Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bible Arcing

One of the most helpful ways of tracing the flow of thought in biblical passages is now a whole lot easier thanks to

"Arcing" is valuable because it forces you to think about and articulate your understanding of the relationship between each unit of thought in a passage. When you are finished, you can see at a glance the major emphases of the passage, and how the various parts fit together.

Sometimes arcing exposes new interpretive possibilities and unexplored exegetical issues:
In John 3:16, for example, the issue is the relationship between οὕτως (translated 'so' by the ESV) and ὥστε ('that') in 16a and b. Before arcing the verse I assumed that ὥστε functions as it often does to indicate result: The result of God's great love was to give his only son. But this leaves the οὕτως at the beginning of the verse unexplained. Rather than indicating a quantity ("so great love"), the word οὕτως normally means "thus" or "in this way." After puzzling over my arcing diagram and looking at the related syntactical pattern in 3:14-15, I concluded that the ὥστε ('that') clause in 16b indicates the manner in which God loved the world rather than the quantity of his love. 16c-d go on to state the purpose of this loving gift.

The one major drawback of arcing is that it was time consuming to write out the text, draw, erase, and redraw each arc by hand. All that has changed with the arcing tool provided by  The tool automatically inserts the Greek or Hebrew text or translation of your choice, and dividing a passage into units of thought and drawing and erasing arcs is the work of a mouse click or two. Now instead of spending time writing out a passage you can concentrate on the work of analysis.

I was taught arcing in 1993 by Bruce Fisk. When I went on to TEDS for my MA, I was introduced to it again by D.A. Carson. When I began teaching Greek Exegesis, I created a replica to replace the tattered hand-out I had been using (download it here).

The method apparently originated with Daniel P. Fuller, professor emeritus of hermeneutics at Fuller Seminary, and son of the seminary's founder, Charles Fuller. Fuller's student, Thomas Schreiner, introduced the methodology in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Baker, 1990). It has been championed more recently by another of Fuller's students, John Piper. (See the video on the home page of

Friday, February 19, 2010

From Resurrection to New Creation

Fellow blogger Michael W. Pahl's new book, From Resurrection to New Creation: A First Journey in Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), arrived in the mail this morning.

The back cover includes blurbs by Michael J. Gorman, Scot McKnight, Daniel Kirk, and David M. Miller. Here's what the latter had to say:
"A splendid little book that explores the essentials of Christian theology in a fresh, lively, and insightful manner. By beginning with the resurrection, Pahl is able to make a point about both the center of Christian theology and how to do theology in a way that takes seriously the New testament's historical context. Highly recommended!"

The book makes for good and insightful reading in its own right--it is a splendid little book. Because it is a little book, it will be especially well-suited in church contexts (if churches teach about God these days) or in entry level college courses.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Greek Apostolic Fathers Online

Do a search for 'Greek Apostolic Fathers Online' and you will be directed to a blog entry by Stephen Carlson that directs you to the CCEL website, which claims to present Kirsopp Lake's public domain edition. Alan Humm's points to the same thing.

Unfortunately, it has become apparent in our 1 Clement Greek Reading Group that the CCEL text of 1 Clement, at least, is riddled with errors, including egregious misspellings and the omission of large verse sections.

Here are some alternatives (1 Clement only):

(1) Saint Clement of Rome (; HT: (only 1 chapter at a time)
(2) Κλήμεντος Προς Κορινθίους Α (only chapters 1-22)
(3) Rico's Apostolic Father's Lookup (only 1 chapter at a time...why is that??)
(4) early church texts (links to Rico's Lookup; only displays one chapter at a time)

Option 2 will work fine until we pass chapter 22. The restriction to one chapter viewing in options 1, 3-4 is annoying. Why is it that no one seems to make the whole text available at once?

Update:  (5) At DocumentaCatholicaOmnia, the whole text of 1 Clement can be downloaded as a PDF, and copied from there as unicode text. The best option yet! HT: Ken Penner.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Three Year Blogiversary

"Every act of writing, and all the more so the arrogation of credit for what one has written, is a sign of hubris." - Shaye J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (WJK, 2006), 190

One might add in good Qal wahomer fashion, if this is true for writing in general, how much more for the writing of blogs?

Oddly enough, several of my earliest posts--quotations, mostly, that I had been collecting until I thought I had something to say--were about this very thing. On my very first entry 3 years ago today, I posted the lyrics to T-Bone Burnett's "Trap Door," the fourth post quotes from Mike Yaconelli on ego addiction, and the second, an excerpt from Martin Luther's commentary on Genesis 15, offers a solution.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Barth on Grace and Disturbance of Soul

"Grace is the incomprehensible fact that God is well pleased with a man, and that a man can rejoice in God....grace means bearing witness to the faithfulness of God which a man has encountered in Christ, and which, when it is encountered and recognized, requires a corresponding fidelity towards God" (31).

"He who is under grace can no more adjust himself comfortably to sin than the sinner can toy with grace as with an alternative human possibility" (217).

"To the man under grace, righteousness is not a possibility, but a necessity; not a disposition subject to change, but the inexorable meaning of life; not a condition possessing varying degrees of healthiness, but the condition by which existence is itself determined; not that which he possesses, but that which possesses him" (220).

"If we are able to endure life apart from this possibility [of obedience]; if we are content with something less; if we trim and adjust grace so that it dovetails in with other possibilities;--grace is not grace. If we are able to escape from that naturally Christian--Medieval!--disturbance of soul; if all that is in us does not stretch out towards a sanctified life prepared for and open to the righteousness of God; if we do not long for a life running so nigh to the righteousness of God that it would break visibly through in our members, in our mortal body;--grace is not grace" (223).

Quotations from Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans(Oxford: 1968).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Top 50 Biblical History Blogs

Update: I removed the links to the list and to "Linda" after reading Todd Bolen's eye-opening post about how "Top 50" Lists Work.

This just in: גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב has been included as #1 in a list of Top 50 Biblical History Blogs. How nice. I should note, however, that the list is organized alphabetically (by English name).
And one small correction: While I did my Ph.D. at McMaster University, I teach at Briercrest College and Seminary. Fine institutions, both. Still, thanks for the mention, Linda!

And, if this is your first time here, may I recommend the following sampling from the גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב past?

Paul and the End of the World
(Dec 8, 2009)
Pastor or Scholar? (Nov 6, 2009)
Retrospective Multivalence in Romans 2 (Sept 22, 2009)
History, Criticism and Christian Conviction - Part 2 (July 16, 2009)
Why I don't believe in "timeless truth" or "eternal principles" (Jan 27, 2008)
What's in a Name? On Jews and Judeans (Dec 21, 2007)
Turkey Travelogue (Nov 13, 2007)

As a Driven Leaf - The Ending

This is the last in a series of three posts with excerpts from Milton Steinberg's brilliant novel, As a Driven Leaf. (See here and here for the first two.) In the end, Elisha confesses to his former student, Rabbi Meir, that his quest was "vanity and a striving after wind:
Do you remember, Meir, that epigram quoted in the name of Rabbi Johanan ben Zaccai: "There is no truth unless there be a faith on which it may rest"? Ironically enough the only sure principle I have achieved is this which I have known almost all my life. And it is so. For all truth rests ultimately on some act of faith, geometry on axioms, the sciences on the assumptions of the objective existence and orderliness of the world of nature. In every realm one must lay down postulates or he shall have nothing at all. So with morality and religion. Faith and reason are not antagonists. On the contrary, salvation is through the commingling of the two, the former to establish first premises, the latter to purify them of confusion and to draw the fulness of their implications. It is not certainty which one acquires so, only plausibility, but that is the best we can hope for. (473)
The book celebrates the value of Jewish tradition, but also laments a social context that made no room for questions or for those who asked them:
That is the fantastic intolerable paradox of my life, that I have gone questing for what I possessed initially--a belief to invest my days with dignity and meaning, a pattern of behavior through which man might most articulately express his devotion to his fellows. In a sense it has all been a long arduous journey in a circle, whereby I have returned to my point of departure. And yet I may not enter. For those who live there insist, at least in our generation, on the total acceptance without reservation of their revealed religion. And I cannot surrender the liberty of my mind to any authority. Free reason, my son, is a heady wine. It has failed to sustain my heart, but having drunk of it, I can never be content with a less fiery draught. (474)
The book concludes with Rabbi Meir weeping on his master's grave:
Thunder rolled in the misty vault of the heavens. From the cemetery down the hill, from the grave at his feet and from out dead yesterdays ghosts came stealing. And he wept not alone for his master, but for himself as well, for a woman who rarely smiled, for sweet children who slept near by, for a people crushed and persecuted, for all the sons of men, their aches of the body and soul, and their dreams that die. (477)

Monday, February 8, 2010

As a Driven Leaf - Comparing Traditions

The last post on Milton Steinberg's As a Driven Leaf described his protagonist's Cartesian quest for certainty. Years later, well into his grand project, Elisha compares the Greek classics with Hebrew Scripture:
And yet for all its blitheness, the verse of the Greeks saddened him too. There was in it, he came to feel, stark fear, artfully concealed. It had about it an aura of yearning and regret. Beneath its gaiety, melancholy stirred, the more desperate because unspoken. And with time he came to understand the great hopelessness that breathed through these polished cadences. The poet loved life so ardently because in the end he despised it for its meaninglessness and futility. . . . Inevitably, contrasts suggested themselves between this literature and that Scripture to which so many years of Elisha's life had been dedicated. It was a sternly earnest book, that of the Jews, and yet animated for all its dour austerity by a confident serenity which the Greeks seemed never to experience. For, given its presuppositions, all things were good by virtue of the God who pervaded them. There was for men no burning urgency in the quest for the fugitive experience. Love and laughter were but transient manifestations of the joy-drenched essence of all things. Wistfully Elisha admitted that, so regarded, the world he had elected was less happy and buoyant and . . . less merciful than that which he had rejected. (354)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

As a Driven Leaf Revisited - The Quest

As I mentioned earlier, Milton Steinberg's novel, As a Driven Leaf (Behrman House, 1939), offers a sympathetic portrayal of 2nd century rabbinic Judaism. Even more remarkable is its sympathetic portrayal of the Roman world: Steinberg was a Conservative Jewish Rabbi writing during the Shoah, but he makes his readers care about his main character, an apostate Jew who abandoned his belief in God and betrayed his people.

But therein lies its brilliance. Because we like Elisha ben Abuyah and sympathize with his quest for certainty, we are moved more profoundly by his tragic failure. As one reviewer put it: "Perhaps so completely frustrated a life has never before been presented in fiction. Sheer beauty!"

Elisha claims Euclid's geometry as the inspiration for his quest, but Steinberg is thinking of Descartes and the European Enlightenment:
I am seeking a theology, a morality, a ritual, confirmed by logic in the fashion of geometry so that one need not forever wonder whether what he believes is true. . . . Of course, the price is high. But that makes no difference. According to our sacred literature there once was a man called Job who stood before the inscrutable universe and demanded an answer to its mystery. It did not reply. Therefore he repeated his question, hurling it again and again into its unresponsive face. And when his friends protested that he was destroying himself by his obduracy, he turned and challenged the Presence behind things--"Wherefore," he demanded, "hidest Thou Thyself from me? Wilt Thou harass a driven leaf?" I know how he felt. The great curiosity is like that. It is not a matter of volition. It is stark inner compulsion, dire necessity. And he against whom it moves has no more choice than a leaf driven in a gale. No, there is no retreat. Forward is the only way. . . . My procedure has been ever to try to demonstrate predetermined conclusions, the doctrines of Tradition. I have spoken glibly about the method of Euclid without ever applying it seriously. If I am driven to it, I shall do exactly as does the geometry book. I shall lay away all beliefs, principles and affirmations, and set out afresh accepting only what is as thoroughly self-evident as the axioms and postulates of mathematics . . . (201-3).
To be continued...since if you are like me you tend to skim or skip long posts, and the quotations to come deserve individual attention.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

1 Clement Greek Reading Group

If you live in Southern Saskatchewan and have a reading knowledge of Greek, you are invited to join a group of us who have begun reading through 1 Clement in Greek this semester.

We meet on Thursday's from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in my basement. (Contact me for the details if you need them.) This Thursday we will pick up at chapter 3--which means we are averaging a short chapter per week.

Here's a slightly modified excerpt from my introductory email:
I’d like to begin reading through 1 Clement, a letter usually attributed to Clement of Rome, one of the “Apostolic Fathers,” to the church in Corinth. 1 Clement is usually dated toward the end of the first century, which makes it one of the oldest surviving Christian texts outside of the New Testament. We will read about how some of the apostles died, experience how Clement, at least, interpreted the Old Testament as Christian scripture, and learn how the church developed at the tail-end of the NT era. How can that not be fun?

I suspect that parts of Clement’s letter will be more challenging Greek than what you have encountered so far, but that’s okay. There’s no requirement to prepare in advance (although you are welcome to do so), and I’ll have some lexical aids and English translations ready if we get stuck. The point is continued exposure to Koine Greek in a fun, low pressure context.

There are a few different editions of the Greek text available for free online. I recommend Lake’s version ( because the font is clear and the whole text displays at once. For more information on 1 Clement see and
This is my first time through 1 Clement in Greek although I read the "Apostolic Fathers" in English a decade ago. I avoid preparing in advance partly because I don't have a lot of time, but mostly because the experience of diving into an unfamiliar text and discovering that one can make their way is both healthy and fun. It's the Greek geek's equivalent to stepping into a half-pipe or catching a wave.