is a revised version of Peter Orr’s (New Testament Lecturer at Moore Theological College in Newtown NSW, Australia) doctoral dissertation written under the supervision of Francis Watson at the University of Durham. In this study Orr seeks to demonstrate that “the striking simultaneity of [Christ’s] presence and absence is not a minor incoherence in an unimportant aspect of Paul’s Christology but actually illuminates some important aspects of Paul’s understanding of the exalted Christ that too often are overlooked” (1).

So often overlooked, in fact, that Chris Tilling seems to be the lone scholar who has noted and examined the theme in any depth in recent history. As such Orr is unable to present a status quaestionis on the subject and opts rather to examine Albert Schweitzer and Ernst Käsemann’s respective conceptions of the exalted Christ as an “entry point” to his own thesis (chapter 2). For Schweitzer Christ is exclusively located in heaven while believers are joined to him in a mystical union. Käsemann on the other hand understands Christ to be present in believers and the world through the medium of the Spirit. Orr notes that their different understandings result from complexity in Paul himself, but neither attends to all that Paul says, especially with respect to Christ’s absence.

Chapters 3-5 examine the absence of Christ, the nature of his exalted bodily, and his bodily absence respectively. Orr effectively shows that Paul, while speaking of believers as being “in Christ,” believes Christ to be absent in some sense. He does so by examining Paul’s statement concerning his desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better than remaining in the flesh (Phil 1:21-26) and his comments on the Lord’s parousia (1 Thes 4:15-17).

Orr shows that Paul believed Christ to possess a discrete human body after his exaltation and that the nature of this body differs from that of other humans. He locates Christ at the right hand of God in heaven. Orr ties together the topics of chapters 3-4 and concludes that the sense in which Christ is absent according to Paul is bodily through his examination of 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, which speaks to Christ’s bodily absence, and Philippians 3:20-21, which speaks to his bodily return.

Chapters 6-8 turn to Christ’s presence. In chapter 6 Orr highlights what he has termed the “epiphanic presence” of Christ. Here he looks at texts in 2 Corinthians that present Christ “more as an object to which the senses respond” (117). So, for example, Paul can refer to himself as the “aroma” of Christ that goes up before God (2 Cor 2:14-17), or the Corinthians as the “letter” of Christ (2 Cor 3:1-3), or Christ’s presence being mediated through the Spirit (2 Cor 3:4-17). The “exalted Christ is made manifest in his glory” (143) in 2 Cor 3:18 while God’s glory is revealed when Christ’s “face” is seen through the proclamation of the gospel (2 Cor 4:1-6) or his life manifested in the body of believers (2 Cor 4:10).

Chapter 7 looks at Christ’s “dynamic presence,” which has him as the subject of activity even though the activity is mediated through some other means. So, for example, Paul can say that it is Christ who has accomplished the work that he’s done through him in Romans 15:18-19 or respond to the Corinthians demand for proof that Christ is speaking through him in 2 Corinthians 13:1-4. But Christ can also work through impersonal means such as sickness and death as is the case when he judges the Corinthians for their improper practices concerning the Lord’s Supper.

Chapter 8 is concerned with Christ’s “bodily presence,” which Orr understands as a presence mediated through (not as, contra Dunn et al.) the Spirit to the individual and corporate bodies of Christ. He argues that Paul does not believe Christ to be embodied in either the individual believer, the ecclesial body, or the Eucharistic bread (either physically or spiritually), which would erode the absence of Christ. Chapter 9 recaps the arguments of the previous chapters.

In all Orr’s study is a welcome addition to the ever growing field of Pauline studies. He should be congratulated for his careful study of this neglected topic but one must ask why it has been so neglected in the first place. Orr’s conclusion that “there is a fundamental continuity between the ‘historical’ Jesus and the exalted Christ” (222) is hardly earth shattering and could have been maintained aside from a focus on this particular theme. When Tilling examined the absence and presence of Christ it stood as one piece of a much larger pattern that told us something of Paul’s Christology, but left as a single piece it’s difficult to see its significance. 

I’m also a bit dubious on Orr’s appeal to Christ’s “epiphanic presence.” He takes language that seems almost certainly metaphorical and turns it into a readymade category for discerning Christ as being somehow passively present. I also think that his denial of some sort of Real Presence in the Eucharistic bread is based on a somewhat circular argument in which it has to first be assumed that for Paul Christ is only localized in heaven. With this understanding in place we must then look for ways to explain away indications of bodily presence elsewhere in Paul.

When Orr argues against some sort of bodily or spiritual presence in the Eucharistic bread he focuses on the κοινωνία language that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10 but I think he neglects the impact of Paul’s comments in 11:27 (his focus in chapter 11 is on the judgment that Christ performs) that to eat and drink in an unworthy manner makes the partaker guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ. For Paul the bread and cup seem to be indistinguishable from the body and blood. Nevertheless, I can commend Orr for his study and respect it even though his conclusions on certain issues differ from my own.

B”H