Thursday, December 15, 2011

New issue of JSNT

The new December issue of JSNT is out, a short volume that only has three articles. But the fun part is that they are all focused on one issue, namely a publication from one of the professors here at Duke, Prof. Douglas Campbell.

Here's the list:

R. Barry Matlock
Zeal for Paul but Not According to Knowledge: Douglas Campbell’s War on ‘Justification Theory’

Grant Macaskill
Review Article: The Deliverance of God

Douglas A. Campbell
An Attempt to be Understood: A Response to the Concerns of Matlock and Macaskill with The Deliverance of God

Should be a fun read. Go check it out here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's been a very busy semester, as I'm finishing up five classes, a bunch of papers, and an Aramaic oral exam to prepare for. This is on top of applying to various schools for doctoral work, and also researching/writing my own stuff. Anyway, it seems like most of that (besides applications) will be over this week, so I'm excited to have a break when I can just relax, read what I want, research my own areas of interest, and go from there... My plans are also to read a bunch of books that have been collecting dust on my shelves and finish up some books that I'm currently reading (very slowly).

On the list:
Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible
New Testament and the People of God
A biography on Steve Jobs
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Historiographical Jesus
A book about Wall Street

And I also hope to read various journal articles, chapters from books, and hope to get some good work done. Very happy that this week is almost over.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vanhoozer Rejoins Trinity

There's been blog posts and twitter feeds about the announcement of Kevin Vanhoozer's departure from Wheaton College to return to his former position at Trinity. I was wondering why he decided to make the move after a short three-year stint at Wheaton, and it seems that the reason is mostly logistical in nature. Check out Wheatonblog's explanation here. My studies haven't taken me to much of Vanhoozer's writings, but from what I hear, he's done good work in his respective field. In 2010, he was part of Wheaton's Theology Conference, engaging with the work of N.T. Wright, and in my view, he was the most engaging presenter in the entire conference (though I also enjoyed very much the presentation from my current teacher, Prof. Richard Hays). Anyway, this seems to be a big loss for Wheaton but a significant (re?)gain for Trinity.

New JSPL out

The fall volume of the new journal, Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters is out:

Duke doesn't have access to the journal yet, but I hope they will order it for the library soon (especially since two of the editors are faculty members)... Go check it out if you can!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Numbers game

With the annual meetings of the SBL, AAR, and ETS coming up in San Francisco, I've seen a few posts (here, here, and here) regarding the representation of women in these meetings. I won't argue with the point that the percentages are a bit staggering in comparison (though I wouldn't go so far as to call it "disgustingly low" as one blog post put it): ETS (1%), SBL (29%), and AAR (41%). I am not a member of ETS or AAR, and at this point in my academic career, I don't really have a dog in the fight in any "camp" (if you want to call it that), but there seems to be an unwarranted bias against the ETS without looking further into the numbers.

For example, how many women are actually members of these groups? And how many women tried to present papers? I think to make the case that the one percent is "disgustingly low," you also have to make the case that there are enough women who wanted to present but were not given the chance to do so. The question of whether or not women feel welcome is a different issue altogether, and if that is what is at stake here, in my view, the percentages do not make a difference. To put it another way, if female scholars don't feel inclined to present at ETS, what does it matter how low the percent is? The bigger issue would be to ask why they don't feel inclined to present, why they might feel unwelcome, etc., the percentage doesn't play into that issue since due to the "unwelcome" nature of the society, the number would probably be skewed anyway due to a small sample size. And even if 30% of the presenters were women, that would not negate the fact that they might feel "unwelcome."

Furthermore, to play the numbers game, you could make the case that ETS is just as gender neutral as the other two societies, hypothetically speaking. I don't know how many women are actually members of these societies, and unless someone gave me the actual numbers, you cannot make the case that women members are being biased against. For example, one of the blog posts indicates that 8 out of 700 presenters in ETS are by women. So what if 100 female members applied for presenting and 8 were given a spot? That would be equivalent to 8% true representation of women (I call it "true" because it represents the presence of female scholars against the number of women who wanted to present at the conference). On the flip side, I am assuming SBL is a much larger animal, and if there were 2000 female members who applied and 203 of them were given a spot (as a hypothetical, say 29% of 700 spots), then this would be equivalent to 10.2% true representation of women. In this case, then, the differences in percentage are not as staggering as it first appeared.

Now, I know all this is hypothetical as I don't have access to the exact numbers of membership, spots given, presentations, etc., but the point I am trying to get across is, unless someone were to actually do the math, one cannot a priori state at the outset that 1% is "disgustingly low." I agree, it does sound like a very low number, but it's not really about what it seems or how I might feel about the percentages, is it?

And if we're going to go PC on these societies, then what about other non-white European presenters? What about Latino-Americans? What about Asian-Americans? What about African-Americans?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quote of the Day: Barth

"In our enquiry into the relation between the norm and the exception in obedience to the commandment, we now turn to situations in which it is a matter of the killing of one person by another. We have already noted in passing that the gravity of the question is no less but always necessarily greater in this case. There may be a necessary surrender or self-sacrifice of one's own life. But how can it ever be permissible or obligatory to sacrifice that of another? Can any of us be judges in respect of the life or death of others? What scruples there must be at this point regarding the sanctity of human life! What reservations are necessary in respect of the exceptional case!
Is it superfluous to interject a word at this juncture on the common crime of murder or homicide in the sense of the civil code? At least it is not superfluous to recall, on the basis of Mt. 5:21-26, that the so-called offender against the life of his fellows in the primitive sense is to be found in a preliminary form in all men, even though it does not usually result in the crime itself. In most of us the murderer is suppressed and chained, possibly by the command of God, or possibly by no more than circumstances, convention, or the fear of punishment. Yet he is very much alive in his cage, and ready to leap out at any time.
This is revealed by the amazing ease with which, in spite of every deterrent, war has always been approved and even enthusiastically welcomed and vigorously prosecuted not merely by individuals but by whole nations. It is pertinent that when the shooting of traitors became necessary in Switzerland in the Second World War, an astonishing number of volunteers is said to have offered for this melancholy duty. How are we to explain this? Even if we had not already learned it from Dostoievski, the experiences of our own day have surely taught us that we can no longer have any illusions as to what is dormant even in the heart of the average man in this respect. The presence of this sinister factor, of this "Hitler within us," can be verified in almost all of us by occasional dreams."

Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/4:413

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Google Reader

For my more tech-savvy friends, how do you 'share' stuff that you read on Google Reader now with the people you orig. had listed as being able to read whatever it is you 'shared'? I usually share stuff that I find interesting with my wife and now that ability seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur with this "new" change (seems more confusing and aesthetically-deficient to me)...


Thursday, October 20, 2011


On The Guardian (in case you didn't know, a British newspaper) today, Richard Dawkins wrote an article titled, "Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig." And also, if you happened among the 'elite' who Dawkins claims do not know who he is at all, Craig is a research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology (see his website here and his faculty profile here). It appears that Dawkins wants to take the 'high road' and refuse to debate with someone who is clearly beneath one with such stature as Dawkins, but to me, it all just sounds like the tantrums of a crying child. Randomly, it also reminds me of how Floyd Mayweather Jr. is crying about reasons why he can't fight Manny Pacquiao. I know it's a random connection, but still, it made sense to me. Also, I'm not even sure that Craig would win or lose in a debate with Dawkins, but it is interesting to me that Dawkins continues to evade the matchup despite good reasons for having a debate between a prominent Christian philosopher and a highly regarded atheist.

My opinion? Either debate/fight the guy and "win" or just leave it be.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Theology Conference

Just saw this in my Google Reader feed: Wheaton Theology Conference 2012:

Awesome! It was really great that Wheaton seems to do this every year (at least the last few years) and I especially benefited from Wheaton making available their 2010 conference titled, "Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright" (here). I probably won't be in the Chicagoland area at the 2012 conference, but hopefully they'll make those videos available as well because Bonhoeffer has been a fascinating figure to read about and to learn from.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How fares the 'evangelical mind'?

To my readers, apologies again for the long silence! I'm taking five classes this semester and am preparing to apply for various programs, so my mind has been focused elsewhere. Anyway, the title of this blog post is straight from the final chapter of Mark Noll's recently published book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. In my opinion, this book was a breath of fresh air, especially in light of all the recent bickering among 'evangelical' circles over Michael Licona's book, The Resurrection of Jesus. If you don't know what I'm talking about, see the various discussions here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Of course Noll's thesis bears on bigger topics and issues than just the doctrine of inerrancy, but I should mention that Noll does talk some about Peter Enns and his book, Inspiration and Incarnation, and its intersection with the doctrine of inerrancy, which contributed in part to his eventual suspension/departure from Westminster Theological Seminary (though I find it odd that they are still selling his book at their own bookstore, here).

In the final prologue of his book, Noll takes inventory of the state of affairs since the publishing of his earlier book nearly two decades ago, and states rather dryly that for the most part, "I remain largely unrepentant" (151) regarding his historical arguments in that first book. Of course, he does concede a few points here and there where things have shifted since 1995 to 2011 but I agree with him that there is much more work to be done. His own words are as follows:

"Yet on the whole, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind still seems to me correct in its descriptions and evaluations. Like their compatriots throughout the world, Americans in pietistic, generally evangelical, Baptist, fundamentalist, Restorationist, Holiness, "Bible church," megachurch, or Pentecostal traditions face special difficulties when putting the mind to use. Taken together, American evangelicals display many virtues and do many things well, but built-in barriers to productive thinking remain substantial.
These barriers include an immediatism that insists on action, decision, and even perfection right now; a populism that confuses winning supporters with mastering actually existing situations; and an antitraditionalism that privileges current judgments on biblical, theological, and ethical issues (however hastily formed) over insight from the past (however hard won and carefully stated). In addition, as this book has suggested, we evangelicals are susceptible to a nearly gnostic dualism that rushes to spiritualize all manner of corporeal, terrestrial, physical, and material realities (despite the origin and providential maintenance of these realities by God). We also much prefer to put our money into programs offering immediate relief, whether evangelistic or humanitarian, instead of into institutions promoting intellectual development over the long term...
We remain inordinately susceptible to enervating apocalyptic speculation, thus consuming oceans of bathetic end-times literature while sponsoring only a trickle of serious geopolitical analysis. We are consistently drawn to "American Christianities" — occasionally of the Left, more often the Right — that subordinate principled reasoning rooted in the gospel to partisanship that demonizes opponents and excuses enormities in our friends...
To be sure, forces hostile to Christianity in the academy and in elite culture are large, vigorous, and growing rapidly. At some American universities and colleges, Christian scholars must operate as if from foxholes. In general, the intellectual climate is by no means propitious for Christian perspectives. No one can deny that in American society very strong trends are working against all intellectual efforts, and not just Christian efforts, to use the mind responsibly. These trends include, as a very partial list, the pace of modernity that has been accelerated by every one of the technological breakthroughs of recent decades; the nearly imbecile state of public political debate; the widespread striving for money and success as ends in themselves; the explosion of moral irresponsibility; and television."

Now, lest you accuse Noll of just waxing eloquent about the doom of evangelicalism yet again, he then has a subsection titled 'Hopeful Signs' where he lists various signs that there is hope to be found for the intellectual life of evangelicals. I don't want to give the whole book away, but I think for the most part, Noll has proved himself again to be an astute observer of history and culture, and thankfully it's less about doom and downfall and more about change and hope. So to repeat the question from the title of the blog post, in your view, how fares the evangelical mind?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bio busts

Unfortunately, the two biographies I mentioned in an earlier post, on John Calvin and the other on Cicero, were not very interesting at all. They were dry, too detail-oriented, without giving any real insight to the unique personalities. The Cicero one was a tad bit better, but I eventually got bored of that one as well. To switch gears a little bit from famous political-historical figures, per a friend's recommendation, I am going to start reading the autobiography of the greatest college basketball coach in history (I don't think I'm biased here, even if UCLA is my alma mater), John Wooden. Another friend of mine had the chance to visit Coach Wooden at his home to take a portrait shot before he passed away, and told me what a gentleman he was. I'm not much of an autobiography fan, but let's hope it's better than the last two!

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Blog

I wanted to advertise for a new blog which a friend of mine is part of, called "The Two Cities." It has a very nice layout and with the diversity of writers, it should make for a good place for conversation. My friend, John Dunne, is starting his PhD this Fall as the first batch of N.T. Wright's students (or maybe his only student; I don't know how many students he took this year) at St. Andrews. Check out his first blog post titled, "Alcohol in the Bible: Part One (The Old Testament)." Go check out the rest of the blog here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

People's lives are interesting... to me at least (and hopefully to you too)

I'm not sure what it is, but I've always been very curious to learn the details behind the lives of figures in history. So, one of my reading habits is reading biographies of anybody I'm mildly interested in whenever I get the chance. I don't even recall what my first biography was, but thankfully, for the most part, I've enjoyed almost every single biography I've read to date. This past year, I've read a biography of the following (in no particular order):

George Whitefield
Louie Zamperini
Alexander the Great

I admit, a couple of the books above I did not finish because they were not very good, but otherwise, the rest of them were fun to read. In terms of being the most compelling read, I'd have to say Metaxas' book was probably the best page-turner (despite the critique of some reviewers). And on the other hand, the Vanderbilt book lost a lot of steam as it continued and I basically skimmed the 2nd half... I'll be starting two biographies soon: one on John Calvin and the other on Cicero. Hopefully they'll be interesting reads.

My question to you is, do you like biographies? If so, what have you read that is worth reading? Any suggestions welcome!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Good article

I just came across an insightful article by Professor Stanley Hauerwas who teaches here at Duke, and in it, he lays out a strong critique of American Protestantism, and how its own presuppositions are contributing to its possible demise (at least in its current form). I recommend you all go read the article for yourself, but here's a quote to whet your appetite:

"More Americans may go to church than their counterparts in Europe, but the churches to which they go do little to challenge the secular presumptions that form their lives or the lives of the churches to which they go. For the church is assumed to exist to reinforce the presumption that those that go to church have done so freely. The church's primary function, therefore, is to legitimate and sustain the presumption that America represents what all people would want to be if they had the benefit of American education and money. That is what Americans mean by "freedom."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Journal article help?

I thought I'd ask for some help from my readers: does anyone have Stephen Westerholm's article from Svensk Exegetisk Arsbok 51-51 (1986-7) titled "On Fulfilling the Whole Law (Gal. 5.14)"? I'm sure if I went digging I could probably find a hardcopy somewhere and scan it, but I thought I'd give it a try here first to see if anyone might have a PDF or something they can send along...

Much appreciated!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Minority rules?

Thanks to my wife's suggestion, I started reading an interesting new book titled The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, by Alan Jacobs. It seems to be a semi-response (though this is only a minor impetus for the writing of this book as far as I can tell) to the classic, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. In it, he references a recent research conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts titled "Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Legacy" (For the full report, go here). The first conclusion found in this research caught my eye:

What surprised me was that the findings found in 2008 showed that for the first time in 26 years(!), the percentage of adult readers increased. In other words, since 1982, they conducted this survey 5 times and they have only witnessed a downward trend of adults in America who read a work of literature in the past 12 months. I suppose the advent of eBook readers may have contributed to the recent findings, but more than the increase in % readership, what intrigued me was that for the first time in almost a decade, the "majority" (by the slightest of margins; 50.2%) of Americans read some work of literature in the last 12 months.
I've been thinking about the kind of problems that the seemingly infectious aversion to reading creates in our society, and in my view, I don't know what other conclusion one can come to besides negative ones. It has shocked me more than a few times to hear some folks declare that they have not read a single book cover to cover since high school, claiming this feat as a badge-of-honor. And if not the detriment to society in general, then what about to our families and our churches? The study proved that the American-reader is now the "majority" over against the "minority" of American-illiterates, but it certainly feels as if minority rules strong in the overall American culture.

What interesting reads have you come across lately and what are some ways to battle this ubiquitous aversion to reading?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


For my research assistant job over the summer, I've been doing a lot of digging into all things related to "prosperity" (i.e. prosperity gospel). It's been very fascinating to dialogue with my professor over a topic that I really don't know much about. Before this summer, the only reason I was vaguely even aware of this brand of Christianity was because of these two buildings:

If you're from Orange County (CA), you're probably very familiar with these buildings (even if you didn't know what they were) because both buildings can be seen from two major freeways that run through Orange County. The first one on the left is the Trinity Broadcasting Network, found by Paul (and Jan) Crouch, and a couple other former associates. The second is the Crystal Cathedral, found by Robert Schuller. I think both institutions are intertwined with what's understood as the prosperity movement, which is often highly disparaged by mainstream evangelicalism. Leaving aside the polarizing debate about their theology for the moment, I started thinking about the brand of evangelicalism that I myself have known and experienced.
The churches I know from home are situated in a very affluent, upper middle-class area (a TV show and a movie was named after the general area I'm from, after all), I began to wonder if there is anything practically (I'm not talking about the theological foundations or lack thereof that might undergird each of the two groups) different from prosperity churches and mainstream evangelical churches that I have seen. Most upper-middle class evangelicals seem just fine accumulating vast amounts of wealth (e.g., houses, cars, bank accounts, toys, vacations, clothing, etc.), and from their ivory tower of enjoying every level of creature comfort that man could think of, they quickly turn around and "abominate" any hints of the prosperity gospel (to use John Piper's words, though this present post is not talking about him or his lifestyle: I just think his word fits the vehemence with which we tend to critique the "other side", viz., the prosperity gospel).
To me, it all seems a bit intellectually and theologically dishonest to sing "You are my all in all" on a Sunday morning, while driving away from church in a BMW, checking one's Cartier watch to make sure they're not late for brunch at the new French-American joint that opened up, and simultaneously using Twitter and texts on his or her iPhone4. I apologize for being overdramatic, but the affluent middle-class evangelical appears to me, mutatis mutandis, as a practical prosperity-believer. I don't think possessing wealth itself is the distinguishing marker between being a mainline evangelical or a prosperity-believer, but I do think the manner in which that wealth is viewed and handled makes the difference. One can deny that they dislike (or even "abominate") the prosperity gospel, but I think their lifestyle might tell another story.
Now, don't misunderstand me as one who has successfully negotiated the theological tension that exists between middle-class wealth and Christian discipleship in a world filled with immense poverty. But, as I'm seeing more and more of my Christian colleagues and friends enter into the professional world, earning salaries that will more than provide for all sorts of luxuries, it does worry me somewhat whether we have carefully thought about what role money should play in our individual lives, our families, and the rearing of our children.

Monday, June 20, 2011


In our modern culture of industrialized goods, often there is a big premium placed on "handmade" goods. Handmade things are special in the sense that they are unique (if they are handmade, it's more than likely that no two are alike) and more often than not, personal (I think of friends who knit things for friends — handmade).

In the LXX and NT, the same word can be found: χειροποίητος. It's interesting that the word means, literally, "handmade." However, in the Scriptures, handmade things are seen in quite the opposite light; they are symbols of idolatry and if I'm not mistaken, the majority (if not all) of the occurrences of the word is used negatively. To make this point clear, translators of OT will make this case by rendering the Greek word as an "idol" or "image" (E.g., Lev 26:1; Isa 2:18).

In the OT, the critique appears to be against the handcrafted item of a god as opposed the unimageable YHWH (See the two examples above). And in the NT, the invective is against "handmade" circumcision as opposed to the spiritual/heart circumcision and the "handmade" temple as opposed to the spiritual temple (E.g., Mk 14:58; Acts 7:48, 17:24; Heb 9:11). While this might have been a prominent theme that flowed through Jewish thought, I didn't think that Greco-Roman culture gave all that much thought to this until I came across Seneca's letters today (albeit his very different angle). In it he writes:

"You are doing the finest possible thing and acting in your best interests if, as you say in your letter, you are persevering in your efforts to acquire a sound understanding. This is something it is foolish to pray for when you can win it from your own self. There is no need to raise our hands to heaven; there is no need to implore the temple warden to allow us close to the ear of some graven image (simulacri), as though this increased the chances of our being heard. God is near you, is with you, is inside you (prope est a te deus, tecum est, intus est). Yes, Lucilius, there resides within us a divine spirit, which guards us and watches us in the evil and the good we do. As we treat him, so will he treat us. No man, indeed is good without God — is any one capable of rising above fortune unless he has help from God? He it is that prompts us to noble and exalted endeavors. In each and every good man: A god (what god we are uncertain) dwells" [this last sentence is seen as a quote from Virgil's Aeneid].
--Seneca, Epistle 40.1-2

Though I'll probably have to study more about the kind of theology (if any) Stoic philosophers subscribed to, this paragraph from Seneca is an interesting parallel.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

2 Baruch 72

These days, I've been reading 2 Baruch in Syriac to keep up with the ancient language (using this text here), and so far, it's been a very interesting book to read. I've really enjoyed taking Syriac for the past year now (great professor [Dr. Lucas Van Rompay] as well as a bunch of interesting texts [Ephrem's commentary, Aphrahat's Demonstrations, NT/OT Peshitta, Odes of Solomon to name just a few]). This morning I was reading 2 Baruch 71-73, and if I'm not mistaken, this critical text contains a translation error (his transl.):

72.1 "Hear, now, also concerning the bright waters which are to come at the end, after these black (waters): this is the word. 72.2 After the signs have come, of which I have spoken to you before, when the nations become confused and the time of my Messiah comes, he will call all the nations; and some of them he will spare, and some of them he will kill. 72.3 These things, therefore, will come upon the nations which are not spared by him. 72.4 Every nation which does not know Israel and has trodden down the seed of Jacob, will live. And this because some from all the nations will be subjected to your people. But all those who have ruled over you or have known you will be given over to the sword."

My question concerns 72.3, which the critical text reads (I'm using a font called Estrangelo Edessa, so if you don't have Syriac fonts installed, it might not show correctly):

ܗܠܝܢ ܗܟܝܠ ܐܬܝܢ ܥܠ ܥܡܡܐ ܐܝܠܝܢ ܕܥܬܝܕܝܢ ܕܢܚܘܢ ܡܢܗ

Gurtner translates this as, "These things, therefore, will come upon the nations which are not spared by him". But the difficulty for me concerns the second to last word in the sentence which is from the root ḥy’, which is of course in this form means to give life, save, or spare. If my reading is right, it should be read: "These things, therefore, will come upon the nations which are spared/saved by him."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quote of the Day: Seneca

As I wrote in a previous post, I've been reading a little bit of Seneca's Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, and today, I wanted to quote him on one function that letters seemed to play during his time.

"Thank you for writing so often. By doing so you give me a glimpse of yourself in the only way you can. I never get a letter from you without instantly feeling we're together. If pictures of absent friends are a source of pleasure to us, refreshing the memory and relieving the sense of void with a solace however insubstantial and unreal, how much more so are letters, which carry marks and signs of the absent friend that are real. For the handwriting of a friend affords us what is so delightful about seeing him again, the sense of recognition (agnoscere)."
- Seneca, Letter 40.1

In our modern age of easy travel, texting, phone calls, and even video chatting (FaceTime, Skype, etc!?), it might be difficult for us at times to imagine how letters might have been perceived and accepted by their recipients. Consequently, when we come across letters in the NT, we are prone to search out possible universal apothegms that we would like to apply in our current situations. However, a quote like above shows the tender and personal (also in some ways private?) nature of letters that insists on our more careful attention to particular situations, expressions of friendship (or enmity?), etc., that exist in the NT epistles.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Testimonium Flavianum

I've been just trying to understand a bit more about what Josephus offers in NT studies, and today's post is just one small intersection between Josephus and the NT. The title of the blog post is about a passage (which scholars call testimonium flavianum) from Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, which contains the following (at least as the text we have today):

About this time comes Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is proper to call him a man. For he was a worker of incredible deeds, a teacher of those who accept the truth with pleasure, and attracted many Jews as well as many of the Greek. This man was the Christ (ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν). And when, in view of [his] denunciation by the leading men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to a cross, those who had loved at the beginning did not cease [to do so]. He appeared to them on the third day alive again, for the divine prophets had announced these and countless other marvels concerning him. And even now the tribe of the "Christians"—named after him—has not yet disappeared.
Ant. 18:63-64

What's striking is the sentence in the Greek shown above, a succinct and unqualified assertion that Jesus was the Christ. In all of the Josephus corpus, he only uses the term "Christ" twice (here and in Ant. 20:200). I think most (if not all) scholars would be agreed that Josephus was not a Christian by any means, and therefore, this statement is somewhat at odds with how Josephus normally thought and wrote in the rest of his literature. This then engenders a few questions:

(1) Is this testimonium original to Josephus?
(2) Is this a later whole cloth creation by later Christian scribes?
(3) Did Josephus mention Jesus in some other way that provided the foundation from which later editors were able to create this assertion?
(4) Was Josephus a Christian? (if we were allowed to entertain this as a viable option)

I can understand why most scholars view this as a later redaction (or insertion) by Christian scribes, but I suppose if that was true, why only here and why in such a brief note? I would think that if they wanted to make Jesus available within Josephus' writings, they might as well scatter a few more pieces of information elsewhere (and possibly in larger chunks)...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

UCLA and manuscripts

Just found out today that my alma mater, UCLA, now holds the largest repository of Ethiopic manuscripts in North America. Some excerpts of this article:

he UCLA Library has acquired the largest private collection of Ethiopic manuscripts and scrolls in the U.S., given by Gerald and Barbara Weiner. Together with the library's existing collections, this gift makes the UCLA Library the leading repository for Ethiopic manuscripts in North America. A classical Semitic language, Ethiopic is used as the liturgical language of the Christian church in Ethiopia. Dating from the 18th to the 21st centuries, the collection of 137 bound manuscripts and 102 scrolls is particularly rich in elaborately illustrated liturgical texts. Highlights include a late 19th/early 20th-century version of the Gospels containing 78 miniatures; a 19th-century "lives of the saints" with 40 miniatures; a 20th-century compilation of a table blessing and miracles performed by Jesus with 37 miniatures; and a 20th-century collection of prayers with an image of John the Evangelist and 26 miniatures.

"Words cannot express our deep thanks to Jerry and Barbara — first, for building this gorgeous collection, then for giving it to us," said UCLA University Librarian Gary E. Strong. "These extraordinary items, noteworthy both for their research value and their beauty, will be of great interest to students and scholars, as well as to the extensive Ethiopian community in Southern California." ...

To see more, go to the UCLA newsroom here.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quote of the Day

This past semester, we talked at length about Paul's letter to the Romans, and despite spending an entire semester looking hard at the text, it's evident to me that there is much more to be wrestled with and learned before I can confidently say I know something about Romans. The more we seemed to dig into the text, the more I became convinced that much of my own understanding of the letter was built on assumptions that may not necessarily be right. Granted, my teacher had a specific angle to the text that colored our own discussions, but nevertheless, it was very helpful to think critically about this important letter in the NT. One issue that we began to unpack a little bit is the fact that Romans is, in the end, a letter. This means that we should be careful about viewing the book wholesale as a systematic theology book, where we might be prone to believe that everything we wanted to know about anything in Christianity is found in Romans. I'm currently reading Richard Longenecker's Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul's Most Famous Letter, and in it, he makes the same point. I would like to quote some words from a wise Pauline scholar:

"Throughout the first eighteen centuries of the Christian church, Romans was most often understood as a theological treatise or tractate that sets out a relatively complete statement of Christian belief — or, at least, that clearly enunciates the basic features of Paul's teaching ...
Romans, however, is a real letter, not a contrived literary epistle. It contains personal allusions, definite travel plans, and rather specific instructions for a particular people. There are in it, as in Paul's other letters, digressions, parentheses, and unfinished sentences. More importantly, while the longest of the apostle's extant writings, Romans lacks a number of subjects that seem from his other letters to be absolutely essential to Paul's thought and proclamation — most obviously, (1) the omission of any discussion of the resurrection of believers, which was such an important topic in his earlier letters (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2, and 1 Corinthians 15), and (2) the lack of any reference to the Lord's Supper, which was a matter of great concern when writing to converts at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). As a theological treatise, therefore, Romans is somewhat truncated and a bit disappointing in its coverage of important doctrinal themes."

This is something that I think we need to wrestle with a bit further, but at this point, it is significant to note that Romans was not written at the end of one's life. Actually, as Longenecker points out (following the quote above), "Paul writes as a man in mid-career," having completed much of his work in the east, and setting out toward missionary work in the west.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Know your Bible

This CNN article lists various "phantom passages" that are often mistaken as being found in the Bible. Some interesting ones are:

"This, too, shall pass"
"God helps those who help themselves"
"Spare the rod, spoil the child"
"God works in mysterious ways"

I think I've actually heard some of these phrases used as if one was quoting from Scripture. Have you heard of any others?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Quote of the Day

I've just started to read Seneca's Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, probably as a small way to make up missing out on a class on Greco-Roman philosophy this past semester (I wasn't able to take it due to schedule conflicts). Plus some quotes I've read from a friend got me curious about this famous Stoic philosopher, and so far, it's been a fun read. I will leave you today with a short quote from him:

"Similarly, people who never relax and people who are invariably in a relaxed state merit your disapproval — the former as much as the latter. For a delight in bustling about is not industry — it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind. And the state of mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but a spineless inertia. This prompts me to memorize something which I came across in Pomponius. 'Some men have shrunk so far into dark corers that objects in bright daylight seem quite blurred to them.' A balanced combination of the two attitudes is what we want; the active man should be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined toward repose should be capable of action. Ask nature: she will tell you that she made both day and night."
- Seneca, Epistle III

Thursday, June 2, 2011


NT Wright mentions briefly what gets to him at times:

How about you?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

I just started reading Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind because I heard it was a pretty good book, and the topic just interested me in general. I'm just about finishing up the first chapter and so far Noll paints a pretty bleak picture (though I think in a large measure an accurate one) of the state of evangelicalism and the bitter fruits that we are now reaping from its anti-intellectualistic tendencies. Noll describes his book as a "historic footnote" in support of the words of an Lebanese diplomat, scholar, and Eastern Orthodox Christian who was invited to Wheaton College in 1980 for the opening of the Billy Graham Center. This diplomat (Charles Malik) relayed some important words which I think is worth quoting here in full:

The greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind as to its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. This cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the Gospel. They have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure in conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, and thereby ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is abdicated and vacated to the enemy. Who among the evangelicals can stand up to the great secular or naturalistic or atheistic scholars on their own terms of scholarship and research? Who among the evangelical scholars is quoted as a normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics? Does your mode of thinking have the slightest chance of becoming the dominant mode of thinking in the great universities of Europe and America which stamp your entire civilization with their own spirit and ideas?
It will take a different spirit altogether to overcome this great danger of anti-intellectualism.... Even if you start now on a crash program in this and other domains, it will be a century at least before you catch up with the Harvards and Tübingens and the Sorbonnes, and think of where these universities will be then! For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ Himself, as well as for their own sakes, the Evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence."

With thirty some years since Malik's wise words, I still wonder just how much (or little?) evangelicals have progressed (or digressed) in this regard. Having spent most of my education at great secular institutions, I personally can't say that things have changed at all since then... What do you think? Has evangelicalism shed its shell of anti-intellectualism? Are there scholars who are beginning to contribute to the wide-range of disciplines at our universities?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stay-at-home Dads

I read something earlier today that shows that the concept of "stay-at-home dads" is not such a novel thing:

Just as the Egyptians have a climate peculiar to themselves, and their river is different in its nature from all other rivers, so, too, have they instituted customs and laws contrary for the most part to those of the rest of mankind. Among them, the women buy and sell (ἀγοράζουσι καὶ καπηλεύουσι), the men stay at home and weave; and whereas in weaving all others push the woof upwards, the Egyptians push it downwards.
-- Herodotus, Histories, 2.35.2

I suppose maybe Herodotus was trying to exaggerate the fact that Egyptians do things "backwards", especially given the fact that even the Nile River seemed to flow "backwards" (South to North) in their eyes. Nonetheless, it appears that stay-at-home dads wasn't an invention of the 20th century.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Welcome to the blogosphere

I would like to give a shout-out to my fellow Dukie and friend, Ross Jahnke to the blogosphere. He's just about finished with his Th.M at Duke Divinity School and I've enjoyed the numerous conversations we've had this past year (and sad that him and his wife will be moving away so soon!). He just started a new blog here, called Ross Jahnke: sharing half-baked reflections from a Christian life. A modest blog title for a very smart fellow! Please drop by his blog and say hello if you get a chance!

Monday, April 25, 2011

What text are they referring to?

I've been doing some research into Lev. 19:18 and its relationship to Paul in Rom. 13 and Gal. 5. Anyway, I read something today that was very odd. In Witherington's Romans commentary, he says about 13:8-10, "But Paul is also following a longer Jewish tradition that suggested that the pith or heart of the Law could be summed up in one phrase" then gives two references: Testament of Issachar 6 and the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a. I'm trying to hunt down both of these references, but they seem to be either wrong or I might be missing something.

First, the T. Iss reference seems to be a mistake because when I read through that book in the OTP, chapter 6 has nothing (as far as I can tell) about the Torah being summed up in a phrase.

Second, I'm having a hard time trying to find the Talmudic reference. Does anyone know where I can get access to it online? I figured the Talmud would be online somewhere, but I can't seem to find it...

Anyone know what texts Witherington (among other commentators) are referring to and where I can get access to them? Any help is appreciated!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bonhoeffer and Anti-Semiticism

I've finished reading through Bonhoeffer's Life Together during this Lent season (My other Lent posts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), so I've been reading other material from Bonhoeffer during this time. In the early 1930s, as Germany began to adopt laws that became more and more explicltly anti-Semitic, Bonhoeffer was one of the few who recognized the dangers of the Church merging its interests completely with that of the State. The 'Aryan Paragraph' espoused by the German State/Church eventually led to a full-on legislation to distinguish the 'Aryans' from 'non-Aryans' with charts such as these:

If one has three or more grandparents (dark circles at the top), then you fall under the category of Jude ("Jew").

Against these kinds of ideologies, Bonhoeffer wrote a pamphlet titled 'The Aryan Paragraph in the Church' which is clear evidence of how differently he thought from the majority of German Christians around him. In it he writes:

"The German Christians say: We are not so much concerned with these thousand Jewish Christians as with the millions of our fellow citizens who are estranged from God. For their sake, these others might in certain cases have to be sacrificed. We answer: We too are concerned for those outside the church, but the church does not sacrifice a single one of its members. It may even be that the church for the sake of a thousand believing Jewish Christians that it is not allowed to sacrifice, might fail to win over those millions. But what good would it do to gain millions of people at the price of the truth and of love for even a single one?"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Radio silence

To my readers:

Apologies for the lack of any posts lately! Finals are coming up and I have two big (or three I guess if you count something I've been working on for journal submission since last semester) papers as we approach the end of this semester. Duke likes to assign a ton of reading and it's been super busy, so please excuse the infrequency of posts. I'm hoping to have more collected thoughts over the summer, so we'll talk more then. I'm glad that my first year at Duke is almost over and if you're wondering what my Fall schedule might be like, this is the tentative outlook:

OT in NT seminar
Learning Theology with CS Lewis
Intro to Aramaic
History: Between Augustine & Anselm
Christian Scripture & Ethics

Hopefully it'll end up being a great semester. Wish me well for the upcoming finals week!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lent Part 3

I'm currently reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together (Lent Part 1, Part 2) which has been a very refreshing book to read as this semester has inundated me with reading a whole bunch of journal articles and monographs. I read something this morning which I hope will be an encouragement (or perhaps rebuke?) to you. This comes from a section entitled 'The Ministry of Listening':

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent Part 2

Continuing my posts about Lent (So far: Part 1), I read something earlier today by Bonhoeffer that I think would be beneficial for us to think about during this Lent season. On a section titled 'Meditation' he writes:

It is not necessary that we should discover new ideas in our meditation. Often this only diverts us and feeds our vanity. It is sufficient if the Word, as we read and understand it, penetrates and dwells within us. As Mary "pondered in her heart" the things that were told by the shepherds, as what we have casually overheard follows us for a long time, sticks in our mind, occupies, disturbs, or delights us, without our ability to do anything about it, so in meditation God's Word seeks to enter in and remain with us. It strives to stir us, to work and operate in us, so that we shall not get away from it the whole day long. Then it will do its work in us, often without our being conscious of it.
Above all, it is not necessary that we should have any unexpected, extraordinary experiences in meditation. This can happen, but if it does not, it is not a sign that the meditation period has been useless. Not only at the beginning, but repeatedly, there will be times when we feel a great spiritual dryness and apathy, an aversion, even an inability to meditate. We dare not be balked by such experiences. Above all, we must not allow them to keep us from adhering to our meditation period with great patience and fidelity.
It is, therefore, not good for us to take too seriously the many untoward experiences we have with ourselves in meditation. It is here that our old vanity and our illicit claims upon God may creep in by a pious detour, as if it were our right to have nothing but elevating and fruitful experiences, and as if the discovery of our own inner poverty were quite below our dignity. With that attitude, we shall make no progress. Impatience and self-reproach will only foster our complacency and entangle us ever more deeply in the net of self-centered introspection. But there is no more time for such morbidity in meditation than there is in the Christian life as a whole. We must center our attention on the Word alone and leave consequences to its action. For may it not be that God Himself sends us these hours of reproof and dryness that we may be brought again to expect everything from His Word? "Seek God, not happiness" — this is the fundamental rule in all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness: that is its promise.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 83-4.

I particularly appreciated his last paragraph where he criticizes the notion that we think it is "our right" to always enjoy great times of meditation. Hopefully this short quote was helpful to you as it was to me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


We're just about half-way into Lent and as I was working through John 12 today for class, I was reminded of how pivotal the scene of the 'Triumphal Entry' was for all the Evangelists. I thought it would be interesting to see how each Evangelist portrayed the proclamation of "Hosanna." We often overlook this because of our familiarity with the Passion Narratives, but each Evangelist has a distinctive flavor that makes these readings worthy of reflection.

Matthew 21:8-9
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Mark 11:8-10
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Luke 19:37-38
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"

John 12:12-13
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-- the King of Israel!"

Of course the larger narrative should be read and understood before we can comment at length about these short passages, but I find it fascinating that even a small snippet of a scene of the triumphal entry reveals something about the viewpoint of each of the Evangelists vis-à-vis their understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and the role that he plays within the narrative of Israel and/or God's kingdom.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quote of the Day: Bonhoeffer

In an earlier blog post (here), I alluded to multiple reviews of this biography of Bonhoeffer. Some of the reviews have been questioning just how "evangelical" Bonhoeffer was, and how some biographers might have in some ways "evangelicalized" Bonhoeffer to make him appear to be more palatable to the Christian Right. Personally, I don't think either labels are very helpful (whether he is "evangelical" or "not") because reading through his works shows a kind of depth in theology, ethics, philosophy, etc., that moves beyond simple categorical caricatures. I don't think I would label him as a "liberal" but I don't think I would straight label him as an "evangelical" (as the term is widely used today) either. Further, the term "evangelical" seems to change in definition from group to group, some using it almost pejoratively, while others wear it as a badge of honor, etc. It's just very difficult to pin down exactly what anyone means when he/she says "____ is an evangelical."

I'm currently reading through Bonhoeffer's Life Together, and he also has some words about what an "evangelical" is (not?):

"What we call our life, our troubles, our guilt, is by no means all of reality; there in the Scriptures is our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation. Because it pleased God to act for us there, it is only there that we shall be saved. Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God and Father of Jesus Christ and our Father. We must learn to know the Scriptures again, as the Reformers and our fathers knew them. We must not grudge the time and the work that it takes. We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. But besides this, there are ample reasons that make this requirement exceedingly urgent. How, for example, shall we ever attain certainty and confidence in our personal and church activity if we do not stand on solid Biblical ground? It is not our heart that determines our course, but God's Word. But who in this day has any proper understanding of the need for scriptural proof? How often we hear innumerable arguments "from life" and "from experience" put forward as the basis for most critical decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing. And this authority would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction. It is not surprising, of course, that the person who attempts to cast discredit upon their wisdom should be the one who himself does not seriously read, know, and study the Scriptures. But the one who will not learn to handle the Bible for himself is not an evangelical Christian."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GJohn and Anti-Semitism?

I saw this on my Twitter feed last week. Piper is currently preaching through the Gospel of John, and as Richard Hays is the dean of the school I'm at, as well as the fact that I'm currently taking a seminar on the Fourth Gospel, it piqued my interest. I downloaded the message from this past weekend and listened to it on my way to/back from school. The text that he preached on I think is from John 8:30-59, and in one particular section, he quoted from something Hays wrote (he doesn't acknowledge which book it's from and as far as I can tell, the website doesn't either). In a section of the sermon he titles 'Scholars Slandering the Word of God', Piper says [Piper in blue, Hays in brown]:

We should be ashamed of this part of our history. But unlike so many critical scholars, we should not lay the fault of this history at the feet of the Gospel of John, which is what so many do. I mention this now in our series on John because chapter 8 is the climax of what the critical scholars see as the problem. For example, concerning our text today, Richard Hays, Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, says:

Nowhere in John's Gospel does the superheated animosity toward the Jews come to more vigorous expression than in chapter 8. . . . The dialogue [of John 8:39–47] is the most deeply disturbing outburst of anti-Jewish sentiment in the New Testament. . . . John makes a fateful theological step: from the empirical fact of the unbelief of the Jews . . . . The Jews who do not believe must be children of the devil. . . . The conclusion of verse 47 articulates the chilling logic of this position: the reason they do not hear the word of God is that they are not from God. . . . One shudders to contemplate the ethical outworking of such a theological perspective on the Jews. . . . The Gospel of John really does adopt a stance toward Judaism that can only engender polemics and hostility.

This is a great sadness that ordained Christian teachers in the church should slander the word of God in this way. Let me mention four problems with this way of dealing with Jesus' very hard words in John 8—for though they are hard, they are especially offensive to modern, soft, pluralistic ears. Four responses, and the fourth one will launch us into an exposition of the text itself to let Jesus and John speak for themselves.

Someone could correct me but I'm guessing this is from his Moral Vision of the New Testament. Anyway, what Piper means as "this part of our history" is the often ugly animosity between Jews and Christians that have existed basically since the first century. The four responses that Piper has is this:

(1) If we want to excise from the Gospels any anti-Semitic language, we'll have to do far more than just John 8. Piper says, "Jesus' language toward the Pharisees is almost uniformly negative everywhere in all four Gospels, and often intensely so... If the Jesus of John has to go, so does the Jesus of all the Gospels."
(2) All unbelievers are labeled as "sons of the devil" by Jesus. Piper then quotes from Mt. 13:38-39 that describes the weeds as the sons of the evil one, that "Jewish people are not unique in their unbelief and their vulnerability to the blinding and distorting effects of the devil."
(3) Paul teaches that all unbelievers are under the "sway of the devil... [and that] the New Testament as a whole, not just John's Gospel, sees in the ongoing resistance to Jesus, whether in Jew or Gentile, the deadness and blindness of sin and the accompanying work of Satan. John 8 is not unique."
(4) Parallels in 1 John 3:8, that "sinning" is "of the devil."

I think on some levels, I commend Piper for his fierce convictions and willingness to go where the text may lead him, and while I'm definitely not a Piper-hater or a TGC-basher (do they go hand-in-hand?), I have a few comments:

First, it doesn't seem that Hays is commenting on anything beyond John 8 in the quotation. He isn't speaking about what does the rest of the NT say, or what does 1 John say, or even that we have to excise from our Bibles any seemingly 'anti-Semitic' texts. Hays' quote (unless Piper left out more of Hays' quote that actually touched on these issues) seems to be a simple comment on what is observable from the Gospel of John as it stands.
Second, Piper's statement that Jesus' comments toward Pharisees is basically negative is acceptable in the Synoptics, but it does not explain why the Fourth Evangelist decided to label them 'the Jews.' He is right to point out that everyone is technically 'a Jew', but if you read through the four Gospels, John by far outstrips the Synoptics in his use of the phrase οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι. By a quick scan, I would even venture to guess that John uses the term "the Jews" more than all three Synoptics combined. I appreciate how Piper urges his congregation to take the text seriously, and if that is the case, then I think we seriously have to account for this fact.

Anyway, that's just a couple quick thoughts I had as I was mulling over the sermon and the Gospel of John. What do you think? Is Piper right? Is Hays right? How do we locate the term 'anti-Semitic' on a given text?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fall 2011

In a few weeks, I'll be registering for my next semester of classes... here's a few that I'm interested in (grouped in respective categories):

Church History
Between Augustine & Anselm
Life & Times of the Wesleys
Eucharist in the First Eight Centuries of the Church

Historical Theology
Luther and the Reformation in Germany
The Theology and Ethics of Ambrose of Milan

Biblical studies
The Old Testament in the New
The Gospels & Historiography
Christian Ethics & Scripture

Christian Ethics
S. Kierkegaard

Christian Theology
Learning Theology with CS Lewis
Film & The Christian Life
The Thought of Augustine of Hippo

There's so many good classes to choose from! I guess that's a good problem to have... hope I can get into the four classes that I will decide on in a few weeks time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nature-grace model?

This week we had to read an excellent article from Alan Torrance titled, "Forgiveness: The essential Socio-political Structure of Personal Being." It's good to see continuity in our discussions as a lot of the things I read from Torrance sounds like conversations we've had with Dr. Campbell in class. Anyway, in this article, Torrance critiques what he calls the "nature-grace" model that has influenced Christianity in the West (for the worst). He defines this model as such:

"[it] interprets grace in terms of nature, where nature is understood by appealing to the categories of natural law as it is discerned by the light of reason and where reason is an independent capacity constitutive of natural man. Accordingly, it asserts the primacy of nature over grace and of (natural) law over grace. Grace presupposes and perfects nature and natural justice which provide the prior context, structures, and categories in terms of which alone grace can be understood. On this model therefore nature is interpreted separated and independently of Christ."

He then goes on to give some examples of how the nature-grace model has informed the church to its detriment. Here is an excerpt of those examples:

The theology of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa is grounded in the Federal Calvinist dichotomy between the sphere of Nature and the sphere of Grace. God has created some people white and some black and the distinctions and differences between these races are discernible by the light of natural reasons as having been ordained by God as part of the ordo naturalis. The judgements of the state grounded in these natural differences and distinctions can therefore be interpreted as reflecting the eternal purposes of God for these different orders of his creation - purposes to which nature itself testifies accordingly.
Consequently, in the theology of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa the relevance of who Christ is, his person and work, and also therefore the doctrines of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, are conditioned and restricted by the prior concept of the oroers of nature and of creation and has no place in informing its understanding of the state and its function. Its anthropology is governed not by the second Adam, the true man in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, black nor white, but by the nature-grace model which restricts the relevance of Christ merely to the spiritual realm of the redemption of the elect. The result is that free reign is given to man in his establishing, by appeal to his enlightened capacity for reason, some very "private Weltanschauung as a kind of papacy" (Barth) in determining what are and are not God's purposes in nature. Such a person's own individual, esoteric apperception becomes his or her authoritative hermeneutical key to theology, with the result that Christ who alone is the "second Adam", the eternal Logos and the one in whom the fullness of God with his purposes for Creation dwells bodily, is sacrificed on the altar of an anthropology grounded in a particular and unenlightened perception of nature. The result is that white Christians dehumanise themselves in their dehumanising of Christ and of their black brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Barth and godlessness

I've been trying to read as much Barth as my mind is capable, and in IV/2 §65 (The Sloth and Misery of Man), he talks a little bit about "godlessness" (I think it's appropriate to put it in quotes insofar as I understand Barth to be saying that such a thing really is not possible in the absolute sense). At this point in my venturing into Barth, some parts are still inexplicable to me, but today I read a little bit which I thought was very insightful (and true to Barthian form I'd say):

Without the knowledge of God, which the stupid man despises, there is no meaningful companionship between man and man, no genuine co-operation, no genuine sharing either of joy or sorrow, no true society. But work which is not co-operation is busy indolence. Joy which is not shared is empty amusement. Sorrow which is not shared is oppressive pain. The man who is not the fellow of others is no real man at all. And a society composed of men like this breaks up as soon as it is formed and even as the most zealous attempts are made to build and maintain it. But the stupidity of man calls for this. Even in its noblest forms humanity without the knowledge of God has in it always the seed of discord and inhumanity, and sooner or later this will emerge. From the vacuum where there is no “Glory to God in the highest” even the sincerest longing and loudest shouting for peace on earth will never lead to anything but new divisions. This is the first thing which all the concealment of human folly can never alter.

The line that struck me (if I understood him alright) is that in some way, an insistence on atheism is a betrayal (or even dehumanizing?) of our own humanity. That is an interesting take on atheism.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jesus or the evangelist?

As we've been working through the the Fourth Gospel in one of my seminars, one interesting "seam" that I can see between maybe what was originally the words of Jesus and the works of a later author and/or redactor is the switching between singular to plural verbs at points when it doesn't seem to make sense. For instance, John 3 begins with Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, at which point they discuss the issues of being born again (or above? another topic which I wanted to blog about later). The chapter begins with Jesus and Nicodemus talking back and forth (all singular verbs mostly, though I guess the "we know" of v.2 is an exception) from vv. 1-6. At verse 7, Jesus says: "do not marvel that I said to you (singular), it is necessary for you (plural) to be born from above/again." And again at verse 11: "Amen amen I say to you (sg.) that what we know, we speak and what we have seen, we bear witness, and you (pl.) have not received our testimony." Then it goes further with various uses of plural verbs to make his point.

While it may be possible to say that Nicodemus did not come alone (hence, the "we know" of 3:2) so that's why Jesus could address the "you" as plural, it still doesn't make sense that Jesus all of a sudden begins to say "what we know" or "what we have seen", etc. In my view, it seems that there is something of a blurring (accidental or intentional is another issue that I would like to study further) of lines between what Jesus has spoken and what the evangelist now wants to convey as a collective witness to the truth in their contemporary period. Another interesting aspect can be seen when we bring in some ancient translations of the GJohn, for instance the NT Peshitta. In John 9:4, again Jesus uses the plural and says: "we must work the works of the one who sent me." The Syriac says: (apologies if the font doesn't show, I'm using a font called 'Serto Jerusalem' which is supposed to be unicode but I'm not sure how it functions really in blog posts):

ܠܺܝ ܘܳܠܶܐ ܠܡܶܥܒ݁ܰܕ݂ ܥܒ݂ܳܕ݂ܶܐ ܕ݁ܡܰܢ ܕ݁ܫܰܕ݁ܪܰܢܝ

It can be translated as something like, "to me it is necessary to work the work of/from the one who sent me." For the Syriac translators, they found it necessary to flatten the plural statements into singular. I thought they would be compelled to do likewise in John 3, but in the examples above, the Syriac also has the switching of singular to plural forms (darn these inconsistencies!). Nevertheless, I think in some ways the translators into Syriac may have felt uncomfortable just as we do in our close readings of the text with the awkwardness of the whole singular to plural and back to singular forms of verbs/nouns in Jesus' discourses.

Is this an indication of the work of the evangelist? I'm not sure at this point, but I'm going to look into the Syriac some more to see if there's evidences elsewhere of flattening them all into singular verbs/nouns.

No such thing as "bad" publicity?

Recently, there's been some talks in the blogging world regarding the Christians' response to certain "bad" books, quotes, etc., that essentially give those very people a voice and a venue to be heard. Some have said we need to just calm down (here), another has elaborated on this issue in an article for Christianity Today, and another wonders if Christians are overly contentious and that we just love a good fight whenever we can find (or create!?) one. Just at the heels of a series of these types of blog posts and articles, I saw this post from another widely-followed blogger who comments about yet another forthcoming book, basically labeling it as heresy.

Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be as naive or dishonest to think that anything and everything goes in the realm of Christianity (because I don't), but I wonder if all of this just goes to prove the old adage: there is no such thing as bad publicity.

With hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people reading these blog posts slamming this or that book or author, I wonder if it just makes people want to read them even more than had we just flat-out ignored them?

Friday, February 25, 2011


Even though my main interest is in the New Testament and I spend most of my time reading books, journals, monographs, etc., about NT studies, I also enjoy reading biographies throughout the year to give my brain a break. In 2011, I've finished one on WWII, a short (saw the longer version and got intimidated... will probably read it later) one on Jonathan Edwards, and currently reading two others: one on Bonhoeffer and one on George Whitefield. George Whitefield has always interested me to some degree and reports of him preaching to thousands in open-air preaching without amplified sound piqued my skepticism as well as curiosity in what really happened in his life. Dallimore's two-volume biography has been pretty good so far, and I like how he includes excerpts from Whitefield's own writings. In one particular sermon, titled Cursing and Swearing, Whitefield writes (and preached):

"What shall we say to the unhappy men who think it not only allowable, but fashionable and polite to take the name of God in vain; who imagine that swearing makes them look big among their companions, and really think it an honour to abound in it. Alas! Little do they know that such behaviour argues the greatest foolhardiness and degeneracy of mind.
...Men dare not revile a general at the head of an army. And is the Almighty God, the great Jehovah, the everlasting King, who can consume them with the breath of His nostrils, and frown them into hell in an instant; is He, I say, the only contemptible being, that may be provoked without fear and offended without punishment?
No! Though God bear long, He will not bear always!..."

I suppose in some ways, Whitefield was ahead of his time, as it is virtually ubiquitous that you'll hear on a given day: "Oh my God!" or "Jesus Christ!" or the more modern adaptation, "Jesus H. Christ!"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are we free?

In our Pauline theology seminar, one issue we discussed is the notion of "freedom" and how Western, post-Enlightenment, judicial ideas of "freedom" have severely crippled the way we can properly understand what Paul was talking about with regard to freedom in Romans. What Dr. Campbell has been stressing to us in class is that true "freedom" as designed by God is not that we get to do what we want, choose what we want, etc., but rather true freedom for humanity is their proper responding to God's benevolent acts, especially as experienced through Jesus Christ. A week or two ago, he assigned to us a reading out this book by Richard Bauckham (who is in town to lecture @Duke this Thursday/Friday):

The chapter that was assigned is the second chapter (though after I read this chapter, I've decided to try to read the whole thing sometime in the near future) titled "Freedom in Contemporary Context." There was one particular issue that Bauckham addressed which I thought was thought-provoking.

Under the subheading 'The car as symbol of freedom,' he writes:

"There is no more pervasive symbol of this freedom and its destructive futility than the car. Cars are the modern sacrament of freedom; they symbolize it and promise actually to give it. We can glimpse the kind of freedom they promise in the typical television advertisement: an individual driving through open countryside, mountain ranges, and deserts with the widest possible horizons. Some also navigate nimbly through picturesquely narrow streets. Cars offer individuals the freedom to go wherever they wish, whenever they like, as fast as possible. They give independence, freedom to be entirely one's own master, not dependent on others, not even accompanied by others. They suggest the freedom of escape from any situation and of new opportunities and experiences always to be found along a new road. They give the feeling of control over one's destiny. This is why most car owners cannot imagine living without one. But, as always, this kind of freedom restricts the freedom of others. The more people have cars, the more difficult life becomes for those who cannot afford them or are too old or too young to drive; public transport decays, and shops and community facilities are no longer within walking distances. But the more people have cars, the less the car owners themselves enjoy the freedom they value. Commuters spend highly stressful hours in bumper-to-bumper, slow moving traffic. Motorways become car parks. Roads destroy the countryside the car owner wants the freedom to enjoy at the weekends. Moreover, since car ownership has become common, cities and most aspects of life in cities have developed in such a way that normal life requires constant long journeys. The freedom to travel has incurred the necessity to travel. Against typically of this kind of freedom, cars increase personal independence at the expense of the community. Many a vast residential area is for many residents no more than a place through which they drive on the way from their houses to other destinations.

All this would be true even without the ecological disaster. But we must add that cars are the single largest drain on the earth's resources and major polluters of the environment. Most cars still belong to the affluent West. As they spread inexorably to the rest of the world, the environmental consequences will be dire. What applies to the differential between car owners and others in our society applies to a much greater degree on a world scale. The planet can support the kind of freedom the car gives only for an elite. The more car owners there are, the more the freedom of others suffers. The more car owners there are, the more the quality of their own life suffers. There is no way out of this trap except by reevaluating freedom."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Critical" Scholarship?

Brian LePort recently blogged here about critical scholarship and the value of faith-based commitments for many scholars. His questions made me think, if scholars are clamoring for "critical" scholarship, would they also be self-critical? Would they unswervingly commit to a standard of "critical" scholarship outside of their own interests? Is that even possible? For example, in my Synoptics Gospels class, we've been talking at length about NT scholarship's stance on Q and the various "solutions" to the Synoptic Problem. From what I can gather, it seems like there are three main camps (though not divided equally into thirds): (1) Two-Source theory, which is Markan Priority + Q, (2) Griesbach or Two-Gospels theory, which is Matthean Priority with Luke coming second, and Mark conflating the two, and (3) Farrer theory, which is Markan Priority without Q, viz. Matthew following Mark, then Luke using both. One thing that strikes me though is how differently a scholar from a particular camp interprets the data, and how unlikely it is to me that they will ever change their individual conclusions on this issue.

Would a scholar who claims to be "critical," after a decade or two having devoted himself or aligning himself with a particular stance, even be able to self-critically come to a point where he/she would flip-flop on the issue? I suppose for various other issues in NT scholarship, there is a kind of spectrum whereby you can shift your stance somewhat, but in something like the Synoptic problem, that doesn't seem possible. Either Mark was first or Matthew was (or Luke for that matter!), and either Mark conflated Matthew-Luke or he didn't. I don't know that you could find a middle-ground per se on this issue. Seems to me that it is quite possible for scholars to hold tightly to their own conclusions and keep publishing and building on it even if an "objective" (if something like that is even possible) perspective has basically proven it to be false. On some levels, isn't this the same as a faith-commitment that is so often disparaged in academia?