Monday, December 30, 2013

2014, a prospective glance

I haven't been writing much here. It's the effect of the Australian summer. Between being holed up in a library working on the doctorate and being outside lighting heavy objects and self propelling through beautiful water, blogging hasn't been a high priority. Besides, blogs are dying, haven't you heard? This medium is so mid-00s.

The college at which I teach regained its registration and so we think we'll be heading back at the start of February. I am teaching courses on 1 & 2 Peter (Greek Exegesis), Amos (Hebrew Exegesis), Ezra & Nehemiah, and Church History until 1052. All new subjects for me, one of which is in a language that is not my strong suit.

So it will be a busy Spring semester. Then there is the thesis to write. I would like to push myself to get a couple of journal articles this year as well.

As for here, I will probably blog our way through 1 Peter. I have done some work on it before and it's quite the engaging book. Besides that you could reasonably expect more ramblings on 4th century Trinitarian discourse.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Beyond Galatians? What to write about next

Well, last week I posted the last of my exegetical notes on Galatians. If you'd like a copy of the whole document, feel free to contact me directly. Otherwise a search of the blog for a specific passage will bring up the relevant post.

I'm wondering what to do next. Possibilities include 1 Peter, Revelation, John.

I'm also open to writing on some other topics, if you have suggestions. Otherwise there will just be more 4th century history...

Here are links to all the Galatians posts

Friday, November 29, 2013

Exegetical Notes on Galatians 6:11-18


11 Ἴδετε πηλίκοις ὑμῖν γράμμασιν ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί. 12 Ὅσοι θέλουσιν εὐπροσωπῆσαι ἐν σαρκί, οὗτοι ἀναγκάζουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, μόνον ἵνα τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Χριστοῦ μὴ διώκωνται. 13 οὐδὲ γὰρ οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι αὐτοὶ νόμον φυλάσσουσιν ἀλλὰ θέλουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, ἵνα ἐν τῇ ὑμετέρᾳ σαρκὶ καυχήσωνται. 14 Ἐμοὶ δὲ μὴ γένοιτο καυχᾶσθαι εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, διʼ οὗ ἐμοὶ κόσμος ἐσταύρωται κἀγὼ κόσμῳ. 15 οὔτε γὰρ περιτομή τί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ καινὴ κτίσις. 16 καὶ ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν, εἰρήνη ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἔλεος καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ.
17 Τοῦ λοιποῦ κόπους μοι μηδεὶς παρεχέτω· ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω.
18 χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί· ἀμήν.


11 See with what large letters I write to you by my own hand. 12 As many as wish to make a good showing in flesh, [they are] those compelling you to be circumcised, only so that they might not be persecuted by the cross of Christ. 13 For the circumcised themselves do not keep Law but wish you to be circumcised, so that in your flesh they might boast. 14 May it not be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world have been crucified to me and I to the world. 15 For circumcision is not 'something' nor uncircumcision but a new creation. 16 And as many as hold to this canon, peace be upon them and mercy and upon the Israel of God.
17 Finally let no one cause troubles to me: For I bear the scars of Jesus in my body.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit, brothers: Amen.  


We come now to the final verses of the letter. Despite colourful suggestions for verse 11, the plain meaning is difficult to overturn – that Paul now personally writes with large letters, i.e. Paul himself is writing the original autograph at this point and his own handwriting is distinctive and larger than whatever secretary he is employing, and this is a sign of authenticity. Does the aorist need any particular explanation? I wouldn’t think so.

In verse 12, then, Paul begins a recapitulation of the dominant conflict his epistle has engages in.  By identifying the group firstly as ‘as many as wish to make a good showing in the flesh’, Paul continues his polemic strategy. He expresses an interpretive baseline understanding of their actions (the desire for public acceptance and reputation), and then subjoins this with the defining clause, ‘they are the ones compelling you to be circumcised’. The third clause gives their purpose, but by preceding this with μόνον he qualifies it entirely, so that this is their whole goal in doing so, that they might not be persecuted by the cross of Christ’. Their purpose is ultimately about their own avoidance of suffering in the public sphere, not about those they compel to be circumcised. ‘by the cross of Christ’ here should not be understood as the means or instrument of persecution, by any means, but is causal (one might translate ‘for the cross of Christ’; personally I would express it as something like “through the fact of their allegiance to the reality of the cross of Christ as shorthand for the counter-world message of the gospel”). Paul characterises them as self-centered in their desires.

Is the οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι of v13 middle or passive? I have translated simply ‘the circumcised’, referring neither to ‘those that have been circumcised’ or ‘those that circumcise themselves’, because the whole point of the Judaising group is to convince Gentile-background believers to become circumcised so that they are effectively Jewish-proselytes. By subsuming their Gentile background into a Jewish identity, they remove the scandal of the cross and form one new community of Jewish believers in the Messiah, not the one new community of Jews and Gentiles who follow the Messiah. It is, from this view, a moot point whether the participle is taken as middle or passive, since those who receive circumcision are by so doing entering the community of those who practice circumcision among themselves.

Nonetheless, Paul’s overall identification of this group is as a third party, to which his Galatian addresses are not (yet) beholden). His critique at this point is their failure to keep the Law. We have already traced Paul’s argument throughout Galatians that keeping Law qua Law is doomed to failure, is the cause of Curse upon those who fail, and is a theological and salvation-historical misstep for Gentile background believers to undertake. Here he simply reiterates that they fail to keep it, which is damning since their whole case is built upon the attempt to keep it. Despite this hypocrisy, Paul writes, they desire these Gentile-background believers to be circumcised, which is equivalent to entering into the Mosaic covenant and proselyte Jews and so committing to keeping the Law, again not for the sake of these ‘converts’, but for the sake of this Judaising party. It would add to the prestige, influence, dominance, and so ‘rightness’ of the Judaising position.

In contrast, Paul presents his own position in the same terms, that is, in terms of the basis for his claim to honour and status. For Paul, in v14, there is no basis for such a claim, “except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The introductory “may it not be” has both genuine optative force – it expresses Paul’s desire in the matter, but it may also be seen as an expression here that contrasts the whole of Paul’s platform, in contrast to the Judaisers. Whereas their ground of boasting is the Law as Mosaic covenant and winning converts to that, Paul’s ground of boasting is the cross, as metonym for the salvific event of the death of Jesus. But the relative clause that follows must further qualify our reading of this claim, “through which I have been crucified to the world and the world to me”. Firstly, while οὗ may strictly look back to Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ or σταυρῷ, the latter seems far more likely. Secondly, while it overwhelmingly true that claiming the shameful death of the cross as the grounds of boasting is itself an inversion of the whole honour-shame schema, the relative clause actually goes further. Glorying in what is shameful (the cross) is inversion, but when Paul adds the relative clause, it means that in the honour-game of Greco-Roman society, Paul has exited the game with a null score. It is the ultimate failure and the ultimate zero. But, complementing this, the world has been crucified to Paul – in Paul’s eyes the world itself has been brought to absolute nothing.

This is not to say that the honour-shame dimension is the only one operating here, rather I an  highlighting that this is the end of the game for both sides, Paul no longer contests in the world’s honour-games, and Paul no longer cares anything for those honour-games that continue in the world.[1]

More broadly, Paul’s claim continues the theme explored elsewhere of being co-crucified with Christ. Paul represents his union with Christ as one of union with him in his death, and that co-crucifixion effects Paul’s translation from the realm of the world and all its values, while the world as a systematic entity opposed to God is entirely dead to Paul. In this claim, Paul is paradigmatic for the believer in general.

Verse 15 strikes a resonance with 5:6, and reminds us that in a letter in which Paul rails so fiercely against those pressing for, and those desiring to undergo, circumcision, that it is not the actual fact or state of circumcision that is the issue. Indeed, when we read this against Acts 16:3, Paul’s extreme relativisation of the practice of circumcision lays bare the theological rationale that informs both his attitude here and there.
This is borne out by the verse. One could re-arrange it as three propositions

Circumcision is not a ‘thing’
Non-Circumcision is not a ‘thing’
The fact of a new creating is a ‘thing’

What hangs on τί in this verse? I would suggest that Paul here is using a compact expression to indicate something like “a reality worthy of consideration”. This is why the actual physical status of being circumcised or not doesn’t matter one whit, and why Timothy can be circumcised, because it doesn’t matter, and why Gentile-background believers can remain uncircumcised, because it doesn’t matter, and so on. What does matter? The reality of the new creation. It is not immediately clear whether this should be read as individual, or as humanity, or as universe, but my inclination is towards the later. There is a universal-in-scope new creation, new reality coming-into-being through the coming of the Messiah, and its sweeping scope radically alters the conditions of absolutely everything, not least the relationship of believers to God, no longer exclusively through the Mosaic covenant, but through Jesus Christ.

Once this reality is grasped, what circumcision matters becomes apparent. In the Galatian context circumcision signifies an embrace of the Law as law, and so a failure to understand the significance and consequence of the new creation. Whereas in Acts 16 the unimportance of physical circumcision at all renders the choice to circumcise Timothy understandable – it doesn’t signify re-embrace of the Mosaic Law as Law at all, but a concession for the sake of removing stumbling blocks.

Verse 16 begins to transition into a closing blessing. The initial relative indefinite “as many as” refers to those who hold to this “canon” (rule; I just preferred to hold on to the archaising ‘canon’ in my translation). What is this ‘canon’? Most readily it should be understood as the principle expressed in verse 15, which represents in a very fundamental and compressed form one of the underlying tenets of Paul’s theology. To grasp this rule is to grasp the singular gospel of Paul’s preaching, looking back to his bombastic opening in 1:6-9. So it is those people who receive the blessing of peace and mercy.

What then of the construction “and/even upon the Israel of God”? There are two intertwined questions, (1) who is the ‘Israel of God’? (2) is this group co-terminous with ‘however many hold to this canon’? (thus shaping the translation of καί.

Despite the emphasis that I have maintained upon Jew/Gentile distinctions within Paul’s addressing of us/you within this letter, Paul’s theological drive is to represent JBBs and GBBs as one new humanity united in the Messiah under a covenant and set of promises that precedes the Mosaic Law and sees Gentiles as incorporated into the Abrahamic promises. This, in keeping with the sense of “all Israel” in Romans 9, and the thoughts expressed by Romans 9:6 and 11:26, leads me to conclude that the Israel of God here is synonymous with the (newly constituted) people of God.

The phrase Τοῦ λοιποῦ is a standard way of entering into a concluding section. Here that section is quite short. Paul gives an injunction followed by the reason. In an epistle shaped primarily by the conflict with Judaisers over and about the Galatian churches, Paul expresses the injunction that no one should ‘cause him troubles’, or perhaps in a more vernacular strain, “give him grief”. The grounds are expressed simply as “I bear the scars of Jesus in my body”. But what on earth is Paul talking about?

Firstly, we can easily lay aside importing back any modern connotations of stigmata into this verse. Paul uses the words to indicate scars or marks caused upon his body, and the reference is likely two-fold. One, he refers the physical sufferings he has endured as a slave of Christ as a mark of his allegiance to and participation in the sufferings of the Christ. Two, the marks indicate his possession as a slave owned by his master. Indeed, these two references are one and the same thing for Paul – his sufferings are the mark that he is a slave who belongs to Christ, and they are thus the proof of that allegiance.

In stark contrast to the nothingness of circumcision and non-circumcision, these physical marks do ‘mean’ something – they indicate Paul’s clear position as both slave, and so also representative, of Jesus (cf. the argument through chapters 1-2).

Finally Paul closes with a benediction, verse 18. The grace of the opening benediction (1:3) is repeated, though without the elaborations of the introduction. “with your spirit” substitutes in for the more common “with you”, but without much change in meaning. Paul’s letter closes with the confirmatory ‘Amen’, his hearty affirmation of all that he has said, and most of all his prayerful declaration of grace to them.

[1] I do not mean ‘games’ here as if there are actual games, I simply mean that the conduct of humans in competing for, accumulating, defending and attacking, honour, may be understood overall as a ‘game’. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

New sermons

I have just been updating my sermon archive, so there are a number of new sermons.

You can follow them over at my sermon blog, or find a complete archive here, or on itunes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Things that make me angry about the removal of NIV 1984 from websites

(This post is a rant)

Here is Biblica on why there is no NIV 1984 edition.

And this is what makes me angry.

1. The 2-year transition

Sure, you can run a 2-year transition for your corporation to phase in a new translation across the board. But churches don't run on this kind of timeline. They don't buy pew bibles that often, most of them that have 1984 NIVs aren't going to roll out 2011 NIVs anytime soon. Which means you rolled out a new version and cut off support for an old version.

2. The whole name thing

"There is only one NIV". Except there isn't. Or there wasn't. Comparing this to the '78 to '84 change isn't very useful, it's disingenous. The '84 existed for 18 years before they tried to update it with the tNIV, which they very clearly labelled as the tNIV. It didn't float because people (a) were entrenched with the '84 NIV, and (b) were unhappy with the changes. It was clear to everyone in 2002 that the tNIV was significantly different, and deserved a different name.

Fast forward to 2011, and the new NIV comes on the scene, except apart from a brief time at the start, there's no name difference. So we have immediate confusion. And it is a different version, it's a different translation.

Stats on differences:
31.27% of NIV 2011 verses adopts a tNIV reading
7.85% of NIV 2011 verses adopt an entirely new reading

So you're telling me that a book in which 40% of the text has had some kind of change in it is the same version? Sure, you could call it the same book (oh, wait, we already did that, it's the Bible), but please don't act like calling it the same version is anything but a trick. It's a trick.

3. Citing statistics that are not relevant

"God's favor continues to rest..." begins a paragraph that rattles of a number of statistics on use and adoption of the NIV. Except that you refused to brand this NIV as a different version which makes lets you use stats related to the 84 NIV, not the 2011 NIV, which significantly weakens the claim people like and support the new NIV and certainly, to me, casts doubt on any claim to 'God's favor'. 11 million to 450 million doesn't sound like ringing endorsement.

Further down they state the current version is the most popular version on the Biblica website. Is this because it's the default? Or because they removed the '84? Or because the other 2 versions are Spanish version and one aimed at a lower reading level?

4. Why not just keep offering it online?

Behind the answer that they should focus on the newest and the best is disingenuity, at best. Is it really technically and resource-wise difficult for them to continue to host a legacy version? Would doing so somehow impede their ability to make available the most recent?

Neither is comparison with other versions reliable. The changes in the ESV are not that great. I can't comment on the 7 versions of the Message, but it's so far down the paraphrase end of the spectrum I'm not sure it's necessary. Again, 40% of verses have differences in the NIV 2011, that is not a minor set of updates.

5. Conclusion

The whole thing smacks of trickery. It's not honest. It doesn't serve churches. If I was them I couldn't write this kind of nonsense without feeling bad about myself.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Exegetical Notes on Galatians 6:1-10


Ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν καὶ προλημφθῇ ἄνθρωπος ἔν τινι παραπτώματι, ὑμεῖς οἱ πνευματικοὶ καταρτίζετε τὸν τοιοῦτον ἐν πνεύματι πραΰτητος, σκοπῶν σεαυτὸν μὴ καὶ σὺ πειρασθῇς. 2 Ἀλλήλων τὰ βάρη βαστάζετε καὶ οὕτως ἀναπληρώσετε τὸν νόμον τοῦ Χριστοῦ. 3 εἰ γὰρ δοκεῖ τις εἶναί τι μηδὲν ὤν, φρεναπατᾷ ἑαυτόν. 4 τὸ δὲ ἔργον ἑαυτοῦ δοκιμαζέτω ἕκαστος, καὶ τότε εἰς ἑαυτὸν μόνον τὸ καύχημα ἕξει καὶ οὐκ εἰς τὸν ἕτερον· 5 ἕκαστος γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον φορτίον βαστάσει.
6 Κοινωνείτω δὲ ὁ κατηχούμενος τὸν λόγον τῷ κατηχοῦντι ἐν πᾶσιν ἀγαθοῖς. 7 Μὴ πλανᾶσθε, θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται. ὃ γὰρ ἐὰν σπείρῃ ἄνθρωπος, τοῦτο καὶ θερίσει· 8 ὅτι ὁ σπείρων εἰς τὴν σάρκα ἑαυτοῦ ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς θερίσει φθοράν, ὁ δὲ σπείρων εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος θερίσει ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 9 τὸ δὲ καλὸν ποιοῦντες μὴ ἐγκακῶμεν, καιρῷ γὰρ ἰδίῳ θερίσομεν μὴ ἐκλυόμενοι. 10 Ἄρα οὖν ὡς καιρὸν ἔχομεν, ἐργαζώμεθα τὸ ἀγαθὸν πρὸς πάντας, μάλιστα δὲ πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους τῆς πίστεως.


1 Brothers, if a person be detected in some transgression, you who spirit-people restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, keeping watch on yourself lest also you are tempted. 2 The burdens of one another, bear, and thus fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if someone seems to be something, being nothing, they deceive themself. 4 Let each person put their own work to the test, and then only unto themself alone he has an object of pride and not unto the other [person]. 5 For each will bear his own load. 6 Let the one being instructed in the word share with the instructor in all good things. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows, this also they will reap. 8 Because the one sowing unto their own flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction, but the one sowing unto the spirit, from the spirit will reap life eternal. 9 Let us not become weary, doing the good, for in the proper time, being unwearied, we will reap. 10 So then as we have occasion, let us do the good to all, yet especially towards the members of the household of faith.


Building on what Paul has just been writing concerning community life, v1 shows community life in action. In the case where someone in the community has some aspect of sin come to life, the other believers (you spirit-people, often translated as “you who are spiritual”, but the force of πνευματικοὶ has less to do with more ‘spiritual’ than others, and rather more connection with simply being people who are indwelt and transformed by the Spirit) are to restore that person, i.e. undertake a process of spiritual rehabilitation to help the sinner overcome their sin. This in particular is to be done with a “spirit of gentleness”: tender consciences are generally to be treated gently, not with harshness. And furthermore with vigilance, so that responsibility to care for sinning brothers and sisters is matched with accountability to watch over oneself.

This community care is broadened into a more general principle in v2, with the call to bear one another’s burdens. This is framed as fulfilling the law of Christ. Again, as part of Paul’s radical re-situation of the Law of Moses, the Law of Christ functions to replace any notion of Law as Moral Standard, even as Paul himself employs the Law of Moses as part of his ground-source of ethical material.

Our understanding of v3 in part hinges upon whether we understand δοκεῖ in the sense of ‘seem’ (as per our translation) or ‘think’ (taking a reflexive meaning – seems to themselves). While in our translation we have preserved some element of ambiguity, the following “they deceive themselves” indicates that the ‘seeming’ cuts both ways. As a community, or a family, does not engage in other-deception within the community, false evaluation of oneself is both self- and other- deception and has no place in this community. Instead of this practice of deception and comparison, we have v4 – a call to self-appraisal (and honest appraisal) of one’s own deeds. The arena of ‘boasting’, or perhaps less prejudicially, ‘pride-taking’, is in relation to one’s own deeds and before God, not in relation to others and their deeds.

How does this fit into broader teaching about not boasting, and boasting only in the Lord? We take it that in light of an honest self-appraisal before God a person may have a sense of ‘job well done’, neither a grounds for pride before God, nor of self-promotion in the presence of others, but rather satisfaction in the Lord. The Christian life is not one of endless self-despisal and deprecation, as some have mistaken it.

Verse 5 suggests some unity to the mini-unit of 2-5, though the word for load differs from that for burden in v2. Most commentators thus suggest a different meaning, given that v2 calls for bearing one another’s and v5 calls for a shouldering of one’s own. But is φορτίον automatically more bearable than τὰ βάρη? A burden does not necessarily imply that it is unmanageable, and in different circumstances what was a load can become a burden, and vice versa. Our capacity to bear the difficulties of life varies based not only on those difficulties, but our very selves and the community around us.

Paul’s injunction then, may be seen as a non-reciprocal command, or an expectation of non-reciprocity. “I, for my part, try to bear my own load, and have a sharp eye out to help carry other’s.” Such a pro-active ethic of taking on one’s own responsibilities and others’ echoes the pro-active version of the Golden Rule of Jesus = an ethic that is not first grounded in expectation of reciprocity may in fact provoke grace all the more.

Reading vv2-5 as a whole, we see that Paul turns the whole ‘boasting’ game on its head. Against a cultural world in which boasting was an extra-familial affair, and the place that isn’t for boasting is the home, Paul’s communitarian ethic establishes the church as that kind of place – a place not fit for boasting. Boasting and honour-games within the family have no place. And yet, outside this new community, we boast in the cross, the most shameful object in the ancient world. O Christians glory in their shame, to steal Paul’s words from Phil 2:19 and turn them on their head!

In verse 6 the focus shifts to the relation between teachers and the taught. Specifically, Paul has in mind instruction “in the word”, i.e. teaching of the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures and focused on the Gospel. While verse 6 itself seems to centre on those who are being instructed, the following verses may be read with particular application to those doing the teaching. Although it has been typical to read these verses as a set of more generic moral exhortations, their application to teachers of the Word is worth pondering.
Verse 7 then, gives us a series of three statements:

               Do not be deceived
               (why? In what regard?)   God is not mocked
               (Grounds)                       For whatever a person sows, this also they will reap.

Paul has already made reference to self-deception in verse 3. Seeing truly is a basis for right action, and in this case it is having a right understanding of the relationship between act (sowing) and effect (reaping). In particular, we are to have a right understanding of how our actions within the community (and without) interact with God. It is a deceived person who things that God can be mocked and the consequences will not be negative. Paul then moves to the more general principle ‘what is sowed will be reaped’.
This general principle is elaborated and specified in verse 8. The possible options are dichotomised (compare Paul’s approach to flesh and spirit in chapter 5) into flesh and spirit, with the attendant consequences destruction and eternal life.

For the teacher of the Word this raises specific questions of application: how are you investing in the community. Is your teaching (as sowing) in accordance with the Spirit and directed towards producing eternal consequences? Or is it according to flesh and directed towards fleshly gain (but then ultimately destruction)? The same questions can be asked more generally of the community but with reference to teaching.

Verse 9 goes on to exhort perseverance in Christian life, but perhaps in the ministry of the Word in particular, for it is a wearying profession (cf. 2 Cor 4:1, 16). Where do those in ministry gain their support and sustenance? Is it not in the mutual bearing of burdens of the community, the sharing of good things from those instructed, the community of love that is to exist within the Spirit-people of Christ?

Verse 10 helps emphasise the focus in this section on the engagement of the community within itself, though not necessarily only to itself. Firstly, we note the  phrase “as we have occasion” – not a restriction to lessen the possibility of doing good to only when circumstances arise in which it is possible, but rather a promotion of the very possibility of doing good. Secondly, ‘to all’ is probably to be understood as ‘all without distinction’ rather than ‘all without exception’ (the latter being our natural tendency for ‘all’, but the usage of πᾶς aligns better the former). Some are wont to read μάλιστα δὲ as “namely” in place of “especially”, which would act to restrict the scope of this injunction to the church community. This translation seems indefensible to me, but neither is this verse a proof text for the broader scope of the church’s ministry of good deeds and social justice in the world. The Scriptures build a strong enough case for an ethos of mercy and justice more broadly and in other passages, there is no need to rest it on this slender pillar. Rather, verse 10 functions to summarise the call to right action within the community, without distinction, and beyond.

Friday, October 25, 2013

In Personal news

I realise I didn't write specifically about this at the time on this forum. At the end of September our visas expired and were not renewed forcing us to hastily leave Mongolia and me to leave my position there. At this stage we are hopeful to return, but it means we are unexpectedly back in Australia for several months. Obviously this has been disruptive on a number of levels, but it has many positives, including opportunities for more doctoral research here.

Latin, Logos, the combining of two great things

Long-suffering readers of this long-neglected blog will know that I recommend Hans Ørberg's Lingua Latina series over pretty much everything when it comes to learning Latin, and it's a crowded marketplace.

I'm very pleased then to see that the Lingua Latina materials are in pre-pub over at Logos. It would be an easy piece of news to skip over, but this is an excellent opportunity for anyone already on that platform to get the best Latin learning materials available today.

There's some individual titles, but the bundles are very solid:
Familia Romana Collection
Roma Aeterna collection
College Companion

I have no affiliation with either Logos or the Lingua Latina publishers, I just think Lingua Latina is fantastic.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Teaching tense, mood, voice, and aspect in a 3rd language

My Greek exegesis students see a lot of me this semester, thanks to exegesis of Luke being 4 credit hours. I set aside one hour just for Greek language revision, because despite a course in Greek grammar, they are not extremely capable masters of the Greek language.

I have been working on the challenge of expressing the four concepts of tense, mood, voice, aspect in Mongolian. There are several challenges.

1) Mongolian has no middle voice, so there is no easy correlative. This is a subset of the fact that Mongolian lacks a number of features that would easily correlate to Greek, especially it lacks an article, and it doesn't use relative clauses at all (it replaced them with adjectival or object clauses).

Anyway, I don't really believe there are true 'deponents' in Greek anyway, so I tend to treat all 'deponent' verbs as just another pseudo-conjugation. You don't meet that many middle voices (in the sense of distinct from passive), so I've kind of sidestepped that issue. Actually I work with a dichotomy of active/subject-reflexive

2) Mood is also a concept that is not easily correlated to Mongolian, since verbs do not undergo morphological change in subordinate clauses. The best I could find to correlate was 'conditional mood', but it is, more strictly, applied only to if- clauses. Indicative and Imperative are more easily explained. But the idea of 'mood' in general can be tricky.

3) Tense. Of course, tense is where you get the most overlap, except that current scholarly opinions about how temporal 'tense' really is in Greek is divided. My own short-hand approach is that epsilon prefix is a temporal marker, the perfect 'tense' is not perfect and not past, and that tense-forms outside the indicative generally only indicate aspect.

But of course my students are taught grammar with a traditional textbook, which means they have tense drummed into them. Generally I try and provide a on-the-fly Mongolian translation to make the sense of the tense clear. This usually works, except the perfect can be tricky.

4) Aspect.
This is probably the hardest. For a start, my students have not really been taught anything about aspect in general. Secondly, the idea is not clear within Mongolian grammar, so far as I can tell (and, coupled with this, I have a more technical understanding of Mongolian grammar than some of my students anyway). Thirdly, I haven't worked out how to translate 'aspect' in a strictly grammatical sense.

I suspect the way forward here is to start explaining what perfective and imperfective aspects 'look like', in terms of considering an action in a wholistic way versus a progressive sense. Then to talk about how, in the indicate, this is seen in the present, imperfect, and aorist. Then to give some terminology, and lastly to talk about the perfect tense. Learning to read the perfect tense as imperfective and presentinstead of perfective and past is somewhat counter-intuitive, but actually makes a great deal of sense of the Greek verbal system, and has some parallels with Mongolian tenses.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jesus didn't save me from the curse of the Law

I'm a Gentile.

A few years ago I took an MA subject on Galatians, and our teacher made the suggestion that the plural we/you pronouns and verbs in Galatians might actually be read, for the most part, as referring to Jewish-background believers, and Gentile-background believers. Try it - pick up Galatians, and everytime Paul says 'we', think of Jewish-background believers, and everytime he says 'you' think of it referring to Gentile-background believers in Galatia.

Lately I have been reading Brian Rosner's fine work, "Paul and the Law". Rosner makes a very clear and persuasive case that for Paul, Gentiles were never under the Law.

If that's so, that I was never under the Law, then how does salvation work for Gentiles?

I have heard countless sermons, and probably preached a few myself, that apply the Law to Gentiles, either for conviction of sin, or to show the need for salvation, essentially based on the assumption that Christians who are Gentiles should have fulfilled the Law, didn't fulfill the Law, and are under judgment for not fulfilling the Law. And yet, if Gentiles were never under the Law, this is not true. We are very clear that Gentiles who become believers do not come under the Law of Moses, but we act as if Gentiles who become believers also become pseudo-former-covenant-members who failed to keep the Law. Do you see how odd this is?

Of course, if I was never under the Law, I am not under the penalty of the Law. But I don't need to be under the penalty of the Law, because in the sphere of the Old Testament to be outside the Law, outside the covenant community, is already to be under judgment. We don't need to do mental gymnastics here - all Gentiles in virtue of being sinners and outside the covenant, were already under judgment.

Preachers often struggle with applying Galatians - there is only a (thankfully) small subsection of Gentile believers today who are tempted by Judaising - by going back under the Law (though we do see this - Christians who want to be more 'Jewish' and get back to more 'Jewish' roots, often uncritically adopting OT practices and worse, pseudo-OT practices). But perhaps a more telling application is right in front of us - we keep applying the Law to Gentiles as if they should have been keeping it and weren't and so need to repent of this and find righteousness in Christ. Actually it is we, preachers and teachers, who are putting Gentiles under the Law in order to bring them out of the Law through the Gospel. What??

 Preach the Gospel so that Gentiles who are judged outside the Law may be saved through Christ, and don't be tempted to preach the Law in such a way as to falsely impose it on Gentiles. Otherwise, ironically, it is we, not the Judaisers of Galatians, who are 'leading people back under the Law'.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: The Psalter Reclaimed

I also just finished Gordon Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed. Here are some more general thoughts on this book.

Obviously, like non-violence, the psalms are something of a soap-box issue for me. So, again, I am warmly disposed to the general topic of this book. The book is 8 chapters long, some of the chapters are papers written or presented elsewhere, but gathered together in this volume. This gives the book a slightly disjointed nature, as some of the structures of the individual chapters could have used more revision in being worked together into a unified volume. I found this particularly the case with the later chapters.

Here's the contents:
1. What are we doing singing the Psalms?
2. Praying the Psalms
3. Reading the Psalms Canonically
4. Reading the Psalms Messianically
5. The Ethics of the Psalms
6. The Imprecatory Psalms
7. Psalm 103: The Song of Steadfast Love
8. The Nations in the Psalms

I particularly felt like the last two were just kind of "things related to Psalms I'd presented that would go well in this volume", while the first four chapters form a much more tightly-connected unit. Wenham gives us a very good treatment of what's going on when we read/sing/pray that psalms, including a discussion of speech-acts and so forth. Chapters 3 & 4 complement this nicely by giving us a framework in which to read the psalms, which is ever so necessary if one is to sing and pray them! The broader 'resurgence' of canonical criticism is to be warmly embraced.

I found chapter 5 especially engaging, since as Wenham recognises this is a significant lacuna in both readings of the psalms, as well as treatments of Old Testament Ethics. Highlighting the predominance of hesed language in the Psalter was something I did not know and brought a moment of illumination.

Very recently I blogged off the back of chapter 6, which complements 5 nicely by dealing with what seems, on the surface, with the most difficult topic in the Psalms.

Overall a quite excellent contribution to the field of Psalms, from a respected OT author. 4.5 stars.

Book Review: Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

I just finished reading Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle and thought it should get some kind of a review.

This is just the kind of book I think should have been written, and I have almost no disagreements with the author throughout, so it's no surprise that I think it's a great book. So let me tell you why it's a great book on this topic.

Firstly, the author is aiming to bridge a gap and write for a more popular level, which is something I wouldn't have done in this book, but it is much needed and very welcome. His writing style is warm, personable, and skilled at presenting complexity without being overly simple.

Secondly, he offers a solid biblical-theological treatment of the topic, giving adequate attention to the development of the theme through scripture, while also spending time addressing church history, practical theology, and objections.

Thirdly, the author is putting forward non-violence within a context of broad reformed/evangelical thought, which is (sadly) not its usual home, but agreeably is my own context, and it's one in which I think actually the strongest theological case for non-violence can be made.

If I had any criticism of the book it would only be that it's not the book I would write, but actually I am thankful for that because at least it means there is still a place for my book! What I would like to see is a much more thorough-going development of a biblical-theology of violence and of non-violence as an ethic, written at a more academic level. This fine volume has re-inspired me to do some writing and research towards such an end.

Anyway, all to say that (a) you should read this book, and (b) I would give it 5 stars.

10 questions for better Bible study

1. What does this passage tell me about God? (Theology)
2. What does this passage tell me about myself/humanity (Anthropology)
3. How does this passage fit into the story of the Bible/the story of God redeeming His people? (Redemption History)
4. How does this passage lead me to Jesus? (Christocentric reading)
5. Based on this passage are there things I need to repent of?
6. Based on this passage are there things I ought to do/change?
7. How does this passage reveal the beauty of God and his gospel, and lead me into worship and adoration?

Bonus questions
2.5 Are there things I don't understand in this passage that I need to ask about/research further?
6.5 What can I do today to apply this passage?
7.5 How can I share the attractiveness of Christ in this passage to people in my life?

Lamenting the lack of laments

The lack of a computer has meant more time for other things, and I have been trying to finish off reading Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed. Wenham has a very good treatment of the imprecatory psalms, i.e. psalms like 109 and 137 that call upon God to bring devastating vengeance to the wicked. He draws particularly on Zenger as he does this.

Zenger is particularly interesting because he is a R.Catholic monk reacting to the Vatican II changes that saw 'difficult' parts of the psalms omitted during the monastic reading/singing cycle. This, naturally, goes to the heart of the question of how the Psalms can and should be read as Christian scripture, and as songs and prayers for today. Obviously Christians have long had trouble with these verses and how they mesh with the NT teaching.

In Zenger's view these psalms represent the idea of longing for justice in a world full of injustice and suffering. Psalms of lament and imprecation "address situations where injustice cannot be righted", they are the cries of the utterly crushed and weak for whom only God can be their avenger, only God can bring true justice.

The absence of such psalms, of lament-type songs in general, in the church is in fact an indictment upon us, for our weak theology, rather than the expression of our more sophisticated morality. Our lives are so suffering-free, our difficulties so minor, our accommodations and compromises so pervasive, our complicity with unjust authorities so ubiquitous, that we have nothing to lament, and our songs so banal they offer nothing but more stupifiers to dull the edge of life. We do not long for justice, but comfortability. We do not express solidarity with the church in chains and under persecution in other places, we wish them well, like James 2:16.

Zenger writes:

Those who sing these songs sing them as a cry for change and a melody of longing for a world without tears, usually in melanchly because this worldwill never exist without tears. Therefore they sing them as songs of protest and struggle. All of this harmonizes as a powerful song of resistance against the thin melodies that sing of a life of indifferent self-satisfaction and idyllic surrender to God.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Three online language sites actually worth your time

1. Bliu bliu

Bliu bliu is a fledgling startup out of Lithuania that is showing a great deal of early promise. Basically it sources texts for you in your target language, and you read through them and click on each word for whether you know it or not. It tracks your words for you, and gives you other options for drilling down on words or exporting them for use in other programs.

Bliu bliu's advantages include a very easy to use interface, it works well at providing content appropriate to your reading level, and is looking at implementing more features. I look forward to more recordings of audio especially (and making some of mine own once I get that computer fixed).

2. Tatoeba

I didn't know about tatoeba until quite recently. It's a project that aims to provide whole-sentence translations between languages. So, given an example sentence, users provide a translation of that sentence into whatever other languages they can. This is not mere 1-to-many though, as each sentence in whatever language exists as its own node, so users can then translate that sentence again. This creates an intricate web of corresponding sentences.

How to use Tatoeba? I have only just started on it, but it's a great place to do translation in a language you consider yourself high-advanced/fluent in, and it's a great place to find sentences in your language that you are learning. And recently bliu bliu seems to be sourcing tatoeba into its texts, which is great (the tatoeba database is CC-licensed)

3. Forvo

I haven't used forvo that much myself, but forvo is basically a site collecting recordings of words of every language. This is a great tool if you want access to native speaker recordings of words individually. Combined with the above two tools, the ability to look up any word and find out how it's said should be excellent.