Thursday, February 26, 2009

Arthur Boulet's Review of Kenton Sparks's 'God's Word in Human Words'

This excerpt from Arthur Boulet's review of God's Word in Human Words is thought-provoking:
If the evangelical answer continues to be fideism or pretending that the “problems” do not exist, then the laypeople, seminarians, and graduate students who are approached with the strength of these issues are left without a paradigm or hermeneutical method that can account for both data produced by biblical critics and the faith they hold. Their “liberal” views or their “falling from faith” are not the necessary conclusions of critical biblical scholarship but the necessary conclusions of evangelicals’ negligence not only to deal with the data of biblical criticism but also to integrate it with their theology.
Also interesting is Boulet's affiliation with Westminster Theological Seminary, though he is evidently not on faculty there.

Alec Gerrard's Temple Model

Alec Gerrard has spent 30 years constructing an amazingly detailed 1:100 scale model of Herod's temple in a shed on his farm. Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions I can't include any pictures here (or use them in my classes), so you'll have to check out the pictures in these Daily Mail and Telegraph articles (with a slide-show here).

Or you can order Gerrard's pictorial guide to the Temple featuring his model. See also Graham Kennedy's discussion.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Evangelical Scholarship on Jews and Judaism 1: Purity

One puzzling feature about Peter's lunch-time vision in Acts 10 is that the four-cornered sheet contained clean as well as unclean food. So instead of replying, "Never, Lord, I have never eaten anything common and unclean" (10:14), Peter might have selected a clean animal from the menu and been on his way.

F.F. Bruce suggests that Peter "was scandalized by the unholy mixture of clean animals with unclean" (206 n. 18), but offers no evidence that such a combination was considered unholy.

Ben Witherington III supplies the lack, drawing on a 1983 AUSS article by Colin House, which in turn appears to rely on F.F. Bruce (see p. 147). Witherington puts the argument this way:
"Peter assumed that because of the considerable presence of unclean animals and the possible problem of contamination, there was nothing fit to eat in the sheet" (Witherington, Acts, 350).
No evidence? No problem:
"It may be true that no known ruling specified that clean animals were automatically made unclean by mere contact with unclean ones, but it stands to reason that this was often assumed to be the case in early Judaism. It was after all assumed in early Judaism that a person incurred uncleanness by mere contact with an unclean person, and it would be natural to assume the same with animals" (Witherington, Acts, 350 n. 95).
There are at least a couple issues here:
  1. Arguments about early Jewish belief should never rest on what "stands to reason" or what is "natural."
  2. This particular argument represents a failure of imagination: Think of all the Jewish shepherds trying to keep their pure sheep from weasels, mice, lizards of various kinds, and all creatures that swarm upon the earth (cf. Lev 11).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Memoirs of a Marriage at Forty(-Four)

You were eight when I first met you,

Several years older when I first remember noticing you.

Not the voices, but the background noises I recall first:

Handel’s Messiah as I drifted to sleep,

The beep, beep, beep, of the V.O.K. reading the news.

Then the voices half-understood:

Greeting the neighbours across the fence

with words of welcome;

A full report of the morning’s events

at the lunch table, first names scattered haphazard;

and the sustained, barely audible, hum of reading and prayer—nourishing life.

Not words alone, but laughter, and tears too, nurtured my childhood.

A solitary tear runs down her cheek as I walk backwards, wave and turn,


In fitful sobs, they fall too, reminding me that this is Adam, both new and old,

yearning for yield.

I watched you grow in the lives of your children.

God knows the tears and sweat, the toil and prayer

That feed the sometimes seeming barren soil of ministry.

God knows the names of lives touched and others trained,

That fruit borne of life together:

Not stale or stagnant,

Not shrinking into hardness like a withered citron,

You model—as I watch you growing into wisdom,

growing into love.




I wrote this four years ago for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I corrected my mini-review of Richard I. Pervo's new Acts commentary in response to a comment by the author.

There are some nice things about blogging!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism

My complimentary copy of Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008) arrived in the mail this afternoon. It is a collection of essays, including one by David M. Miller, that were originally presented at a SSHRC-funded workshop at the University of Calgary in 2005. It was a fabulous conference. The highlight, of course, was the chance to meet and interact with E.P. Sanders. I'm glad to see the book finally in print.

There's a link to the table of contents here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Telescoped Scripture Citation in Acts 7:6-7 (In Honour of International Septuagint Day)

In honour of International Septuagint Day, consider God's promise to Abraham as it appears in Acts 7:6-7:

Acts 7:6-7

LXX Gen 15:13-14 (cf. Ex 2:22, 3:12)

ἐλάλησεν δὲ οὕτως ὁ θεὸς ὅτι ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ πάροικον ἐν γῇ ἀλλοτρίᾳ καὶ δουλώσουσιν αὐτὸ καὶ κακώσουσιν ἔτη τετρακόσια· 7 καὶ τὸ ἔθνος ᾧ ἐὰν δουλεύσουσιν κρινῶ ἐγώ, ὁ θεὸς εἶπεν, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐξελεύσονται καὶ λατρεύσουσίν μοι ἐν τῷ τόπῳ τούτῳ.

Gen 15:13-14 καὶ ἐρρέθη πρὸς Αβραμ Γινώσκων γνώσῃ ὅτι πάροικον ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου ἐν γῇ οὐκ ἰδίᾳ, καὶ δουλώσουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ κακώσουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ ταπεινώσουσιν αὐτοὺς τετρακόσια ἔτη. 14 τὸ δὲ ἔθνος, ᾧ ἐὰν δουλεύσωσιν, κρινῶ ἐγώ· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἐξελεύσονται ὧδε μετὰ ἀποσκευῆς πολλῆς.

Exod 2:22 ἐν γαστρὶ δὲ λαβοῦσα ἡ γυνὴ ἔτεκεν υἱόν καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν Μωυσῆς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Γηρσαμ λέγων ὅτι πάροικός εἰμι ἐν γῇ ἀλλοτρίᾳ

Exod 3:12 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ θεὸς Μωυσεῖ λέγων ὅτι ἔσομαι μετὰ σοῦ καὶ τοῦτό σοι τὸ σημεῖον ὅτι ἐγώ σε ἐξαποστέλλω ἐν τῷ ἐξαγαγεῖν σε τὸν λαόν μου ἐξ Αἰγύπτου καὶ λατρεύσετε τῷ θεῷ ἐν τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ

Acts quotes primarily from God's promise to Abraham in the LXX of Gen 15:13-14 (words in bold print). The words in green are paralleled in Exod 2:22 (the birth of Moses' son Gershom), and the final clause (in orange) draws on God's promise to Moses at the burning bush.

I suspect πάροικον ἐν γῇ ἀλλοτρίᾳ is simply an unintentional substition of a familiar phrase from Exod 2:22 for Gen 15:13's πάροικον ... ἐν γῇ οὐκ ἰδίᾳ.

However, I think the allusion to Exod 3:12 at the end is an intentional telescoping of two distinct promises, and I suspect Luke expected his audience would pick up on it. (Notice the repetition of 'place' in 7:33, the reference back to 7:6 in 7:34, and the extensive attention to the burning bush at the turning point of the speech in Acts 7:30-34.) Instead of promising Abraham 'great possessions' as in Gen 15:14, God tells Abraham that the purpose of the exodus is worship--one of the main concerns of the Stephen speech.
  • This leads to ambiguity about the place of worship: Is it the land (from Abraham's perspective), Mt. Sinai (from the perspective of the burning bush), or, as Greg Stirling has suggested, both: “The implication is that there is more than one holy place…the Temple is holy, but so is Mount Sinai.”*
  • It also suggests--against the majority of Luke-Acts scholars--that Luke combined the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, since the purpose of both was to worship God "in holiness and righteousness...all our days" (Luke 1:73-75; Acts 7:7).
Unfortunately from the perspective of the Stephen speech, the exodus ended in tragedy because those who were called out to worship turned instead to the idolatry of the golden calf (7:40). They did not listen to the prophet Moses (7:38-39); their descendants refused to hear the prophet like Moses.

In both instances, worship becomes idolatry when God's people refuse to listen.

*Sterling, Gregory E. "'Opening the Scriptures': The Legitimation of the Jewish Diaspora and the Early Christian Mission," Pages 199-225 (here 214) in Jesus and the Heritage of Israel: Luke's Narrative Claim upon Israel's Legacy. Edited by David P. Moessner. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Scot McKnight on Pastoral Calling

I seldom link to Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog because I imagine everyone reads it already, but Scot's rant on "pastor pages on church websites" from a month ago stuck with me:
What annoyed me about these sites was the utter absence of a sense of the sacred in pastoring, of the overwhelming sense of God's call upon a life that reaches so deep that everything becomes holy, of the profound respect and privilege of the call to lead God's people, and of the total lack of order. The sense we hear today of being real and authentic doesn't mean we devalue the pastoral calling of its sanctity. I couldn't and wouldn't call any of these folks "Reverend." If I were a visitor, I'd go somewhere else.
Hmm...I wonder what this means for those of us who teach in confessional academic settings for a living.

This is as good a time as any to mention that Scot McKnight will be coming to Saskatchewan as the keynote speaker for Briercrest's Serve conference (March 27-28).

Friday, February 6, 2009

Martin Luther's Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522)

About this Book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. Moreover there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so exclusively with visions and images. For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly [Revelation 22]—indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important—and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago; although St. Jerome, to be sure, refers to it in exalted terms and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words. Still, Jerome cannot prove this at all, and his praise at numerous places is too generous.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1[:8], “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.

The 1522 “Preface to the Revelation of St. John” in Luther’s translation of the New Testament. Pages 398-399 in Luther’s Works Volume 35: Word and Sacrament I (ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Initial Reactions to Richard Pervo's Acts

Update: I rewrote the third paragraph in response to this comment by Richard I. Pervo.

Those who are familiar with Pervo's earlier work (and with me), will surmise correctly that we don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. But Pervo's new Acts commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009) is excellent--the sort of well-written, detailed, insight-filled and critical work we have come to expect from Hermeneia. It meets the #1 criterion for a good commentary in that it addresses my questions. And, like C.K. Barrett's ICC commentary, it is funny. For a commentary, that is high praise indeed.

My biggest complaint so far is that Pervo doesn't bother to defend his late dating of Acts, pointing readers instead to his 2006 monograph on the subject. Unfortunately, I can't buy Dating Acts this year, and I don't have time to read it anyway. A more detailed presentation of the case for a second century date is in order in a commentary of this size.

Pervo does explain his classification of Acts as an ancient historical novel or romance popular history that draws on conventions more commonly associated with ancient fiction: According to Pervo, an omniscient narrator, miracles, and the lack of a claim to objectivity are more typical of ancient novels fiction than ancient history writing. But It is worth noting that these characteristics were also typical of the OT narratives Luke modeled his story after. In my view, it is more helpful to think of Luke's story as apologetic historiography (some of which Pervo would include as popular history), but apologetic historiography in a biblical style.