Monday, May 25, 2009

Reflections on the Beatitudes from the jungles of Vietnam

(My dad here on the right.)

I was perusing through Michael J. Wilkins NIV Application Commentary on Matthew, particularly the section on the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount (5.3-16), when I came to the "Contemporary Significance" section of this particular section (220-226). I have always found these sections intriguing, but this biographical admission is one of the most stunning I have read, certainly for a biblical scholar. Wilkins is speaking about his frustration on trying to live up to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes:

In my teens I...renounced my Christian identity and church... I clearly remember sitting in my youth group meetings where the characteristics of the Beatitudes were held up as ideals for us to emulate. I remember snickering in the back row with my buddies as the youth leaders cajoled us to cease being cocky and macho and become meek and mild. The four of us were three-sport athletes in high school, and the picture of Christian life that was held up for us from the Beatitudes seemed lamely pathetic. As I think back, our youthful cockiness and machismo were probably just as pathetic, but the Christian life painted by that church had nothing to offer us as a viable, robust alternative.

Not too many years after ruling out the Beatitudes for real life, I sat under the brilliant stars in a jungle in Vietnam and their significance overwhelmed me. I was a member of a cocky airborne infantry combat battalion. We were a well-trained, exceedingly efficient war machine. One night as I sat on guard duty after one especially ravaging battle, I experienced the reality of what Jesus addressed in the Beatitudes. I had killed gleefully that day. I had ripped the life from other young men without a twinge of conscience. I saw the bodies of my nineteen-and twenty-year old squad members ravaged by other young men who were our hated enemies, yet probably none of us on either side could really offer any adequate explanation for our animosity.

That night I experienced brokenness. I became poor in spirit as I recognized the depth of my depravity and shuddered as I considered the possibility of my fate before God, if he existed. I mourned at the evil in me and at the evil that I saw emerge so quickly in all of us. For the first time in my young life, I understood that I was not the invincible captain of my ship. I could be killed at any moment. So from that very night I began to realize that there was indeed a very different way to live. I did not articulate it that night in these words, but meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking all became so much more clearly preferable than the way that I had been pursuing significance and success.

This made me think of my father, who served in the Marine corps, (specifically, The Beware Bravo 1st Battalion 12th Marines 3rd Marine Division) and was a forward observer, radio operator, while in Vietnam, 1967-68. I cannot and would not want to imagine the human carnage that my father's eyes experienced. I have heard my dad say on occasion that his daily expectation was that he could die at any time. That is the brutal reality of war.

Jesus' kingdom expectations are a counter measure to the way we operate within our sinful society. Turning the other cheek (Matt 5.39) and the double-edge sword that Jesus carries is located in his mouth, precisely to demonstrate that his battle against evil is waged with the power of his testimony, not the actual wielding of a sword (Rev 1.16; 2.12).

Wilkins' observations above should cause all of us to pause. Is there a better way? Ask the family members who lost a son, a brother, or a husband on the battlefield. Jesus offers an alternative if we choose to hear his message some 2,000 years later.

On this Memorial Day let us honor the huge sacrifices that men and women have made for this country. Let us honor those who paid with their very lives, and those, who like my father were fortunate enough to make it back. But at the same time, let us remember the greatest sacrifice of all, Jesus' death on a cross, and be thankful that in God's kingdom, Jesus wages war against evil and wins (Rev 17.4).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ephesians Handbook

One of the really helpful developments in the commentary genre are exegetical handbooks. I have benefited immensely from Jerry Sumney's Philippians: A Greek Student's Intermediate Reader . This volume is power packed with exegetical insights, serving simultaneously as a reference grammar and as a commentary with the kind of detailed notes found in most mid to upper level commentaries.

One series that specializes in this genre is the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series. Although I confess to not owning either of the two volumes released thus far, that is soon to change with a volume on Ephesians due out this fall.

William J. Larkin, Professor of New Testament and Greek, Columbia International University, Seminary and School of Missions, brings his exegetical prowess to Ephesians--one of my favorites in the Pauline corpus and the NT for that matter.

Here is the blurb:

In this volume, William Larkin provides students with a reliable guide through the intricacies of the Greek text of Ephesians, introducing them to consensus views on matters of syntax, semantics, and textual criticism. In addition, the annotations contain references to current debates relating to the language of Ephesians. Larkins annotations demonstrate that linguistically informed analyses which have appeared in the last couple of decades frequently shed light on old questions.

With commentaries by Max Turner (NIGTC) and Frank Thielman (BECNT) on the horizon, the publication of this volume should provide an exegetical feast on this rich letter. I know Mike Aubrey's going to add to his Ephesian collection!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Revelation as Gospel?

I have been reading through James Resseguie's new commentary on Revelation entitled: The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary and I came across this cool quote:

The Apocalypse is the last of our gospels that tells the story in vivid pictures of Jesus and his testimony (62; emphasis mine).

I have to admit I have never looked at the Apocalypse in this manner, but this seems to be the depth of insight that Resseguie routinely makes thus far in this commentary. I will have a review up soon-- so far, so good.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Colossians: Moo or Sumney?

I was recently taking stock of my commentary collection and realized to my horror that I only own 3 volumes on Colossians, none of which are a commentary per se. I have Colossians Remixed; John Barclay's brief, but helpful, Colossians and Philemon (T&T Clark Study Guides); and Allan Bevere's revised doctoral dissertation, Sharing in the Inheritance: Identity and the Moral Life in Colossians (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement).

I have been eyeing Jerry Sumney's Colossians commentary for the New Testament Library series (WJK, 2008). I have really benefited from his Philippians handbook, probably the most beneficial book I have owned and used in some years.

Another item I have been looking at is Doug Moo's contribution Colossians & Philemon in the Pillar series. I have enjoyed Doug's work in the past, namely, his commentary on Romans (NICNT) and his work on James in the Pillar series.

So, I pose the question: Have any of you worked through either one of these, or both? And if so, which one would you recommend? FYI: I probably plan on buying both at some point; but I'm wondering, which one should I purchase first?

Another question: If not these two, than what other commentaries should I be considering?

RBL Highlight

I just finished reading Andreas Köstenberger's review of Mike Bird's Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission. Köstenberger in the end is not convinced that Jesus' ministry to the Gentiles was active and as a corollary, sees this activity primarily taking place subsequent to Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, following "the salvation historical logic, pervading the Gospels and Acts, that places the mission to the Gentiles squarely in the period subsequent to Pentecost" (3).

I am anxious to see if Mike has a rejoinder to this review(er).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Craig Keener on the Historical Jesus

The cover shown above is Craig Keener's forthcoming volume The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. The only info I have is that the Eerdmans volume retails for $60.00, is 840 pages long, and has an October release date. The 840 pages is very Craig Keener-like, so I am not surprised. Knowing his other works, such as the Gospel of John commentary and a forthcoming volume(s)on Acts, this book is a Cliffs Notes size in comparison!

Knowing Craig's level of scholarship, this will be a much anticipated volume that will be well worth the wait!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Philippians 1.3-5 Translation and Notes

Here is my second installment of my Philippians translation: (Note: These verses are part of a larger subunit that stretches to v.11. This unit comprises of Paul's Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Philippians. I have decided to follow Silva [41-45] in breaking this in to smaller chunks).

Paul's Thanksgiving (vv.3-5 [8]): Initial Statement

3 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν
4 πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δεήσει μου ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος,
5 ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν,

My Translation:

3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you,

4 always in my every prayer for all of you, I make my petition with joy,

5 because of your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,

Notes (v3)

  • "I give thanks..." A favorite Pauline stock opening (Rom. 1:8; 1 Co. 1:4; Eph. 1:16; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3; Phlm. 1:4).
  • "...for every rememberance of you." There has been much discussion as to the best possible translation of 1.3. The questions usually center around the preposition ἐπί and the sense of the genitive ὑμῶν. As Holloway notes (419-420), the majority view still considers the genitive objectively while rendering the preposition temporally to provide a reaading: 'I give thanks to my God whenever I remember you' (419, n.1; See references there). The second, and minority viewpoint, renders the preposition causally but renders the genitive subjectively, providing a reading: 'I give thanks to my God for your every rememberance [of me]' (Holloway 419-420; n.2; See references there.)
  • Like Holloway (419), I have preferred the most natural way of expressing the Greek, namely, interpreting ἐπί causally and ὑμῶν objectively: 'I give thanks to my God for every rememberance of you,' (e.g. 1 Cor. 1.4; 1 Thess. 3.9; Holloway 420-421; Fowl 22 n.5).

Notes (v4)

  • As Sumney notes, 'Paul uses forms of πᾶς more often in Philippians than at the beginning of any other thanksgiving' (8; e.g. Phil. 1.1,3,4[2x],7[2x],8). One could also include v.9, but this section (vv.9-11) is more geared to Paul's prayer.

  • The adjective πάσῃ with the anarthrous noun ( 'a noun without the definite article') δεήσει('prayer') would translate as 'my every prayer for all of you' (Sumney 9).

  • "I make my petition with joy..." Fee calls this phrase "awkward," writing:

The word order ('with joy the prayer making') gives this phrase special emphasis; indeed this is the first of 16 occurrences of this word group ("joy") in the letter. ...The very awkwardness of the phrase in this case forces it upon the Philippians'- and our-attention (81).

  • In n.43 of the same page (81), Fee writes:

...Paul has already mentioned his standard 'thanksgiving for you always in every prayer of mine.' By adding the phrase 'with joy' he feels compelled to note that the joy comes in context of 'his every prayer.' Thus he repeats, 'the prayer making,' all of which means, 'thanking God for you always in every prayer of mine for all of you, making that prayer with joy.'

Notes (v5)

  • "because of your fellowship in the gospel..." The noun κοινωνία might be better translated "participation" or "partnership"(Fee 82-83). This "participation"/"partnership" is not merely referring to the collection mentioned later in the letter (4.15-16), but to the broader concerns of the gospel and its proclamation and spread (Fee 83-84; Fowl 22-24; O'Brien 63).
  • "from the first day until now," Fee says that this phrase refers to the Philippians' conversion (85), that is, they have been participating in the gospel in Philippi since the time of their conversion.


Holloway, Paul A. "Thanks for the Memories: On the Translation of Philippians 1.3."NTS 52 (2006).

Fee, Gordon D. Paul's Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Fowl, Stephen E. Philippians. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

O'Brien, Peter T. The Epistle to the Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Silva, Moises. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Sumney, Jerry L. Philippians: A Greek Student's Intermediate Reader. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gordon Fee and the Thessalonian Correspondence

Twenty-two years ago Gordon Fee published his monumental commentary on 1 Corinthians for the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (NICNT: Eerdmans). It is to Gordon Fee's credit as an exegete and a writer, that, to this day, it is considered to be one of the top 2 commentaries on this particular Pauline epistle.

Fast forward 8 years to 1995, now fourteen years ago, Fee penned the commentary on Philippians for the same series. It, too, is considered one of the top 2 commentaries on this particular epistle. Fee's skill as a text critic, exegete, and expositor are some of the reasons his commentaries have stood the test of time.

In 2007, SBL (San Diego), I had the great pleasure of having a conversation with him, and he mentioned to me that he was working on a commentary for 1&2 Thessalonians for the NICNT series, incidentally, for which he also serves as the editor. Apparently, his work is now completed as I have stumbled upon this:

From the editor of the award-winning NICNT comes an insightful, thoroughly readable treatment of Paul's letters of thanksgiving, teaching, and encouragement. Affirming 2 Thessalonians' significance as a stand-alone book, Fee offers a fresh textual exposition of both epistles, addressing authorship, setting, intent, and logic, as well as practical applications for contemporary believers.

The blurb also states that the book is 400 pages long and has a release date of mid-May of this year. I am not sure how true that is, I was not able to track it on the Eerdmans site, but it would be great to not have to wait until November to see this commentary!

I'm sure Fee's commentary on the Thessalonian correspondence will set a new standard as well, so this is truly a must buy!