Thursday, December 24, 2015

Taxonomies of Deity: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same Allah?

The news that Wheaton College placed tenured professor Larycia Hawkins on "paid administrative leave" for stating that Christians and Muslims worship the same God surprised me. I was even more surprised as I watched a ground swell of support for Wheaton's apparent theological position among evangelical commentators as diverse as Scot McKnight and John Piper. Writing for Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer claims that the view that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is "just not what most evangelicals believe."

In this post, I will try to explain why for the last 20 years or so I have taken it for granted that--at a level of abstraction required by discussion of religions as a whole--it is correct to say that Christians and Muslims do worship the same God.

To be clear, I am not claiming that Christianity and Islam are equivalent or that differences between these two religions are inconsequential. Nor am I suggesting that Christians and Muslims hold identical conceptions of God. My basic problem is with the way the differences are phrased: Stating that Christians and Muslims "do not worship the same God" implies that Christians and Muslims worship different gods. I am concerned about this issue not only because I am convinced that it is misguided on a theoretical level to state that Christians and Muslims worship different gods, but also because such a view is positively harmful when it comes to sharing the gospel with Muslims.

(1) Terminology: On Facebook, I wrote: "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same Allah? Of course they do. If this conversation were being conducted in Arabic, there would be no debate." The point of this provocative over-simplification--aside from registering my astonishment--was to observe that the two different names (Allah, God) may lead English-speakers to assume that the names refer to two different deities. I suspect this is what has happened on a popular level in North America. Ignorance and post-9/11 political realities, more than anything else, are why many evangelicals assume that Christians and Muslims worship different gods. But Allah, in Arabic, is the generic name for God. It was used by Christians before Islam began, it appears as the name for God in standard Arabic translations of the Bible, and it is still used by Arabic-speaking Christians today. If, as I will argue, it is correct to say that, despite their fundamental differences in theology, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, it is also true that they worship the same Allah.

(2) Similarities: Muslims and Christians agree that there is one God, and both Christians and Muslims describe the one God in many of the same ways: God, according to the Qur'an, is the creator, "the Mighty one, the All-knowing" (6.96); God is "the Lord of the Universe, the Compassionate, the Merciful" (1.2-3); God alone is "the Forgiving One" (15.49), etc. Muslim theology presents Islam as the correct continuation of God's revelation to Abraham, Jesus and the biblical prophets. As a result, when Muslims and Christians talk about God, they share a common starting point in a way that a Christian and a Hindu devotee of Krishna do not.

(3) Differences: To be sure, there are also significant differences. Built into Islam is a rejection of the deity of Jesus. From a Muslim perspective, Christians have fallen away from the true religion into tri-theism. For their part, Christians insist that any conception of God's oneness that denies God's self-revelation in Jesus is fundamentally distorted. These different conceptions of God must not be minimized. I would happily sign off on Wheaton's College's "Statement Regarding Christian Engagement with Muslim Neighbors":
While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer.

(4) Different Conceptions vs. Different Gods: Nevertheless, the fact that Christians and Muslims have different ideas about the nature of God does not mean that they worship different gods. In this context, "different conceptions" is a meaningful statement; "different gods" is not:
  • Since both Christians and Muslims affirm that there is one God and that this God exists, we are talking about a concept with a real referent, not some abstract quality. Francis Beckwith explains
Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise.
    • If Muslims who deny the deity of Jesus do not worship the same God as Christians, it follows that Jews do not worship the same God as Christians either. This is at the heart of the issue theologically: Denying that Christians and Jews worship the same God leads either to a Marcionite distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New or to a strong supersessionism that requires us to imagine Jews, en masse, becoming idolaters at the incarnation. (I exaggerate for effect.) Suffice it to say that you don't find the apostle Paul accusing his fellow Jews of idolatry. Instead, he says "they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom 10:2). Different conceptions of the one God do not mean that the object of worship is different, and a fuller revelation of God's identity does not render earlier revelation obsolete--just incomplete.
    • Is it not the case that Christians too operate with false conceptions of God? What is to stop Calvinists from declaring that they worship a different God than Arminians, or Protestants than Catholics? Where do we draw the line--and why are we drawing it?
    Instead of denying or minimizing the broad overlap in Christian and Muslim views about God, it is far better, in my view, to follow the example of Jesus in John 4, and Paul in Acts 17, and say "What you worship as unknown (or, in this case, partially known) I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23; cf. John 4:22).

    If you are interested in further reading on the subject, I recommend the following short articles written by Christians with years of experience working with Muslims:

    Saturday, November 14, 2015

    Westerholm and Wright on Martin Luther and Pauline Exegesis

    In a recent blog post, Scot McKnight quotes approvingly N.T. Wright's judgement on "Lutheran" N.T. scholars:
    "[A]nyone trying to be a Pauline exegete while still in thrall to Luther should consider a career as a taxidermist. Heroes are to be engaged with, not stuffed and mounted and allowed to dominate the room." - N.T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 126.

    Wright's comment is meant as a rejoinder to Stephen Westerholm's statement about the enduring value of engaging Luther:
    "Students who want to understand Paul but feel they have nothing to learn from a Martin Luther should consider a career in metallurgy. Exegesis is learned from the masters." - Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 173.

    Leaving to one side Wright's unfair and muddled dismissal of Westerholm's own exegesis of Paul, I note here that both statements are correct: In the first place, heroes are of course "to be engaged with." What enlightened scholar would want to be "in thrall" to anyone? But Westerholm is not alone in thinking that something may still be learned from Luther's reading of Paul. Consider C.K. Barrett, one of the 20th century's finest exegetes:
    "In the summer of 1953, in the University Library at Göttingen, I read through Luther's Scholia on Romans...with a sustained enthusiasm and even excitement which I never thought 400 large pages of medieval Latin could evoke. Less sound in detail than Calvin, Luther wrestles at perhaps even greater depth with sin and righteousness, grace and predestination, and rarely fails to reach the heart of the matter, and to take his reader with him. To have sat at the feet of these three interpreters of Paul [Luther, Calvin and Barth] is one of the greatest of privileges." - C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1971), vi.
    Those who actually read Westerholm will know that his is no uncritical dismissal of the "new perspective", and no uncritical adoption of the old "Lutheran" view either. Here is the context of the passage I quoted above:
    "There is more of Paul in Luther than many twentieth-century scholars are inclined to allow. But the insights of the 'new perspective' must not be lost to view. Paul's convictions need to be identified; they must also be recognized as Christian theology. When Paul's conclusion that the path of the law is dependent on human works is used to posit a rabbinic doctrine of salvation by works, and when his claim that God's grace in Christ excludes human boasting is used to portray rabbinic Jews as self-righteous boasters, the results (in Johnsonian terms) are 'pernicious as well as false.' When, moreover, the doctrine of merit perceived by Luther in the Catholicism of his day is read into the Judaism of the first Christian centuries, the results are worthless for historical study. Students who want to know how a rabbinic Jew perceived humanity's place in God's world will read Paul with caution and Luther not at all. On the other hand, students who want to understand Paul but feel they have nothing to learn from a Martin Luther should consider a career in metallurgy. Exegesis is learned from the masters." - Westerholm, Israel's Law, 173.

    Thursday, October 8, 2015

    A 3-minute homily: What does it mean for the gospel to be the "power of God"?

    I was asked to contribute to a series of three-minute videos that were played as part of Briercrest's reThink conference last weekend:

    Here is the written version of what I tried to say--for those, who, like me, prefer text to speech:

    In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” What does it mean for the gospel to be the power of God?

    Our first thought might be: “What Paul really means is that the gospel tells us about God’s power at work in the death and resurrection of Jesus.” It is true that God’s power works through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But Paul is saying something else in the verse I quoted. In Romans 1:16 the power of God is the good news itself—not just the events but also the message about the events. Paul says the same thing to the church in Corinth: “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). Do we live as if the message about the cross and the empty tomb is power?

    Google “church growth” and you will learn that to build your church you need to find a bigger building, hire a music pastor, and improve your stage performance. Websites say church growth requires social networks, meeting felt needs, and relationships. Paul would say: Preach the gospel.

    It’s not that the gospel is magical—as if all you need to do is hand out a tract to be an effective evangelist, or as if you can stand up on Sunday morning, say “gospel,” drop the mic and walk off stage. But if the good news about the Messiah’s shameful death and surprising resurrection is God’s power for salvation, then surely declaring that good news should be at the center of Christian preaching.  

     I’m afraid we forget this – that we try to move beyond the gospel in our churches and in our Christian lives. One of the reasons is that when we hear “power of God for salvation,” we assume “salvation” means the moment of conversion. Once we are saved, and have believed the gospel message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we don’t need it anymore—right? Actually, when Paul says the gospel is God’s power, he is writing to Christians—to those who are “being saved”—and we who are “being saved” need to hear that message again and again. We need to hear the gospel week-by-week in our churches because the power of God for salvation is also the power of God for transformation, and we desperately need God to continue working in our own lives as well as in the lives of those around us. Evidence of the gospel’s transforming power in us, will contribute to the effectiveness of the gospel in those around us.

    Saturday, October 3, 2015

    Richard Bauckham on being un-mastered by the text

    I couldn't resist picking up a copy of John Byron and Joel N. Lohr's edited collection of mini-autobiographies, I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Sories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan: 2015). So far--one chapter in--it has more than lived up to the hype. I suspect Christian biblical studies type people will find it hard to put down. Here is an excerpt from Richard Bauckham that I haven't seen quoted yet:
    "Another peril [of scholarly study of the Bible] is the sense of mastery of a text that may come with a successful attempt to understand it. I suspect that these perils are unavoidable along the path of rigorous scholarship, but if they cannot be avoided there are nevertheless ways beyond them. It helps to remember that the biblical texts are not unique in their ability to transcend their original context and to resist our objectification of them. Shakespeare's plays may seem to have all the life drained out of them by some kinds of classroom study, but they come to life again in performance. In performance the work of Shakespearean scholars makes a contribution but is also transcended. God addresses us through the Scriptures not because they communicate in some magically unique way but by means of all the ways in which texts communicate. A readiness to be un-mastered is required even for the kind of enhancement of life that poetry or philosophy or drama or nature may give us, not to mention personal relationships. In the case of Scripture, such readiness to be un-mastered is one reason why prayer and worship are the most appropriate ways in which to hear it as God's word.

    "We also need to develop a broad understanding of what it means for Scripture to address us or for God to address us through it. Familiar texts do not need to surprise us with new relevance, though they may do so. Their very familiarity is their way of having deep effects in our lives. Texts do not only speak to us; they may also speak for us, enabling us to say more than we thought we knew. Texts may affect us by drawing us imaginatively into their world, if we give ourselves over to their narratives or their images. All these are ways beyond the distancing and objectifying of a text that are occupational hazards of the biblical scholar." (p. 28)

    Sunday, August 30, 2015

    Could ancient Jews eat with Gentiles without violating the law?

    Peter's vision by Domenico Fetti, via Wikimedia Commons

    Could ancient Jews eat with Gentiles without violating the law?

    It is safe to say that most readers of the New Testament (and many New Testament scholars) assume the answer is no. After all, (1) in Acts, when Peter returns from visiting Cornelius he is criticized for staying with uncircumcized men and "eating with them" (Acts 11:3). (2) In Galatians, Paul equates eating with Gentiles to living "like a Gentile (ethnikôs) and not like a Jew (ioudaikôs)" (Gal 2:12-14). These two passages seem parallel. (3) Since Peter responds to his critics by telling a story about clean and unclean food that concludes with the declaration, “what God has cleansed, do not regard as defiled” (11:9), readers of Acts routinely conclude that, from Luke's perspective at least, accepting Gentiles into the church meant doing away with the food laws.

    I am not so sure. For one thing, Luke never explicitly draws the conclusion from Peter's vision or his encounter with Cornelius that the food laws were set aside. To the contrary, in the latter chapters of Acts Paul insists on his own continued fidelity to the Jewish way of life: Paul participates in temple worship to show that he “guards the law” (21:24); he also denies that he has done anything against the law (25:8) or his people’s ancestral customs (28:17).

    Outside the New Testament, passages that emphasize the strictness with which some Jews observed the food laws also demonstrate that it was possible to "keep Kosher" in Gentile contexts: (1) Daniel and friends refuse the king's food and wine, requesting a diet of vegetables and water, but it was still the king's vegetables and water that they ate (Dan 1:8, 12). (2) Josephus describes a group of priests imprisoned in Rome who survived on a diet of figs and almonds out of piety toward God (Life 14). Martin Goodman concludes: "For pious Jews to eat with non-Jews, sharing a convivial table, was possible, but difficult" (Rome and Jerusalem 119).

    Moreover, the food laws were interpreted differently by different Jews:
    "It is important to remember that--notwithstanding many wide areas of absolute conformity--evolving Jewish law, even within the normative Orthodox wing alone, has never been monolithic. As a result, it is usual for all popular guides to the practice of kashruth (including cookbooks) to contain strong disclaimers and exhortations to the reader to consult local competent rabbinic authority at all times." - Gene Schram, "Meal customs (Jewish)" Anchor Bible Dictionary 4.649.
    If this is true for Orthodox Judaism today, how much more may we suppose that there was room for variety in the first century?

    E.P. Sanders explains that in addition to the avoidance of pork, food sacrificed to idols and food containing blood posed "potential problems" for observant Jews. "There are possible problems with other foods, especially the main liquids, oil and wine. A libation to a pagan deity might have been offered from wine before it was sold; oil also might have an idolatrous connection." Aside from these restrictions, Gentile food could be fair game, although "some Jews were generally unwilling to eat pagan food, even when there might be no legal objection to it." On the other hand, Sanders suggests that Paul was not the only first-century Jew who advised eating whatever was set before them without asking questions of conscience: "In 1 Cor. 10.27, Paul advises Christians not to ask about the source of food when in someone else's house, and it is most likely that in the Diaspora some Jewish families followed the same practice" (E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE – 66 CE. [Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992], 216).

    To this evidence, we may add a passage from the Mishnah about Gentile wine and its use in idolatrous libations, which takes for granted that Jews could in some contexts eat with Gentiles:
    "If an Israelite was eating with a gentile at a table, and he put flagons [of wine] on the table and flagons [of wine] on the side-table, and left the other there and went out, what is on the table is forbidden and what is on the side-table is permitted..." (Avodah Zarah 5.5).
    However we understand NT passages such as Acts 10-11 and Galatians 2, we need to set aside once and for all the idea that Jews believed eating with Gentiles meant violating the law. That simplistic assumption rests on a failure to engage early Jewish sources--and a failure of historical imagination.

    Sunday, August 23, 2015

    How to write a lot without signing on to the academic honour/shame rat race

    In retrospect, it might have been more helpful for me to read Paul J. Silvia's How to Write a Lot before my sabbatical instead of just after it has ended, but I am excited about applying his recommendations to my regular teaching life now that a new school year is about to begin.

    Silvia's basic idea is to schedule time for distraction-free writing each week (he recommends starting with 4 hours), maintain the schedule religiously, set goals, and track your progress. Writing time may include research. If you do this, Silvia promises, you will write a lot.

    Rather than expanding on the method--I'm sure Silvia would rather you purchased your own copy--I quote from the salutory reminder in the book's conclusion:
    "Writing isn't a race. Don't publish a paper just for the sake of having one more published paper. Don't count your publications. Be proud of the euthanized manuscripts--papers that could be published somewhere but shouldn't be published anywhere--lurking in your file cabinet. If you find yourself counting notches on your academic bedpost, spend a writing period thinking about your motives and goals" (131).

    On a related note, Seumus MacDonald is right that the academic guild is susceptible to ancient Roman cultural norms:
    It’s blindingly obvious that Academia runs as a microcosmic honour/shame society because the one thing that ranks just below actual scholarship in scholars’ concern is prestige or honour as accorded them by their peers. This is what drives almost all academic endeavours (beyond the actual desire to study): conference papers, journal and monograph publishing, etc.. Every act of publishing is an attempt to gain the symbolic capital of prestige among academic peers, via an act of heroism, which is the public display of scholarly prowess. 
    Do read the rest of Seumus's excellent post here:

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    History 312: Ideas and Society in Early Modern Europe

    Erasmus and Thomas More Visit the Children of King Henry VII at Greenwich, 1499 by F.C. Cowper; source
    If you are looking to fill a history elective at Briercrest College this fall, may I recommend HIS312: Ideas and Society in Early Modern Europe? Like the history course I recommended last year--which turned out very well, by the way--I can't help but be a tiny bit biased, but I have read the syllabus and talked a lot with the professor about things Early Modern over the past several months, and I think it will be a great course. Curent Briercrest students can check out the syllabus on Briercrest Live; everyone else can find it here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

    For bonus marks, identify Erasmus and Thomas More in the painting, and explain the significance of the colours.

    Sunday, August 9, 2015

    Romans in Reconstructed Koine

    Nine years ago, as I prepared to teach Paul's letter to the Romans for the first time, I recorded the Greek text so that I could listen to it on the weekly commute I was doing that year to and from Saskatoon. I found I could make it through the entire letter on the two and a half hour drive, and the experience of listening to the whole thing more-or-less each week did a lot to give me a sense for thematic connections within the letter, as well as the flow of thought in the letter as a whole. But the quality of the recording (and of my newly-adopted Reconstructed Koine pronunciation) was so bad that I could not in good conscience share it with anyone else.

    I recently finished recording Romans again, and this time I am not as embarrassed by the result. As far as I know, it is the only recording of the Greek text of Romans that uses the "Reconstructed" or "Imperial" Koine pronunciation system that most closely approximates how Greek was spoken in the first century.

    • My pronunciation follows the Reconstructed Koine system as formulated by Randall Buth in his "Notes on the Pronunciation System of Koiné Greek" (online here; my simplified summary is here). The one (intentional) exception is that I typically preserve the rough breathing, a decision that Buth allows for in a footnote:
    "Students are free to add aspiration as they wish, though one may imagine that such would have been thought stuffy or snobbish in the first century. There may still have been some features of a classical Greek that were consciously learned by the upper classes and in which [h] would be learned and heard." (Buth, footnote 24)
    My current practice, reflected in these recordings, is to omit the rough breathing when it sounds particularly odd, is difficult to pronounce, or makes little difference in sound (e.g., οἷς, ὁμοθυμαδόν); but to retain it in other instances because the 'h' sound frequently distinguishes between two different forms that would otherwise sound alike.
    • I concentrated on getting the pronunciation and accents right, and, less successfully, on meaningful phrasing. Focusing on these elements meant that I was unable to give as much attention as I would like to reading with inflection. I am also afraid there are still unnatural pauses before words about whose pronunciation I was not confident, particularly in the first few chapters. So the result is still far from a professional recording, but I hope it is serviceable. (If you are simply interested to hear how Reconstructed Koine should sound, I recommend the samples on the Biblical Language Center's website here.)
    • The quality of recording improved as I went along--so much so that I re-recorded chapter 1 at the very end; chapters 2 and 3 should probably be redone as well, but I didn't want to get caught in an endless loop on a project that had already consumed more time than I had to give it. 
    • I would be happy for any suggestions, feedback or technical advice, in the event that I try to do something like this again.
    You can listen to individual chapters below or download all the files here (wav) or here (mp3).

    Romans 1

    Romans 2

    Romans 3

    Romans 4

    Romans 5

    Romans 6

    Romans 7

    Romans 8

    Romans 9

    Romans 10

    Romans 11

    Romans 12

    Romans 13

    Romans 14

    Romans 15

    Romans 16

    Creative Commons Licence
    These Romans in Reconstructed Koine recordings by David M. Miller are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This means you are welcome to download, copy and use the recordings with attribution, but you may not modify them without my permission, or sell them.

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    Richard Foster on the triviality of productivity apps (more or less)

    I have been making my way through Richard Foster's classic Celebration of Discipline. Our library only has a copy of the original 1978 edition, so a lot of the illustrations are now rather quaint in their datedness. The advice is solid, however.

    On the discipline of simplicity:
    "[R]efuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry. Timesaving devices almost never save time. ... Most gadgets are built to break down and wear out and so complicate our lives rather than enhance them. ... Propagandists try to convince us that because the newest model of this or that has a new feature (trinket?) we must sell the old one and buy the new one. Sewing machines have new stitches, tape recorders have new buttons, encyclopedias have new indexes. Such media dogma needs to be carefully scrutinized. Often 'new' features are only a way of inducing us to buy what we do not need. Probably that refrigerator will serve us quite well for the rest of our lives even without the automatic ice maker and rainbow colors." (80)
     On a related note, Foster advises this antidote to triviality:
    "Four times a year withdraw for three to four hours for the purpose of reorienting your life goals. This can easily be done in one evening. Stay late at your office or do it at home or find a quiet corner in a public library. Reevaluate your goals and objectives in life. What do you want to have accomplished one year from now? Ten years from now? Our tendency is highly to overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and highly underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years." (94).

    Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper & Row, 1978).

    Sunday, July 26, 2015

    Greek Fonts, Free "Productivity" Apps, and Other Trivialities


    I recently went looking for recommendations on the “nicest Greek font,” stating my own preference for Gentium. Of the 3 responses to my query on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, two commended SBL Greek, the other mentioned Cardo, a font created by David J. Parry. The results are not surprising: I suspect SBL Greek and Cardo are the two main alternatives to Gentium in use today by the small percentage of the world's population that thinks about polytonic Greek Unicode fonts. In the image below, I present the same text in all three fonts, along with GFS Elpis, which Mark Hoffman mentioned a few years ago, and I quite like:
    These are all excellent Greek fonts. I expect there is nothing to complain about from a technical perspective, and I suppose one’s aesthetic judgement comes down to personal preference rather than any intrinsic merit. A couple comments:
    •  Cardo is my font of choice for PowerPoint presentations: As Mark Hoffman explains, Cardo is "kind of a 'big' font (the characters are wider than usual and have a high x-height), so it works well in projection." 
    •  A lot of people, including Mark, prefer SBL Greek for other uses, but I find it too curvy to my taste, especially when paired with a standard English font such as Times New Roman. I took another look, but came away still preferring Gentium. (Gentium has been upgraded to Gentium Plus. My only hesitation with the Plus version is the wider line-spacing.)

    OliveTree for Windows

    OliveTree has just come out with a major upgrade that radically improves their free app on the Windows platform. OliveTree is not (yet) in the same league with the big 3 Bible software programs (Accordance, Bibleworks, and Logos), but over the last few years I have gradually acquired morphologically-tagged copies of BHS, the LXX and NA28, including critical apparatuses, for OliveTree, as well as a few other secondary resources. Here's why: (1) OliveTree works and displays original-language texts beautifully on just about every platform. (I originally got into OliveTree because it was the only app that displayed Hebrew and Greek well on my Blackberry Playbook.*) (2) OliveTree regularly offers 50%-off sales that literally can't be beat. There is one on now. So if you want access to morphologically-tagged original-language texts on your phone or tablet, you should check out OliveTree. (You can also perform morphological searches on some platforms, at least.) If the text of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament is all you want, free versions are also available (here and here).

    *An exception is the latest update for Android, which does not (yet) work well at all on my older Android device. Fortunately, an earlier version that works (but doesn't display the BHS or LXX critical apparatus) is still available.


    If you have a pen-enabled touch-screen Windows or Mac device, and you have ever wanted to be able to brainstorm on an infinite (and scaleable) canvas, you should try the free version of Mischief:

    Note: The scaleable, prezi-like infinite canvas, is very different from OneNote and, if I recall, Scapple, which start you in the top left quadrant. Since I am no artist, the only thing missing, from my perspective, is the ability to enter text. HT: Surface Blog

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Fall Course Line-up

    Another major project this summer is to prepare for next semester's classes. This fall I will be teaching Gospels (our required introductory New Testament course in the college); Romans (offered jointly as both a college and seminary modular course); and third-semester Koine Greek (also cross-listed between the college and seminary).

    Current Briercrest students can check out the Gospels and Romans syllabi on Briercrest Live; everyone else can find them here (along with a collection of my other past syllabi), or click on these links:
    • BLST103 Gospels (15-01)
    • BLST306 Romans (college version); BLST825 Romans (seminary version)
    • The syllabus for Greek Syntax (also cross-listed in the college and seminary) is still in progress. (I know we'll be working through Mark 1-4 and talking about Greek syntax, but I am planning to try something a little different this time around, and that requires working through my course notes before I outline the class.)
    If you are at all interested in a Romans "study vacation," I would be delighted to have you join the class in Caronport during the week of October 26-30. If Greek is your thing, Greek Syntax is also potentially open to distance students by live Skype-cast.

    Summer also includes recess. Today's activity involved climbing freshly bailed hay in the field behind our house.

    Sunday, July 19, 2015

    On reading the Mishnah

    Since I regularly teach a course on Second Temple Judaism, it has always bothered me that I have spent so little time in Rabbinic literature. Sometimes warning about the danger of anachronism--taking evidence from texts written in the 3rd century and beyond, and reading it back into the first century without further ado--has felt like an excuse to justify my own general lack of first-hand familiarity with a very difficult group of primary sources. Despite the potential for abuse, Rabbinic literature remains important both for the light it sheds on the Second Temple period and, perhaps more important, on how that period has been undersood.

    So one day last fall I put together a (partial) schedule to ease me into the Mishnah, the earliest major rabbinic text (usually dated to ca. 200 CE). The schedule worked out to about 15-20 minutes a night, five days a week for reading and notes.

    Twenty-seven hours and forty-five minutes later, I came to the Mishnah's final sentence:
    R. Simeon b. Halafta said: The Holy One, blessed is he, found no vessel that could hold Israel's blessing excepting Peace, for it is written, The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people in peace (Ps 29:11). (Uktzin 3.12)

    I knew from past experience that reading a primary source leaves an invaluable lasting impression even if many of the details fade away, so I did not try to master all the ins and outs of legal argument. More often than not, the notes I jotted down were incidental to a passage's main discussion: I was struck, for example, by the number of references to androgynous people and animals; and I noted comments that reminded me of passages in the Gospels, or of issues, such as Gentiles and the purity laws, that loom large in the interpretation of the New Testament. Though much of it is very foreign, I found that I could count on at least one good chuckle each time I read--not at the rabbis' expense (I was reading to experience not to criticize), but because there is humour in the text. Here is one example from Makshirin, a tractate that determines what "if water be put on..." in Lev 11:38 refers to:
    "If a man took his wheat to the miller and rain fell on it and he rejoiced therat, the law If water be put on applies to it. R. Judah says: It is impossible that he should not rejoice; but, rather, the law applies only if he stood still. If his olives were put out on the roof and rain fell on them and he rejoiced thereat, the law If water be put on applies. R. Judah says: It is impossible that he should not rejoice; but, rather, the law applies only if he stopped up the water-spout or soaked the olives in the rain." (Makshirin 3.5-6)

    The point seems to be that intention matters: If you rejoice it may be because you are trying to find a loop-hole in the law. Except that no one can help rejoicing when rain falls on a thirsty land. Indeed.

    Reading Notes:
    • I read through Herbert Danby's translation of the Mishnah. I recommend it over the translation published by Jacob Neusner.
    • I don't recommend launching into the Mishnah without first working through some of the chapters in Barry W. Holtz's edited volume, Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    Announcing Briercrest's 2016 Israel Study Tour

    I am happy to report that Briercrest College and Seminary professor Dr. Wes Olmstead will be hosting a study tour of Israel from April 29 to May 13, 2016.

    Our fantastic guide, Yoni Gerrish, describes the tour as follows:
    This tour focuses considerable attention on themes from the Exodus narrative, as well as possible routes the Israelites may have followed through the Great Wilderness (portions of which include the modern Negev Wilderness). Attention will be given to life-styles of desert peoples from ancient times to the present. One of our themes will entail comparisons between the task of Moses and the role of Messiah as seen from various Jewish perspectives. Other subjects will include the conquest of the land of Canaan, and the development of Judaism through the Temple periods to the days of Jesus.
    The tour will begin in the south of Israel, with four nights in the Negev and around the Dead Sea (Beer Sheva, the Ramon Crater, Eilat on the Red Sea, En Botek off the Dead Sea), one night on the Mediterranean near ancient Caesaria, three nights in Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and four nights in Jerusalem. (Click here for a more detailed description of a very similar itinerary.)

    Believe me, you want to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Past participants from our 2009 and 2011 Israel Study tours will tell you that it is more than worth it.

    For more information, see the tour website:

    Saturday, July 4, 2015

    The Maccabean Revolt and Reverse Polemic in Acts, and other summer projects

    As usual when I forecast a blog post on a particular topic, nothing materializes (like rain this year in Saskatchewan). My excuse this time is that I needed to write the paper, not about it, and shortly after posting about the Maccabean revolt in Acts back at the beginning of May, I took the paper in a slightly different direction so that the question I meant to ask no longer seemed as pressing. For what it is worth, here is what I concluded when I presented the paper at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies at the end of May:

    Connections in Acts to the initial events leading up to the Maccabean revolt are more extensive than is generally recognized, and these challenge the view that Acts narrates a transition from Judaism to Gentile Christianity. The parallels between Acts and 1-2 Maccabees fall into two contrasting patterns. On the one hand, Jewish opponents of the Gentile mission appeal to the Maccabean revolt to paint the practices of Jewish Christ-believers as a threat to Jewish identity, just as the “renegades” had been during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. On the other hand, Luke reverses the polemic and asserts that it is the Jewish leadership in Judaea, as well as other hostile Jews, who resemble Antiochus and the “renegades,” and that Jewish Christ-believers, by contrast, correspond to the faithful Israelites who endured Antiochus’s persecution. Faithfulness, for Luke, now requires faith in Jesus. But the law remains important. Instead of triumphantly moving beyond Judaism and the law, Luke employs “reverse polemic” to try to show that the messianic claims of Jesus and the Gentile mission championed in Acts need not undermine the law or threaten the Jewish identity of Jesus’ Jewish followers.
    When I got back from Ottawa, I intended to spend my remaining summer research time revising this and one other paper. I turned to the other paper first...and it promptly fell apart in my hands. I didn't want to leave the pieces scattered all over the floor, but picking them up and puzzling over where I think they now belong has required delving into an area (Greco-Roman political thought) in which I can claim no expertise, and has taken longer than I hoped. But that's how it goes. At times like these, I try to remind myself to breathe, relax, and enjoy the privilege of being able to study and learn new things. They say that quality can't be rushed.

    In other news, it did rain today. When I went outside this evening, I found the remains of a robin's nest washed down the downspout on our garage, which just goes to show that even in a drought you shouldn't put your egg basket in a rain gutter.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2015

    Gilbert Highet on Teaching (and Learning) Greek

    The first excerpt from Gilbert Highet's Art of Teaching illustrates the tutorial system:
    And while I am taking examples from my own experience ..., let me pay a debt of thanks to the schoolmaster who taught me Greek. He used the tutorial system because I was his only pupil; and what is more, he gave up half his lunch-hour to do it. We were both doing Greek as an extra: I because I liked the idea of learning the language written in the queer but charming letters; and he because--I don't know: he was a dour quiet Scotsman who seldom showed enthusiasm for anything but his garden. Perhaps he wanted a pupil who might go on to the university and do him credit; probably he liked teaching enough to give up spare time to it if he had a willing learner; certainly he liked Greek literature, for he introduced me to the best in it. Whatever his motives were, he tutored me kindly but relentlessly. I stood beside him at his desk (sometimes cocking an ear to the yells of my friends playing after-lunch football outside) and translated my daily stint of Homer, line by line. He missed nothing, not the smallest γε. He insisted on a straight literal translation, which was the best level for a beginner--like Charles Lamb's Mrs. Battle, he loved 'a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game'--and if I finished ahead of time, I didn't pack up and go. No, I was made to push on into the unknown, and translate the next page or so unprepared and unseen. The rest of the time he stood there, stiff and silent, smelling of pipe-smoke and damp tweeds and garden mixtures, and, for one small boy who scarcely understood, representing the long and noble tradition of exact scholarship and sound teaching. Now I offer him this tribute, regretting only that it comes too late. (pp. 115-116)

    Substitute Greek for French in the second excerpt, and the relevance is obvious:
    Every good teacher will learn more about his subject every year--every month, every week if possible. If a girl chooses the career of teaching French in school, she should not hope to commit the prescribed texts and grammars to memory and then turn her mind to other things. She should dedicate part of her life to the French language, to the superb literature of France, to French art and history and civilization. To become a good teacher of French, she will build up a growing library of her own French books, spending one year (for instance) reading Balzac, the next year reading Proust,... For it will not all be serious work and planned self-improvement. It will be living, and therefore it will contain enjoyments, and even frivolities... But it will be learning at the same time, and it will make better teaching. (12-13)

    Thursday, June 18, 2015

    Gilbert Highet on the Art of Teaching

    I read through much of Gilbert Highet's The Art of Teaching a dozen years ago. Coming back to it after a decade in the classroom and after reading a good handful of other books on college teaching, I am reminded why I liked it so much: Highet writes well, tells great stories--click here for one example--and the book is still chock-full of good advice 65 years after it was first published. No wonder, for by all accounts Highet was himself an outstanding teacher.

    To whet your appetite, here are Highet's 5 essentials of good teaching:

    1. "First, and most necessary of all, he must know the subject. He must know what he teaches. ... Therefore teaching is inseparable from learning. Every good teacher will learn more about his subject every year--every month, every week if possible. ... A limited field of material stirs very few imaginations. It can be learned off by heart, but seldom creatively understood and never loved. A subject that carries the mind out in limitless journeys will, if it is well taught, make the learner eager to master all the preliminary essentials and press on." (12, 14)
    2.  "The second essential is that he must like [the subject]. The two are connected, for it is almost impossible to go on learning anything year after year without feeling a spontaneous interest in it ... [T]o dislike the entire subject, to be a history teacher and be bored by history, to teach French and never open a French book at home, that must be either a constant pain or a numbing narcosis. Think how astonished you would be if your doctor told you that personally he really cared nothing about the art of healing, that he never read the medical journals and paid no attention to new treatments for common complaints, that apart from making a living he thought it completely unimportant whether his patients were sick or sound, and that his real interest was mountain-climbing. You would change your doctor." (18-19)
    3. "The third essential of good teaching is to like the pupils. If you do not actually like boys and girls, or young men and young women, give up teaching. It is easy to like the young because they are young. They have no faults, except the very ones which they are asking you to eradicate: ignorance, shallowness, and inexperience. The really hateful faults are those which we grown men and women have. Some of these grow on us like diseases, others we build up and cherish as though they were virtues. Ingrained conceit, calculated cruelty, deep-rooted cowardice, slobbering greed, vulgar self-satisfaction, puffy laziness of mind and body--these and the other real sins result from years, decades of careful cultivation. They show on our faces, they ring harsh or hollow in our voices, they have become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. The young do not sin in those ways. Heaven knows they are infuriatingly lazy and unbelievably stupid and sometimes detestably cruel--but not for long, not all at once, and not (like grown-ups) as a matter of habit or policy. They are trying to be energetic and wise and kind. When you remember this, it is difficult not to like them." (25)
    4. "[W]ithin limits" the good teacher should "know his pupils." (48)
    5. "He or she should know much else. The good teacher is a man or woman of exceptionally wide and lively intellectual interests....Teachers in schools and colleges must see more, think more, and understand more than the average man and woman of the society in which they live" (48-49).
    But do check out the book for yourself. Parts of it are dated, to be sure, but it is, I think, still one of the best books on the subject.

    Thursday, May 28, 2015

    Chaim Potok on the life of study

    I just finished Chaim Potok's novel, The Chosen, perhaps the best baseball novel I have read since A Prayer for Owen Meany. The Chosen is also a sympathetic and insightful portrayal of mid-20th century Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and of traditional Jewish Talmud study in general. A great book. Since this blog has more to do with learning than with baseball, here are a few excerpts about the latter:
    • "If a person has a contribution to make, he must make it in public. If learning is not made public, it is a waste" (149). 
    • On 18th century Talmud study:  "Pilpul, these discussions are called--empty, nonsensical arguments over minute points of the Talmud that have no relation at all to the world. Jewish scholars became interested in showing other Jewish scholars how much they knew, how many texts they could manipulate. They were not in the least bit interested in teaching the masses of Jews, in communicating their knowledge and uplifting the people. And so there grew up a great wall between the scholars and the people" (107).
    • On the difference between reading and studying: "'I forgot what it was like to study Talmud,' he said excitedly. 'Talmud is so easy for me now, I didn't remember what I used to go through when I first started it as a kid. Can you study Talmud without the commentaries? Imagine Talmud without Rashi. How far would you get?' I agreed with him that I wouldn't get very far at all. He had been going at it all wrong, he said, his eyes bright with excitement. He had wanted to read Freud. That had been his mistake. Freud had to be studied, not read. He had to be studied like a page of Talmud. And he had to be studied with a commentary" (181). 
    • And, again, on living a meaningful life: "Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? … I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. … A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here" (217).
    •  And don't miss this brilliant excerpt on my colleague Eric Ortlund's blog, which is what finally compelled me to pull the book off my "to be read" list and start reading.

    Thursday, May 7, 2015

    The Maccabean Revolt and the Ambiguous Identity of Gentile Christ-Believers in Acts

    My major priority right now is finishing a draft of an essay that I am to present at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies in Ottawa at the end of the month. I am posting a (lightly revised) version of the abstract I submitted in January because I hope to comment more on questions related to the paper in a bit:
    In this paper I will argue that Luke draws on the familiar storyline of the Maccabean revolt both to present criticism of Paul and to respond to it. The claim that Paul, like the Hellenizers of the Maccabean era, defiled the temple, and taught against the law and the people (Acts 21:28) treats Paul’s Gentile mission as a threat to Jewish identity. Luke responds by reversing the Maccabean “script”: Instead of collapsing a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, Luke maintains that the charges against Paul confuse Paul’s instructions to Gentiles with his instructions to law-observant Jews, and suggests that it is not Christ-believing Jews, but Paul’s Jewish opponents who violate the law and are thereby responsible for the temple’s demise.
    It is not coincidence that my paper deals with some of the same issues I was working through last year (here, here, here, here, and here).

    Wednesday, May 6, 2015

    C.S. Lewis on Evil and its Remedy

    On Evil:
    "We have all often spoken--Ransom himself had often spoken--of a devilish smile. Now he realized that he had never taken the words seriously. The smile was not bitter, nor raging, nor, in an ordinary sense, sinister; it was not even mocking. It seemed to summon Ransom, with horrible naïveté of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world and no dispute could ever have occurred about them. It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation." 
     ...and its remedy:
    "It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger," she answered, 'but from this one story that you have put into my head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King. I can make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island I do not know how to make it about Maleldil. For if I make it that He has changed His command, that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also, I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things."
    Making the story "about Maleldil"--I take it that that is what Paul meant by "anything without faith is sin" (Rom 14:23).

    Quotations from C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Macmillan, 1944), pp. 110, 112

    Thursday, April 30, 2015

    Bibleworks 10 Stuttgart Original Languages Module and Alternatives

    Image courtesy of Bibleworks
    Technical post alert: One of the biggest reasons to upgrade to Bibleworks 10 is that it is the only version of Bibleworks that supports the new Stuttgart Original Languages Module (SOLM), which provides you with both the most recent and yet-to-be-released texts, and also the critical apparatuses of the Hebrew Bible, Greek New Testament, Septuagint, Latin Vulgate, and Gospel of Thomas published by the German Bible Society. These are the standard original-language scholarly editions of these biblical (and extra-biblical) texts, so if you are a Bibleworks user and are looking for an electronic edition of the most up-to-date German Bible Society texts* with a critical apparatus, you may want to purchase SOLM. Unfortunately, the add-on will put you out an additional $200 (thank you, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft), but when it is compared with what other major Bible software companies offer, it is still an exceptional deal:

    Olivetree offers the NA28, the Rahlfs-Hanhart LXX, and BHS with morphological-tagging, dictionaries (Newman, LEH, and BDB), and critical apparatuses, for a combined total of $279.97, but they periodically offer says at up to 50% off for their original languages texts--so wait for the sale. The advantage of Olivetree is that their texts display beautifully on Android, iOS and even Blackberry devices as well as Mac and Windows. The disadvantage is their very limited to non-existent original language search capabilities.

    Several years ago Logos came out with the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible. That appears to have been more-or-less superseded or replaced by the German Bible Society Bundle, which was last updated in 2009. I am told that Logos does not currently have permission from the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft to package the NA28 with other bundles, so to get a close equivalent to the Bibleworks SOLM you would need to purchase the German Bible Society Student Edition (for $217.95) as well as the NA28 with critical apparatus for another $99.99, for a total of $317.90. That will get you the BHS, Rahlfs-Hanhart LXX and NA28 all with morphological tagging and critical apparatus, as well as the UBS4, NA27 (with the same), the Vulgate with text and apparatus, a version of the texts of BHQ that were published by 1995 (apparently just Minor Prophets and Proverbs), and a German equivalent to Newman's Greek-English dictionary, and a Hebrew/Aramaic-German dictionary.

    Accordance offers a critical morphologically-tagged text and apparatus of BHS, Rahlfs-Hanhart and NA28 in their Academic Bundle Blue - Level 1 for $400. The bundle includes a lot of other useful stuff, but no Vulgate or Gospel of Thomas. There may be a closer equivalent to the Stuttgart package.

    What sets the Bibleworks Stuttgart Original Language Module apart (aside from its price) is not only what it offers now, but what it promises for the future: In addition to morphologically-tagged texts and critical apparatuses of BHS, NA28 and Rahlfs-Hanhart, and the text and apparatus of the Vulgate, customers will receive a tagged text and critical apparatus of UBS5, the Gospel of Thomas (in English, German and Coptic) when they are available, as well as BHQ when it is available (ca. 2020)! (Although the Bibleworks website doesn't explicitly say that BHQ will also include the all-important BHQ apparatus, Mike Bushell confirms that it "should.")

    *Bibleworks 10 comes standard with a morphologically-tagged version of NA28 and BHS (without apparatus), so there should be no difference in search results between these two versions and the SOLM editions. There are a few very minor differences between the text of the LXX in Bibleworks 10 and the SOLM Rahlfs-Hanhart edition, which may affect search results in a few cases. The yet-to-be released BHQ will also, presumably, differ from the text of BHS.

    Sunday, April 26, 2015

    The Russian Schism and Protestant Individualism

    Practicing levitation in the Ochocos

    "Containing within it a germ of Protestantism, the Russian Schism cultivated it to its limits. Even among the Old Believers, the true preserver of the ancient heritage and tradition is the individual person. This person does not live in the past, but in the present; the adopted tradition, here shorn of an advantage over the individual in terms of living wholeness or catholicity (as in the Universal Church) and being in itself no more than a dead formality, is revitalized and reanimated merely by the faith and devoutness of its true preserver - the individual person. No sooner, however, does a position of this kind start to be aware that the centre of gravity is shifting from the dead past to the living present, than the conventional objects of tradition lose all value, and all significance is transferred to the independent, individual bearer of that tradition; from this there proceeds the direct transition to those free sects which notoriously claim personal inspiration and personal righteousness as the basis of religion" - V. S. Solovyov as quoted in David McDuff's introduction to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (translated by David McDuff; London: Penguin Classics, 1996) pp. 26-27.

    Thursday, April 23, 2015

    Bibleworks 10: Is an upgrade worth it?

    Technical post alert: I switched from Gramcord to Bibleworks in 2004, when I was given an unused copy of Bibleworks 4. I upgraded immediately to version 6, and have remained current ever since. Although I am not an uncritical user, I still think Bibleworks is unparalleled for nitty-gritty, day-to-day work in the original languages, where you need easy access to concordances, lexica, and grammars; Bibleworks is also cheaper than the major alternatives (see my overview here).

    Version 10 has just been released. Is yet another upgrade worth it?

    To make it worthwhile, an upgrade needs to provide new features and resources that I will use a lot, not simply a library of reference books that I may consult from time to time. Before I get to what's new in Bibleworks 10, here are some features that made previous upgrades worthwhile, from my perspective:

    Bibleworks 9

    An array of New Testament textual criticism resources, including high resolution photos of major NT manuscripts, was the primary draw for Bibleworks 9, but the "fourth column" + "use" tab is probably the single biggest reason (aside from cost) why I haven't jumped ship for another program: Simply place your mouse over a word, and the fourth column performs an instantaneous search that gives you an immediate sense for word frequency and usage. Check out the video for more detail:

    I use this feature all the time. To my knowledge, no other Bible software program has anything comparable.

    Bibleworks 8 added two high-quality Hebrew Grammars (Waltke-O'Connor, Joüon & Muraoka), as well as Wallace's Greek Syntax, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in Greek, and Schaff's edition of the church fathers, among many other new features and resources. (Bibleworks maintains its own complete list here.)

    Bibleworks 7 shipped with tagged versions of the Apostolic Fathers and Philo, as well as A.T. Robertson's big Greek grammar, and a version of Tov's parallel aligned Hebrew Bible/LXX. Need I say more? (There was indeed much more.)

    Bibleworks 6: The reason I switched to Bibleworks in the first place was the morphological-tagged version of the works of Josephus in Greek that came with version 6. At the time, Bibleworks was, I believe, the only Bible program that offered Josephus.

    Bibleworks 10: If you purchase Bibleworks new, it comes with all of the above. But what's in it for up-graders?

    To be honest, my first reaction was to be a little underwhelmed: I don't need greater mac compatibility or care that much about new colour options; ditto for the epub reader; screen scaling will come in handy from time to time, but I mostly display Bibleworks on an external monitor; hi-res images of codex Leningradiensis are great, but arguably not as important for work in the MT as the images of codices א, A, B, D (in version 9) are for work in the NT. I am also disappointed that the critical apparatuses in the Stuttgart Original Language Package are an extra add-on. (Update: more detail here.)

    On the positive side, I am very interested in the New English Translation of the Septuagint, Danker's Concise Greek-English Lexicon, and the tagged version of the Hebrew text of Ben Sira; and the new screen layout options + forms tab is potentially a game-changer like the "use" tab was in version 9:

    (Click here for a full list of the many new features and resources in version 10. I only mentioned those that caught my eye.)

    Count me in. 

    Update: More detail in this follow-up post:

    Tuesday, March 24, 2015

    Why you should go on Briercrest's next study tour to Israel and/or Turkey and Greece

    Update: Plans for a 2016 study tour of Israel are going ahead. See this post for more information, or click here for the official website.
    "Once again we realized how necessary it is to see in order to understand, and especially to hold in the memory. Knowledge gained from books is certainly not enough, for names which are not attached to any reality are nothing more than ghosts. Ghosts of cities, shadows of men, vague floating shapes, without solidity, though one tries to capture it with the aid of a drawing, a photograph or a vivid description. All students of archaeology know this by experience: nothing can replace actual contact with the object. That is why museums are so important; because there one can recognize the long chain of human history stretching out continuously from its beginning, but in which, instinctively we have a special interest in detecting and observing the first links. But the object is a prisoner in its glass case. Torn from its natural surroundings it has lost its true speech. Nevertheless it exerts a pull, it beckons one to take the road." - André Parrot, as quoted by Ferrell Jenkins (HT: Todd Bolen)
    Here is a link to Briercrest's 2013 study tour of Turkey and Greece (related blog posts here). Briercrest study tours of Israel took place in 2009 and 2011.

    Thursday, March 19, 2015

    The Church Fathers on Paul's Wife

    Yes, I also ask you loyal yokefellow (σύζυγος), “Help these women who struggled beside me in the Gospel." (Phil 4:3)

    Commentaries on Philippians mention, as a matter of course, that Clement of Alexandria took the "loyal yokefellow" of Phil 4:3 as a reference to Paul's wife. To find out where Clement says this, you apparently have to go back to the 19th century (e.g., J.B. Lightfoot and Eadie), when NT scholars thought it was worth reading the church fathers. (BDAG also includes the references.) As usual, going ad fontes, repays the effort:

    Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) discussed Paul's "yokefellow" in book 3 of his Stromateis, but--unless you read Latin--you can't find the passage in Schaff, the most widely-available English edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, because Clement's description of the sexual practices of heretics didn't pass T&T Clark's Victorian-era censors. Thanks to Henry Chadwick, there is a modern English translation, which has been made available online here. Here is the relevant psassage:

    Even Paul did not hesitate in one letter to address his consort (σύζυγον). The only reason why he did not take her about with him was that it would have been an inconvenience for his ministry. Accordingly he says in a letter: 'Have we not a right to take about with us a wife that is a sister like the other apostles?' But the latter, in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction,and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord's teaching penetrated also the women's quarters without any scandal being aroused. We also know the directions about women deacons which are given by the noble Paul in his second letter to Timothy. Furthermore, the selfsame man cried aloud that "the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink," not indeed in abstinence from wine and meat, "but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
    (The passage was not as clear as I expected until I checked the Greek and found that the word Chadwick translates as "consort" is the same word, σύζυγος, that is translated as "companion" or "yokefellow" in Phil 4:3.)

    When we look at the context, we find that Clement refers to Paul's wife in order to argue--against the followers of Basilides, who rejected marriage altogether--that marriage (and sexual relations within marriage) is okay. Like the clean and unclean food of Romans 14, marriage, for Clement, is an adiaphora.

    Clement's younger contemporary, Origen (d. 253/4), had rather different reasons for mentioning Paul's wife.Origen's commentary on Romans 1:1 seems to suggest that slavery to Christ excludes the possibility of sexual relations:
    Paul, then, if certain traditions are true, was called while in possession of a wife, concerning whom he speaks when writing to the Philippians, “I ask you also, my loyal mate, help these women.” Since he had become free by mutual consent with her, he calls himself a slave of Christ. But if, as others think, he had no wife, nonetheless he who was free when he was called is yet a slave of Christ. In fact what does it mean to be a slave of Christ? It means that one is a slave of the Word of God, of wisdom, righteousness, truth, and of absolutely all the virtues which are identical with Christ himself. - Origen, Romans 1.1.3 (trans Schenk p. 62)
    Origen returns to Paul's marital status in his commentary on Romans 4:

    In order that we might remove such objections in a fitting way let us shift the explanation of [Abraham’s] dead body to say that Abraham was not dead with the infirmity of old age but in accordance with that power which the saints have at work, first of all, in themselves, and which they also admonish others to possess by saying, “Put to death your members which are earthly!” For I consider it to be absurd that we should fail to believe that this good which Paul possessed in himself—seeing that [Paul] would not command to others what he himself did not do this good which Paul possessed, I say, Abraham did not possess, so great a patriarch that the Apostle even calls him his own father. In [Abraham] as well, then, there was this mortification of the members. He was not enticed by luxury; he did not burn with lust like those of whom Paul says, “It is better to marry than to burn.” This same good was also in Sarah; and therefore it is written about her, “womanish things had ceased to function in Sarah.” For in her there was none of that feminine lasciviousness or the dissoluteness of incontinence, nor were either of them carried off unwillingly into the enjoyment of lustful desires. 4.6.7 (Schenk p. 271):
    Here we learn that Abraham and Sarah couldn't have children because they had advanced to such a degree of godliness that they had lost all sexual desire. They had succeeded in putting their bodies to death, as Paul instructs the Romans to do in chapter 6. Paul, says Origen, would not have exhorted the Romans to such a state of sanctity, if he did not possess it himself.

    Truly the world has changed

    Monday, March 16, 2015

    Reflections on Paul's Wife by a 17th-Century Woman Interpreter of Scripture

    These reflections by Lady Anne Halkett (1622-1699) are of interest not only for her views on Paul's marital status, but also for her reconstruction of the chronology of Paul's life:

    And St. Paul says Marriage is honorable in all. And doubtless he was married himself as may be concluded from what he says in giving several admonitions, “I entreat thee also true Yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the Gospel” (Phil 4:3). Others were called his fellow labourers, but only this his Yokefellow, by which is ordinarily, in common speech, called a wife. Which it seems the other Apostles had and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas. And where he treats of marriage in all sorts of persons, he says, “If thou marry, thou has not sinned” (1 Cor 7:28). But it is probable that his wife died at Philippi, while he was at Rome for that Epistle [Philippians] was dated from Rome where he was brought twice before Nero. And as the Lord stood by him the first time and delivered him out of the mouth of the Lion, so doubtless he was the second time (2 Tim 4:17), and came then to Philippi from whence these Epistles to the Corinthians was dated where in the former chapter cited he says to the unmarried and widows, “It is good for them if they abide even as I” (1 Cor 7:8). And whatever further he advises to any, married or unmarried, he doth it for their profit, and not to cast a snare upon them but for that which is comely that they may attend upon the Lord without distraction (1 Cor 7:35). - Anne Halkett (NLS 6501 pp. 11-12; spelling standardized)
    • Lady Halkett's idea that the "Yokefellow" of Phil 4:3 is Paul's wife goes back as far as Clement of Alexandria, so she is not being original here. In this, I hasten to add, Halkett is no different from modern commentators who duly note the range of options without citing their sources. At least she provided reasons in support of her conclusions. How Halkett encountered Clement's view remains a mystery. 
    • According to Halkett, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and tried before Nero (twice!) between his second and third missionary journeys. I expect that Halkett would have dated the other "prison epistles" as well as Philippians to this Roman imprisonment. On his release from prison, Paul returned from Rome to Philippi where he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians. This reconstruction is probably not original to Halkett either, but it is intriguing because it is so very different from modern scholarship, which puzzles over the provenance of Philippians--was it written from imprisonment in Ephesus, Caesarea or Rome?--but typically places Paul's imprisonment in Rome at the end of his three "missionary journeys." It is good to be reminded that our modern convention is not the only way to put the puzzle pieces together.
    Beyond these two points, which interest me as a student of the New Testament, Halkett is of interest as a prolific 17th-century woman interpreter of Scripture. My own "Yokefellow", who is an expert on all things Halkett, informs me that about 5,000 pages of Halkett's religious meditations survive in manuscript. The excerpt I quoted comes from a meditation entitled, "Serious Reflections Concerning them that are Seduced," which was written in 1696, a few years before Lady Halkett's death.