Category Archives: New Testament

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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 Pinnacle of the Gospel?

I started reading Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited the other day and I’m in agreement that what we’ve come to call “the gospel” is really something else altogether. He’s quite right to point out that the gospel is about much more than personal salvation. On page 24 McKnight says, “I encourage you to pull out a piece of paper or open up the flyleaf of the back of this book and scribble down your answer to t his most important question before you read one more word: What is the gospel?” So scribble I did. Here’s a photo of what I wrote in the back of the book (because I’m too lazy to type it all out):

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So my working definition (and this is just a summary) includes Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, the message he preached about the kingdom, our victory over sin and a life enabled for good works in obedience to God. I’m sure McKnight’s definition will be slightly different and perhaps he’ll highlight things I’ve neglected and neglect things I’ve highlighted, but I think my working definition is a decent summary of the gospel as we see it in the Bible.

But that brings me to the point of this post. As I began chapter 4 of the book McKnight says that we should turn to 1 Corinthians 15 and begin there because that is the closest we come to a definition of the gospel in the New Testament. That got me thinking about how I’ve always viewed this chapter, especially the early parts of it. I’ve always described this as Paul’s summary of the Gospel. In other words, if Paul were to sum the gospel up in a pithy statement it would be the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But that leaves so much out, so I started to wonder if this is best described as a summary.

Perhaps we can view 1 Corinthians 15 as the pinnacle of the gospel. The focal point perhaps. Jesus’ sinless life, Spirit-empowered ministry, preaching of God’s rule and Israel’s restoration, etc. all led up to his death and subsequent resurrection. These events were the culmination of his ministry and the vindication of his message. Paul doesn’t have much to say about Jesus’ ministry at all but it makes sense that he wouldn’t. He gets right to the high point because without the death/resurrection Jesus would have been another failed messianic claimant.

I will note that this pinnacle is also the basis for Paul’s telling believers that they can live a Spirit-filled life in Christ. And that without this focal point our lives mean nothing. So he spends plenty of time talking about the latter part of my working definition but that’s all predicated upon our resurrected Lord.

B”H

Moses or God?

At about 6:20 in the above video Brant Pitre says that the feeding of the multitude account in the Gospels would remind first century Jewish readers of Moses. I’m not denying that but he said, “If you’re a first century Jew and you have a prophet who takes out a great crowd into the wilderness and feeds them with bread, who’s that gonna make you think of?”

I can see why Moses might be the connection that someone makes, but why not think of God instead? It was “the LORD, the God of Israel [who said]: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness'” (Exod 5:1 cf. 7:16). It was the LORD who parted the Red Sea so that Israel could pass through on dry land (Exod 14:21) into the desert. It was the LORD who rained down bread from heaven (Exod 16:4).

So yes, Moses was a type of Christ, I agree. And it is easy to make the association with Moses. But I think it’s just as easy to make the association with the LORD, and perhaps even more appropriate. As Sigurd Grindheim pointed out in a couple of books (reviewed here & here) a few years back, Jews certainly had messianic expectations, but they were primarily waiting for God to come into his kingdom.

B”H

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

Twitter Theology that Makes Me Sigh

Taking a page out of Jim West’s book, here’s some Twitter theology that makes me sigh courtesy of Mario Lopez (a.k.a. A.C. Slater):

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I get the sentiment. God’s not a genie. Amen. But that doesn’t mean that “wishing” is wrong or not a form of prayer in an of itself. John records Jesus saying: “ἐὰν μείνητε ἐν ἐμοὶ καὶ τὰ ῥήματά μου ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ, ὃ ἐὰν θέλητε αἰτήσασθε, καὶ γενήσεται ὑμῖν” (John 15:7). θέλητε is a verb meaning “to desire, want, or wish.” Paul says, “ηὐχόμην γὰρ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι αὐτὸς ἐγὼ ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα…” (Rom 9:3). ηὐχόμην means “to desire something with the implication of a pious wish” (Louw & Nida). Again Paul says, “ἤδη κεκορεσμένοι ἐστέ, ἤδη ἐπλουτήσατε, χωρὶς ἡμῶν ἐβασιλεύσατε· καὶ ὄφελόν γε ἐβασιλεύσατε, ἵνα καὶ ἡμεῖς ὑμῖν συμβασιλεύσωμεν” (1 Cor 4:8). Louw & Nida tell us that ὄφελόν is “that which ought to be if one only had one’s wish.” 

Some years ago I did a series of posts on praying to Jesus. One of the posts was on Pauline wish-prayers in 1-2 Thessalonians. It was a pretty good series. Anyway, the point is that the Bible is full of people wishing for all kinds of things. Jesus told the disciples that God would do whatever they wished if they remained in him and his words remained in them. Paul wished that he could be cursed and cut off if it meant the salvation of his people. He also wished for Corinthians to knock off the nonsense of their pretend reign. Wishes aren’t inherently evil. They need not be directed to genies. God can and does hear our wishes, wants, desires, and prayers.

B”H

A Brief Word about Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2015. Pp. 443. Hardcover. $29.99.

I’ve had Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament for a few weeks now (I seem to have forgotten to do an “In the Mail” post when it arrived). In many ways it’s similar to Metzger’s volume, which has been a standard for quite some time. Aside from the physical similarities of the two volumes, Comfort, like Metzger, offers mostly pithy notes on variant readings that span anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph. The long notes can cover anywhere from a half page to a page and a half. I’ve not come across Comfort disagreeing with the decisions made by the UBS committee yet, but I’ve only skimmed the commentary at this point. I hope to find Comfort going in different directions at certain points and am interested to see his reasoning for doing so if he does.

The differences I’ve noted off the bat are in the introductions. Metzger’s volume has a brief introduction that talks about the history and transmission of the NT text, the criteria used in determining the best readings, and a list of some of the more important manuscript witnesses delineated according to text type. Comfort’s introductory material on the other hand spans two chapters. The first discusses the NT papyri, significant uncial manuscripts, a primer on assessing manuscripts in order to determine the text, a brief discussion of the canons (11 noted by Comfort) of NT textual criticism, and a healthy discussion of the Nomina Sacra in the NT (Comfort is quite interested in the Nomina Sacra as he mentions in the introduction and is evident throughout the commentary). The second chapter is a helpful annotated list of the manuscripts of the NT.

The most significant difference, however, is that Comfort’s commentary is on actual manuscripts rather than on an eclectic text. He says, “Most commentaries usually adhere to a certain English translation, and the commentators refer to an edition of the Greek New Testament (such as Novum Testamentum Graece or the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament), diverging from it when they deem it necessary. These two Greek editions (which have the same text) were compiled according to the eclectic method, which means that various readings from various manuscripts were selected for the text on a verse-by-verse basis. In this commentary readers will be reading commentary on actual manuscripts, such as P75 for most of the Gospel of Luke, P66 and P75 for the Gospel of John, P46 for nearly all of Paul’s Epistles and Hebrews, and so on” (7).

I was quite pleased to find him disagreeing with the Alands’ categorizations of some of the papyri, not because I necessarily disagree myself, but because it shows that Comfort is an independent and critical voice in the field. I did note that he doesn’t treat certain variants that Metzger did (e.g., Acts 8:24, 35), while commenting on some that Metzger didn’t (e.g., John 17:5, 16). I suppose this could be explained by Comfort’s focus on individual manuscripts and it seems that a lot of Comfort’s unique discussions are related to the Nomina Sacra whereas Metzger doesn’t focus on these at all. I’ve also noticed that after nearly every used of the phrase “nomen sacrum” Comfort puts the English translation “sacred name” in parentheses. It’s a curious and wholly unnecessary practice.

I’m also more than slightly perturbed by the lack of citations of the variants in Greek. Metzger’s commentary, for example, shows “Χριστου [υιου θεου] {C}” at Mark 1:1 and then proceeds to use the Greek term under discussion throughout the note. Comfort’s merely has “Jesus Christ” and then proceeds with the discussion using English translations (which are Comfort’s own) of the variant readings. I can’t understand the reasoning behind this decision through. Presumably this is a reference source intended for students of the Greek New Testament. It would be nice to have some Greek to read throughout the discussions.

But in all I think this will serve as a useful tool to supplement Metzger’s commentary rather than something that can replace it. They each serve a purpose and can be used in conjunction, which is what I plan to do.

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