Archive for March, 2009

Special thanks to Robert of Yale University Press for a review copy of this book.

Joseph Fitzmyer has long been one of the most well known Roman Catholic Bible scholars, writing on subjects ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to a few highly regarded commentaries in the Anchor Series (Luke, Acts, Romans, and Philemon).  Added to these commentaries is his latest work, a commentary on 1 Corinthians.  I’m not sure how long he’s been writing books, but according to his Wikipedia page he was ordained in 1938!

Fitzmyer’s strength is detailed exegesis- lexical analysis, grammatical discussions, historical concerns, etc.  This doesn’t make for the most exciting commentary, but the fact remains that few scholars can write a genuinely engaging commentary.  His attention to detail, especially of the Greek text, gives him some unique insight into some of the rhetorical devices used by Paul.  As far as the content of 1 Corinthians, I’ll give a quick rundown of some of Fitzmyer’s insights:

On the divisions within the Corinthian church mentioned in chapters 1-4 (p52)- “Paul’s initial preaching of that gospel in Roman Corinth resulted in his making a considerable number of converts there.  When other preachers came, such as Apollos and perhaps Cephas, the original Corinthian Christians heard the same gospel preached in other forms, which seems to have distracted them gradually from the nucleus of the gospel message.  So Paul is concerned to recall them to that fundamental message of the cross and of the risen Christ, and of the role of his Spirit in their lives.”

The lawsuits of 6:1-11 are not referring to specific cases Paul has in mind (p248), though Fitzmyer does not really offer another view for why Paul has to write this section.  Paul’s strong words against homosexual activities in 6:10 do not refer simply abuses in homosexual relationships, but any form of same sex relationships (p256-258).  He also includes a short but helpful discussion of slavery and the Christian life in chapter 7, which isn’t surprising given his previous commentary on Philemon (p306).

Chapters 8-10 shows “that Paul seeks to persuade those who possess knowledge to adopt his policy of not using their very ‘right’ to consume such idol meat even in temple banquets” (p332).  Regarding the passage about women covering their heads in chapter 11, Fitzmyer encourages the reader to keep in mind that Paul is only talking about the community gathering in worship, not addressing concerns about “the inferiority of women, women’s ministry, the role of women in the church, or even about the ordination of women” (p405-407).  The head covering is a veil, not a woman’s hair. In his discussion about the Lord’s Supper Fitzmyer may make some Protestants uncomfortable with his use of the term “Real Presence.”  He also includes a helpful discussion of the historical evidence for Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples and how Paul’s discussion in chapter 11 fits with that event (p430).

In chapters 12-14 “Paul is reacting against some Corinthian Christians who are vaunting one gift over another (especially speaking in tongues as the main gift of the Spirit), and in order to counteract that, he is seeking to put all pneumatika, ‘spiritual things,’ especially the endowments of the Spirit, in a proper perspective” (p454).  As for specific questions some might have in these chapters: “‘prophecy’ has to be understood as a Spirit-inspired dynamic and effective preaching of the Scriptures and the gospel” (p467; on 12:10, also noting 14:1, 3-6, 24, 29, 31).  Discerning of spirits (12:10) is not about interpreting prophecy, rather “is a term for evaluation” (p468).  “The perfect” of 13:10 has nothing to do with the completion of the canon, but is eschatological (p498).  Love is more important than the gifts “because it is the mark not only of eternity, but of the present as well” (p503).  Fitzmyer differentiates between the prophet in 14:29 and the one receiving revelation in 14:30 (p526, despite the fact that Paul returns to prophets in vv31-32).  The phrase “as in all the churches of the saints” in 14:33b belongs with what precedes it rather than what follows to avoid the repetition with “in the churches” in v34 (p527).  The verses in 14:34-36 are not a later addition, despite the best attempts at some scholars to argue so.  Rather (surprisingly), vv34-35 are a quotation of the Corinthian church and v36 is Paul’s objection (p530).

In chapter 15, Paul “seeks to demonstrate to them that belief in the resurrection of Christ, which he assumes they still hold, and the conduct of a life lived in Christian faith inevitably imply a belief in the resurrection of the dead” (p558).  Paul is arguing against those who deny the bodily resurrection of believers (with Hays, Fee, and others) as opposed to him arguing against Corinthians who believed the resurrection had already happened (p559-560).  So, “Paul is affirming not only the certainty of Christ’s resurrection, but also Christ’s resurrection as the guarantee of the futurity and certainty of the resurrection of the dead” (p568).  ‘The analogies (of vv36-41) do not prove the resurrection of the dead, but they provide the first step of a plausible mode of understanding it, and they are drawn from ordinary everyday experience” (p586).  The “‘spiritual body’ must mean a human body as transformed by God through Christ for a new mode of existence, under the influence of Pneuma, ‘Holy Spirit'” (p596).

There’s obviously more than could be said of this commentary.  Of interest to probably no one but me, this commentary did not receive the imprimatur of the Catholic church, unlike some of his previous commentaries (including his Romans one, which has been noted to sound more Reformed than Catholic).  Was this because of the change in publisher?  Was there something in this commentary that caused this?  Did he not seek this?

Often times the flow of the Anchor commentaries is tough to follow, coming across as a bunch of disjointed notes on the text.  Fitzmyer is better than some others I’ve read because he takes full advantage of the “comments” section before his notes to summarize the passage.  In these sections, he is able to achieve a good balance in interacting with other scholars and giving his own outlook.

For those who are doing detailed work in 1 Corinthians, Fitzmyer will prove to be a strong resource to consult.  For the pastor, he may not be as much help as other commentaries, notably Fee, Garland and Hays.  The problem is this: there are so many excellent commentaries on 1 Corinthians already.  I count Fee, Thiselton and Hays as the best, and Garland is as highly regarded as these by many I trust (but I haven’t used it much).  And I haven’t even mentioned Barrett, Witherington, Blomberg, Collins, Keener, Thiselton’s shorter commentary and so on.  Oh, and let’s not forget the forthcoming commentaries by Rosner/Ciampa, Ellis, Winter… you get the idea.  I guess my point is that we don’t need more commentaries on 1 Corinthians.

So where does Fitzmyer fit among the fray?  This commentary is in the top half of the ones I mentioned.  He’s different enough from the evangelical offerings to give a different viewpoint, but isn’t so different that an evangelical wouldn’t benefit from him.  As far as comparing this to his other commentaries, I still think his Luke and Philemon commentaries make a stronger contribution to those respective books.  Again, you can’t really fault Fitzmyer for this, since 1 Corinthians has been one of the most examined letters in the Bible (or probably in the ancient world).  Thus, there is little new, but much good in Fitzmyer’s commentary on 1 Corinthians and he ought to be commended for another fine work.

Read Full Post »

One of my favorite stories from studying church history involves Basil the Great, the 4th century bishop of Caesarea and one of the Cappadocians Fathers.  Basil is also considered the father of Eastern monasticism, who lived in relative poverty (especially given his lofty position) in order to help the poor.

Basil was also a widely respected bishop who held to the orthodox Nicene position regarding the deity of Christ, which put him in conflict with the emperor, Valens, who was an Arian.  Valens decided to take a trip to Caesarea and sent an officer ahead of him to keep Basil in check.  Basil, however, proved to be more than he bargained for.  Justo Gonzalez tells of their face off (p185):

Finally, in a heated encounter, the praetorian prefect lost his patience and threatened Basil with confiscating his goods, with exile, torture, and even death.  Basil responded, ‘All that I have that you can confiscate are these rags and a few books.  Nor can you exile me, for wherever you send me, I shall be God’s guest.  As to tortures you should know that my body is already dead in Christ.  And death would be a great boon to me, leading me sooner to God.’  Taken aback, the prefect said that no one had ever spoken to him thus.  Basil answered, ‘Perhaps that is because you have never met a true bishop.’

I suppose there are any number of points we can take away from this exchange, but there are two I’d like to focus on.  First, there is a freedom that Basil experienced which accompanied his lack of possessions.  That doesn’t mean he had none (he mentions clothing and books specifically); it means he did not allow himself to grow attached to them.  There is a connection between the paucity of possessions and the lack of unnecessary attachments.

The second point is closely related to the first.  Because Basil did not hold possessions tightly, they had no power over him and thus that power could not be exploited.  Many throughout the years of Christianity have succumbed to the power that comes with the things this world offers.  When losing our possessions is a real possibility, we begin to think about how much we love those things and how we’ll miss them.  We can be exploited.  Because Basil held power over his possessions, he was able to look the emperor (the most powerful man of his time, supposedly) in the eye (figuratively) and refuse to compromise.  He could not be exploited because there was nothing he held to exploit.

Here’s the point: there was nothing that could be taken from Basil nor anything that could be promised him that was going to cause him to falter from God’s plan.

I can’t help but wonder what things hold power over us?  Are we finding inordinate satisfaction in things that have no eternal significance?  Are we dependent on temporary treasures?  What attachments do we have that can be exploited, causing us to compromise on those things God has called us to?

Read Full Post »

Wayne Leman over at the Better Bibles Blog (my proposed subtitle- Making Good Translations Even Gooder, and I will continue to make this joke until they make it official) cites someone who cites the latest figures in Bible salesThe original poster (meaning “one who posted” rather than something you hang on your wall) and Wayne note that the TNIV doesn’t appear on the Top 10 list for sales by translation, either by unit sales or dollar sales.  Here is the chart, orginally taken from the CBA report:

They both mention the decline in TNIV sales as well as the surprising (to some) continued sales of the HCSB.  As I mentioned in a comment on the BBB post, the latter doesn’t surprise me at all, since the HCSB has the backing of the largest Protestant denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention (and it’s a good translation).

But the relatively poor sales numbers (though these figures are only from Christian bookstores, so the numbers may not reflect total sales accurately) of the TNIV are a bit more surprising to me.  When I first started reading the TNIV regularly back in the fall of 2006, I assumed it would do reasonably well if for no other reason than it’s an improvement on the NIV (see Blomberg’s article), which is the most popular translation among evangelicals.  Who wouldn’t want to make a good thing even better?  I didn’t think that it would “take over” the market, mainly because there are so many translations available, unlike in previous generations.  In the late 70’s evangelicals basically used 1 of 3 options: the NIV, the KJV or the NASB (of course, I was born in 1979 so I could be corrected on this front).

But I think there are a number of reasons why the TNIV hasn’t done well.  I touched on it in my comment at BBB, but I thought I’d expound a little more here.  First, I agree with one of the other commentators that Zondervan’s marketing strategy wasn’t very good (I’m not even sure they have one anymore).  When I looked for a TNIV back in the summer of 2006, I had a hard time finding one that didn’t look like it was intended for a teenage girl.  I’m a man in my 20’s, I don’t want a Bible with polkadots or various shades of purple.  I finally found one that was a 2-tone black Bible, and even that was trendier than I wanted.

Second, the anti-TNIV campaign has been very strong, which is rather unfortunate.  I still have people say to me, when I mention that I like the TNIV, “that’s the gender-neutral Bible!” with a mixture of horror and disbelief that I would allow myself to degrade God’s word.  After all, the TNIV emasculates the Bible!  (Side note: I’ve never read a translation and thought to myself, “my, that was rather masculine.”  How would a Bible translation be masculine?  Perhaps an audio Bible, narrated by Ted Nugent with sounds from a football game and Harley engines revving in the background?  Oh wait, this guy has already told us.  But I digress…)

The anti-TNIV campaign has been effective.  You have at least one website dedicated to showing not just the flaws of the TNIV (all translations have flaws) but rather the danger of accepting the TNIV as a legitimate translation for evangelicals.  They’ve drafted a list of over 900 “inaccuracies” from the TNIV.  Mind you, “inaccuracy” is a misleading term; this list would be better titled “Over 900 Translations from the TNIV that Are Potentially Not the Best Option.”  Of course, such a title doesn’t catch attention.

There is also the list of gravely concerned evangelicals who oppose the TNIV.  It helps that there are important names on this list that would make it difficult for Zondervan to market effectively.  I can think of 2 men specifically who have a leading position in evangelicalism.  One, James Dobson, is one of the most influential evangelical voices for my parents’ generation.  The other, John Piper, is, in my opinion, the single most influential evangelical voice for my generation.  These men, and others on the list, are trusted men.  And since most church goers don’t know enough about what goes into a Bible translation, this is enough to shy away from the TNIV.  The truth is, I trust D A Carson’s thoughts about Bible translation more than anyone on that list, and he has endorsed the TNIV (or perhaps “stuck up for the TNIV”, I don’t want to put words into his mouth).

I don’t really want to get into a point-by-point refutation of the TNIV critics.  One of the concerns with these critics, and thus those who read them, is that the TNIV is a translation for “feminists and egalitarians.”  I generally point out that I can think of a few complementarians who were on the translating committee (Douglas Moo, Karen Jobes, Bruce Waltke), as well as a couple who are a part of the revision committee (Craig Blomberg and Mark Strauss).  Has anyone told them that they are being driven by a feminist agenda?  I’m sure they’d like to know.  There may be other complementarians, I haven’t done enough research on every member to find out where they stand.  And the aforementioned D A Carson is a complementarian.  My point is that the average church goer doesn’t know this and therefore can’t make a fully informed choice.  When they’re told that the TNIV is part of a feminist agenda, they are more likely to believe it because they don’t know much about the scholars behind the translation.  These aren’t Harvard liberals with an agenda, they’re top notch scholars from top notch evangelical schools.

Now, I started using the TNIV not because I was looking for something new, but because it is recommended in the book we use in our Bibles classes (which started in September 2006).  I thought that if it were recommended in the book I’m teaching from, I ought to be familiar with it.  I was always an NASB user, so it was an interesting change of pace.  I’ve been using it now for 2.5 years and I think it’s a good translation.  Not perfect, but good.  I have no problem recommending it to people, but I don’t necessarily tell people to run out and buy it, either.  Since most in my church use the NIV, I let them know that if they are thinking about purchasing a new Bible (maybe their Bible is falling apart, they gave it away, the kids threw it in the toilet, etc) then I’d recommend the TNIV.  If their Bible is in good condition and they like it and they aren’t in need of a new one, then the NIV is perfectly fine and they don’t need to go out and get a TNIV.  I’d rather them use that money to buy a homeless man a sandwich or give it to Wycliffe Bible Translators so that people who actually need a Bible translation (rather than another Bible translation) can get one (don’t worry, that rant is coming).

Believe it or not I actually have a point in this post.  I’m interested in all this, in part, because I never really thought about how marketing Bible translations plays a role in people’s choices.  Maybe I’m naive, but I guess I thought the better translations would win out.  Instead, I think we’re witnessing how marketing and anti-marketing campaigns have factored into the landscape.

I’d like to ask our reader(s) what translation you use and why you chose that one.  There’s no real right or wrong answer here.  Did you make your choice because it was recommended by someone (a friend, a pastor, an author, scholar, etc)?  Did you try out a couple translations and decide on one?  If so, what factored into your decision?  I’m sincerely interested, so feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think about all this.

Read Full Post »

1 Peter 3:18-22 is one of the most confusing passages in the entire Bible.  Check that, it’s probably the most confusing.  I wrote a paper on it in my undergrad days and I’m still confused.  While I believe it’s good to research difficult passages in the Bible and try your best to come to a conclusion (even if very tentative), it’s a passage like this that reminds me of the need for humility in proposing our answers.

One influential (in some circles) treatment of this passage is Wayne Grudem’s, proposed in an article that was reprinted in his Tyndale commentary on 1 Peter.  In it, he takes on the prevalent view that Peter is recalling a story from the Enoch tradition within Judaism.  Basically, to summarize as best I can, in 1 Enoch (a pseudepigraphal writing) there is a story of Enoch being transported to a place where the fallen angels of Genesis 6:1-5 were being held.  These fallen angels were held in a prison while their progeny (called “spirits” in 1 Enoch) corrupt the earth during the days of Noah (and continue to do so).  God pronounces a judgment on these fallen angels and the spirits.  There is more to it, and there are all sorts of questions (including whether or not the Genesis account is actually talking about fallen angels), but that’s enough to show that there are points of similarity between the Enoch story and 1 Peter 3.  The story is found in 1 Enoch 12-16, you can click here to read Charles’ translation online.

Grudem objects to seeing the Enoch story in the background of 1 Peter 3 (you’ll have to forgive me for not citing page references, I’m working from memory since I don’t have it in front of me).  Basically, he questions whether or not Peter’s readers, who were probably Gentiles, would be aware of a relatively obscure Jewish text (if indeed it was written before 1 Peter) that was most popular in areas and cultures removed from Peter’s readers in Asia Minor.  It is, to be sure, a fair question.  Many counter this by noting that the story from 1 Enoch and Peter’s word in chapter 3 may reflect the same tradition, even if Peter is not directly refer to 1 Enoch 12-16.  That’s always a possibility (though I have to wonder if we have a case of an “independent traditions of the gaps” argument here), but the case would still need to be made that Peter’s readers could have known this story.  In other words, one would have to show that Peter’s Gentile readers in Asia Minor had some connection to the story of the fallen angels in Noah’s time and the rebellion of the “spirits.”

I’m working through Karen Jobes’ commentary on 1 Peter and she offers up some information that somehow I’ve either never read or never noticed until now.  She notes (on pages 245-247 for those following along at home) that the Noah story was actually a favorite in Asia Minor (presumably because his ark was said to land there).  She notes that there were 4 flood stories that stemmed from Asia Minor, though they aren’t about Noah himself.  But, Jobes states, “Noah was… the most prominently known biblical figure in Asia Minor even among the Gentiles” (245).  It would make sense that Noah would become popular, since strong flood traditions already existed in Asia Minor.  He was so popular, that in the 2nd & 3rd centuries AD, Noah and his wife were featured on coins minted in Asia Minor.

Jobes also points out that the Sibylline Oracles also feature Noah and his pronouncement of judgment on his wicked generation.  The Sibylline Oracles date from around the time of the Jesus, and could have been written in Asia Minor.  Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Peter’s readers were familiar with the Sibylline Oracles themselves, but possibly possessed shared stories and traditions regarding Noah.

Of the existing Noahic traditions in Peter’s time, we see Noah proclaiming judgment on his wicked generation and the spirits who brought about wickedness in his day being judged by God.  Noah himself was a popular figure in Asia Minor, so it wouldn’t be surprising if these stories (and many others) circulated throughout the area.  In fact, it’s probably likely.

If this is true, Peter is using this story because it’s familiar to his readers, whether or not they know of the texts in 1 Enoch or the Sibylline Oracles.  Regarding Peter’s pastoral goal, Jobes writes (247),

Therefore, despite their small numbers the Christians of Asia Minor are not lost to God’s concern in the mass of pagan humanity, and God saves the righteous in spite of their small number (cf. Gen. 18:22-32).  Moreover, though the pagans of Noah’s time spurned his warning to repent, God’s patience did not imply God’s indifference.  Just as the rain eventually began to fall for forty days and forty nights, the final judgment of God will also overtake scoffing unbelievers in the future.  These points were meant to be words of encouragement to the Christians of Asia Minor who, like Noah, were being derided and maligned by their society because of their faith.

Like I said above, one has to approach this passage with a large amount of humility.  While there are enough connections between the Noahic traditions and Asia Minor to convince me to see their importance here in 1 Peter 3, I’ll admit it isn’t a knockout argument.  I still think the main point is discernible despite the confusion: the salvation of the few righteous (Noah & his family) corresponds to the salvation of Peter’s readers.  Though that correspondence is worthy of its own post.

Read Full Post »

Outlining 1 Peter

This post is a practice run at giving a descriptive outline for 1 Peter.  This isn’t an analysis of the grammatical structure or a Semantic Structure Analysis, though I hope I’m not ignoring them.  It’s a simple attempt to understand the flow of 1 Peter and how the parts interrelate.  I stress this is a “practice run” because I’m not entirely convinced of every detail, and as you can see, I’m not making an attempt at outlining every sentence.  Anyway, I’m also giving my rationale so you can understand why I opted for the choices I did.


Greeting (1:1-2)

Called out of Darkness to be the People of God (1:3-2:10)

Praise God for His salvation (1:3-12)

Live a holy life as one redeemed (1:13-21)

Having been born of God’s eternal word, love one another (1:22-2:3)

God has called you, making you His people (2:4-10)

Living as the People of God in a Hostile World (2:11-4:11)

Submission to others in suffering (2:11-3:12)

Lead others to praise God because of your good deeds (2:11-3:7)

Submit to governing authorities (2:13-17)

Slaves, follow Christ’s example in suffering (2:18-25)

Wives, submit to your husbands (3:1-6)

Husbands, honor your wives (3:7)

Summary: bless others rather than repay evil (3:8-12)

Be blameless in suffering, just as Christ was (3:13-4:11)

You will suffer undeservedly (3:13-17)

Suffer as Christ did, who was victorious (3:18-22)

Suffering is a sign that you are done with your old ways (4:1-6)

Love one another in light of the end of all things (4:7-11)

Suffering in This Life, in Light of the Time to Come (4:12-5:11)

Expect to suffer as Christ did, entrusting your souls to God (4:12-19)

Elders & young men are to live properly, in light of the coming glory (5:1-7)

Stand strong in suffering, for God will uphold you until the end (5:8-11)

Closing (5:12-14)


So let me make some comments.  The greeting and closing are easy enough to set apart.  That, of course, isn’t to say that they’re unimportant.  One of the difficulties with 1 Peter is that it basically deals with one subject (suffering) throughout the letter, so differentiating sections isn’t always easy.  Basically, you’re dealing with how Peter talks about suffering, not a new topic altogether.  Some letters are relatively easy to outline; 1 Corinthians is a piece of cake.  Others are more difficult; 1 John and James are notoriously tricky (seriously, try to do it sometime).

One thing to note is that you see “dear friends” (TNIV) occur twice in the text, at 2:11 and 4:12.  I’m taking this as a marker of Peter moving on to a slightly different way of handling the topic.  That leaves us with 1:3-2:10 after the greeting and before the first “dear friends.”  I feel good about these 3 main sections in the body of the letter, though how they break down is not as easy to tell.

In my “titles” I tried to be descriptive, summarizing the main point of that section.  I’m not entirely sure I got them all right, or worded them well, but it’s a place to start.  In 1:3-2:10, I broke it down into 4 subsections.  You’ll notice that I indented 1:13-21 and 1:22-2:3 because I wanted to make a point structurally.  I see 1:3-12 and 2:4-10 as “bookending” (or an inclusio) the middle sections.  That is, the bookends focus on what God has done, whereas the middle sections focus on our response.  I don’t think this structure is an accident.

In 2:11-4:11, the beginning is relatively easy to follow.  I think 2:11-12 serves as a “thesis statement” for what is to follow, specifically in 2:13-3:7.  Peter focuses on those under authority and how they should act.  It seems to me that his statement to husbands in 3:7 is not a major focus, evidenced by the short statement to them.  3:8-12 summarizes what comes before, but also provides a transition to what follows.  Instead of focusing on different categories of people (slaves, wives, etc), Peter broadens his focus back to all his readers.  This section includes some of the more confusing portions of the New Testament.  This section ends with an eschatological focus.

This switch back to an eschatological focus provides another transition to our next “dear friends” section beginning in 4:12.  In the first chapter, Peter has a strong emphasis on the coming glory to be revealed, and he returns to this theme again here (4:13; 5:1, 4, 10).  This section is bookended by some quasi-comforting words: some suffering is God’s will (4:19) and Satan is looking to devour you (5:8), but God is the “God of all grace” (5:10) in the midst of all of it.  In the middle of these are Peter’s commands to the elder readers and the younger ones.

So, of the 3 main sections of the body, the 1st and 3rd deal more with an eschatological outlook and with God’s work of salvation (which has both a past and future element that Peter stresses).  The middle section deals a bit more with following Christ as an example of righteous suffering in a hostile world.  As I noted earlier, since there is one main topic of the letter (suffering) there is significant overlap throughout these sections.  But with that said, I think there is a discernable structure.

I’ll stop there.  I’ll give my caveat again- this is a practice run.  I’m not entirely convinced of all of this, and I haven’t checked it with any scholars.  My point in posting this is to show how one can make an attempt to understand the flow of an NT epistle.  Hopefully, in so doing, we can better understand both how Peter encourages his readers in a time of suffering and how we can be encouraged in our own time.

Read Full Post »

Page CXVI Hymns

It seems like I’m under contractual obligation to let you know whenever cheap/free hymns are available.  So, with that in mind, let me recommend 7 free hymns from Page CXVI Hymns.  I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about them (found them at Between Two Worlds), and I don’t think this will be available for ever, so take advantage of it and see what you think.  In case you’re wondering, here’s the list of songs:

Come Thou Fount

In Christ Alone

My Jesus I Love Thee

When I Survey the Wonderful Cross

Nothing but the Blood

Solid Rock


Read Full Post »

We’ve begun a new unit in our training school, moving on to the NT Epistles, focusing on 1 Peter.  In the class we use Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth as our base text (along with its companion volume, How to Read the Bible Book by Book), which has 2 chapters dedicated to studying epistles, one on exegesis and one on hermeneutics.  One of these days I hope to get around to writing more about HTRTBFAIW (yes, I can type that out rather quickly), but for now it’ll suffice to say that I think it’s the most helpful entry level book for teaching the basics of studying the Bible.

But there are other resources I’ve been using in my teaching prep for 1 Peter, and I thought I’d recommend a few for our readers.  Note well: if I were focusing on a more academic study of the book, I’d use far more resources than what I’m putting here.  Since this is a part-time job for me, and I no longer have access to a wealth of commentaries and books like I did at seminary, I can only use what I have at home.  It just so happens that I have some good resources on 1 Peter.

As far as commentaries go, the two I’m using the most are Karen Jobes’ 1 Peter in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and Thomas Schreiner’s New American Commentary on 1 Peter (this volume also covers 2 Peter and Jude).  This is the first time I’ve really used Jobes’ work, and I have been very pleased thus far.  She’s a very clear writer, which helps sort through the technical issues she deals with.  Schreiner’s commentary is not as technical, and he’s more limited in his space, which keeps him from diving into issues like one might want.  For instance, in dealing with the term “exiles” (or “foreigners”, etc), Schreiner simply dismisses Elliot’s view (see below) as “not compelling,” whereas Jobes gives a more nuanced treatment of the issue.  Like I said, it’s hard to knock Schreiner on this, since he has less space to work with.  Also, for those who have read Schreiner’s works before, it’s not surprising that he takes a strong Reformed reading of the letters (which tends to show up more in 2 Peter than 1 Peter).

Two other commentares I own, but aren’t using as much, as John Elliot’s 1 Peter in the Anchor Bible series and Paul Achtemeier’s commentary in the Hermeneia series.  Elliot’s is interesting, but honestly not all that helpful.  Or, better said, the benefits of his commentary are found in others, and it’s less helpful for someone teaching a 4-week class at church.  He does offer up an interesting argument for Peter’s readers actually being literal exiles (or people displaced from Rome to the provinces mentioned in 1 Peter), rather than seeing the term metaphorically as most have done.  Achtemeier’s still is the best technical commentary, in my opinion.  I’m using it less than Jobes and Schreiner mainly because I don’t have the time to dig as deeply as I’d like.  But in the past, I’ve really enjoyed his commentary, even when I disagree with him rather strongly (such as on the authorship issue).

I’ve used other commentaries in the past, but no longer have access to them.  I Howard Marshall’s commentary in the IVPNT series is really good; I’m disappointed it’s not available on the Bible Gateway site, where some of the commentaries from this series are available for free.  This is the best of the non-technical commentaries, in my opinion.  In the “semi-technical” category, many really like Peter Davids’ commentary in the NICNT series.  To be honest, when I’ve used this commentary in the past, I’ve been disappointed.  But, other people love it, so maybe the problem is with me.  The same goes for J Ramsey Michaels’ commentary in the Word Biblical series.

For more thoughts on 1 Peter commentaries, check out Cousin Jeremy’s post on his own website from 12/06, where he deals with a few more than I do here.  You can also check out the list at Best Commentaries, including forthcoming volumes (I’m most excited about Hafemann’s).

While called a “commentary,” the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament is a commentary of a different sort, as the name indicates.  I haven’t used this a ton just yet, but will in the next week or two and have high hopes.  The 1 Peter section was written by D A Carson, who is one of the better evangelical scholars out there.

As far as dealing with background issues, besides the commentaries, I’m a big fan of Craig Keener’s Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament and David deSilva’s Introduction to the New Testament.  Both of these scholars are excellent at providing cultural information that most of us would never know.  Another interesting take on the culture of the early church is Bruce Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum, a fictional story that takes place during Domitian’s reign (in the 90’s AD).  Longenecker attempts to show the nature of life under persecution for the early church, which is appropriate for studying 1 Peter (though the nature of the persecution for Peter’s readers in the 60’s is a bit different).

For resources online, you can check out Dan Wallace’s First Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline.  It functions as an intro comparable to what you’d find in a commentary, only on a smaller scale but longer than what you’d find in a study Bible.  He’s done this for the whole NT, and I recommend them for those wanting to get a grasp on each of the NT books.  I also listened to the two-part lecture from Biblical Training by Craig Blomberg in his Introduction to the New Testament class.  Blomberg is one of my favorite writers and pretty much everything he does is helpful.  He is not, however, the most engaging speaker I’ve ever heard, but it’s hard to be engaging over an audio recording.  I didn’t listen to Robert Stein’s lecture on 1 Peter, so I can’t comment on it, but I figured I’d link to it so others could check it out if they’d like.

So, that’s about it.  I wonder if anyone reading has any thoughts on resources for studying 1 Peter, particularly non-commentaries (though thoughts on commentaries are welcome, too).  Has anyone heard any good sermons on 1 Peter?  Since I don’t use study Bibles I can’t comment on them, but if anyone has used one for 1 Peter, what did you think?

Read Full Post »

Jobes on 1 Peter & Suffering

Even those Christians who do not suffer persecution for the faith are called to the suffering of self-denial.  Sin is often thought of as being motivated by the temptation for pleasure.  But perhaps the real power of sin lies in the avoidance of pain and suffering.  It is better to suffer unfulfilled needs and desires than to sin.  Is this not what self-denial means?  Jesus linked self-denial with following in his footsteps when he said, “Those who would be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 TNIV).  For instance, isn’t the temptation to lie often an attempt to save face rather than face the consequences of the truth?  Isn’t the temptation to cheat on an exam an unwillingness to suffer the loss of reputation or other consequences that failure might bring?  Isn’t sexual sin often the alternative to suffering by living with deep emotional and physical needs unmet?  According to Peter, the pain and suffering that self-denial brings is a godly suffering that is better than yielding to sin (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

Karen H Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p5.

Read Full Post »

Coming off the reposting of my review of Thomas Oden’s book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, I was thinking about some of the implications studying early African Christianity would have for modern missions.  As one who works for a missions organization and helps train future missionaries, I’m constantly looking to draw out practical application from studying the Bible, theology, church history, etc.

In my review of the book, I note that Oden points out how studying the early African church can benefit the modern, growing African church.  African church leaders can learn from how their ancestors handled church disputes, draw encouragement from the example of African martyrs, and so on.  Keeping in mind that most of the world places high priority on (1) their ancestors and (2) ancient wisdom (unlike many of us, who think newer is better), this is an important point that we can help pass along as the African church grows.

There’s another area where we can apply this insights to missions.  I’m reminded of a story that the late J Christy Wilson told about sharing the gospel with a Turkish med student who was in the hospital.  Wilson, who was a missionary to Muslims in Iran and Afghanistan before he went on to Gordon-Conwell to teach missions, was able to bridge the cultural gap with this Turkish man by pointing out the important role Turkey had in the early church.  Paul was born in Turkey.  The Apostle John lived in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey.  Many of the important churches, including the 7 churches of Revelation, were in Turkey.  What this did was enable this man to see that Christianity is not a white man’s religion or an import from the West.  It’s roots, it’s foundation, are non-Western.

Applying this same idea to African Christianity is actually quite easy.  Some of the greatest church fathers and theologians were Africans.  Augustine was a Berber born in present day Algeria.  Whether you always agree with him or not, Augustine is the most influential extra-biblical theologian in church history.  He was African.  Now, some may point out that he wrote in Latin and think this is an argument against what I’m presenting, as if writing in Latin somehow made him less of a Berber.  I’d simply point out that if Augustine wanted to write for a wide audience, he had no choice but to write in Latin (or Greek, I suppose).  He could have written in his native Berber tongue, but then his writings wouldn’t have travelled very far.

Let’s think about the Trinity for a second.  I’ve had Christians tell me that this is a Western academic construction, one that we need not import onto people from other cultures who may be turned off but such theology (or think of it as Tritheism).  I find it interesting that the man who coined the term “Trinity” was Tertullian, who was from Carthage (in modern day Tunisia).  The greatest early church defender of orthodox trinitarian theology was Athanasius, who was from Egypt (and referred to by his opponents as “The Little Black Dwarf”, for those who insist on Christianity being a white religion).

From a missiological point of view, any genuine connection you can make with a native culture is important.  Showing a Berber how Christianity was built in part because of Berber Christians can help remove the foreigness of the religion and its colonial connections.  It’s nice because you don’t have to contrive it, you’re simply pointing out historical fact.  Remember: many of these cultures pride themselves in ancient customs and traditions passed along from their ancestors.  Reminding them (or showing them for the first time) that many of their ancestors were passionate followers of Jesus Christ and helped build His church is part of them reclaiming their heritage in Christ.

Read Full Post »

Note: this book review originally appeared on my old blog on 8/13/08.

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

It is still a prevalent but hopefully decreasingly common (thanks to the efforts of scholars such as Phillip Jenkins) view that Christianity is a “Western” (American or European) religion. Whereas Jenkins spends most of The Next Christendom showing that Christianity is growing most in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Thomas Oden’s new book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, helps show the long history of Christianity within Africa, arriving long before both Islam and the camel. But Oden’s goal isn’t simply to show that Christianity has existed, or even thrived, for centuries in some places within Africa. Such a thesis isn’t remarkable for those who have even a superficial knowledge of church history.

Instead, Oden sets out to show that “Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture” (p9). Historians have been getting it wrong for some time by claiming that the greatest achievements in the early church were from Europe, especially Rome. Oden argues: “Well-meaning European and American historians have a tilted perception of the relation of African and European intellectual history in the third and fourth centuries, and thus at the apex of African influence” (p31).

“This is what the book is about: to state the African seedbed hypothesis in a measured way and begin to sort out the facts that support it” (p31). In doing so, Oden hopes to swing the pendulum back to appreciating Africa’s vital role in shaping Christianity as we know it.

In “Part One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity” (chapters 1-5) Oden lays out the foundation of the rest of the book. Topics covered include the need to recover ancient texts and excavate ancient Christian sites in Africa (chapter one) and “Seven Ways Africa Shaped the Christian Mind” (chapter 2). He also argues for his definition of “African”, rejecting the idea that skin color should be the determining factor, but rather “if a text was written in Africa it will be treated as African” (p69). The same goes for the theologians/monastics/bishops he surveys. If they were from Africa (whether North African or Sub-Saharan), he counts them as African.

Oden wants his reader to understand that he is not trying to overstate his case, or to discount non-African contributions to the formation of Christianity. His desire is “ecumenical” (which he’ll admit is a bad word in some circles). His desire is to include Africa and Africans into the conversation, allowing their voice to be heard, not create an insular spirit among African believers. “If Africans were saying that they want their sources to come from Africa alone and not from anywhere else, then that would be deficient in the catholic spirit. But this is not the direction of African expectations. They seek a fair hearing for valid arguments based on evidence” (p93).

I’ll admit that this section of the book became a bit repetitive at points. Barely a page goes by without the reader being reminded that Christianity has long existed in Africa, that Africans were dealing with theological and pastoral issues before Europeans made them famous and so on. All valid points, to be sure, and indeed this is the very thesis of the book; but the repetition could have been avoided and trimmed this section a bit more.

In “Part Two: African Orthodox Recovery”, Oden points out why the retrieval of early African Christianity is important. “It is precisely from the ancient African sources that global Christianity can relearn that the church guided by the Spirit is never irretrievably fallen away from the truth” (p103). Rediscovering early African Christianity can also be instructive for the various forms of emerging African Christians. “They now have the benefit of learning about conflict resolution from their ancient African mentors. From that history they learn that not every difference of opinion is demonic and not every union is of God” (p107). As African Christianity grows, “The brilliant instruction and guidance of early African Christian texts and witnesses stand ready to nourish this regrounding” (p109).

For example, Oden notes that many of the early martyrs in the church were Africans, such as Perpetua and Felicitas in Carthage (modern day Tunisia). These African martyrs helped propel the church throughout the world. Also, the early African martyrs can prove inspirational to modern African Christian suffering persecution. “The meaning of the struggle of the early African martyrs begs to be understood in modern Africa” (p120).

Oden ends this section of the book with a biographical note of his growing interest in African Christianity, as well as an impassioned plea for others, particularly Africans, to pick up his vision of voicing the strength of early African Christianity. He confesses he’d love to do more, but admits his life “may be shortened by congestive heart disease” (p141, though we pray this is not true). He actually has helped set up a consortium called the Center for Early African Christianity (website: earlyafricanchristianity.com), to help facilitate this study.

Herein lies the true goal of the book, to spur on the next generation of African scholars to take up the challenge of studying early African Christianity. Oden makes many assertions throughout this book, but admittedly offers only a small amount of evidence to support his claims. What he does offer is provocative and enough to admit that he is probably correct. But much more needs to be done. For instance, it is one thing to show that African church leaders dealt with a certain issue a century before the Europeans did, it’s another thing to show the European church leaders relied on the Africans in forming their decisions. This book is a challenge, a shot across the bow of young historians. If Oden is correct, that Africa did in fact play a more decisive role in the formation of Christianity than just about everyone realizes, then the Church will profit from the investigation he calls for.

This is a tremendous book and is worthy of being read by anyone who enjoys church history, or even African history. Thomas Oden has served the Church over the last few decades by editing the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (through IVP) and reminding us of the necessity of remembering our roots in the early church. This book continues his service to us all, may his vision be realized soon.

Read Full Post »