Thursday, December 27, 2012

NIV Greek-English New Testament

Zondervan Academic is probably the most prolific publisher of biblical language tools, whether they be grammars, dictionaries, original language texts, etc.

One recent addition, the NIV Greek and English New Testament (NIVGENT), joins this ever-growing Zondervan stable of language resources. This volume is not an interlinear, nor is it a reader's edition, but is most familiarly categorized as a diglot. Before I get into what I most appreciate about this volume, allow me to lay out some of the particular features that make the NIVGENT , a unique and useful resource.

First, one should know that the base Greek text of the NIV (NIVGT) is not identical to the NA27/UBS4 (or NA28, for that matter). There is some 231 occasions where the NIVGT differs from the standard eclectic texts (Introduction, i). Admittedly, this is not that significant, but one should still take notice to not equate these base texts. Where these differences do occur, the NIVGENT is careful to point them out:

Matthew 7 in the NIVGENT

As one can see in the above example taken from Matthew 7, the footnotes a and b contain information on how the NIVGENT differs from the UBS4.

Another great feature of the NIVGENT is the Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, which is included at the back of the volume (815-962). Here, the reader can find the Greek word, the number of occurences and a definition given in italics. In addition, OT references are given in parentheses and an asterisk indicated that every NT occurence has been referenced.

Now, for my favorite part of the volume, the layout of the Greek and English texts. First, they are juxtaposed and also include sectional headings from the NIV on both the Greek and English pages as seen on the example below.  I found that the layout is key to a decent diglot, especially when the typical reading helps included in a reader's version are absent.
Further, all of the footnotes in the NIV apparatus are included at the bottom of the English side.

In my estimation, the NIVGENT continues to advance the long-line of excellent Zondervan Greek tools. One should find a place on the shelf for this volume.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Doug Moo's Galatians Commentary

Doug Moo's long-anticipated Galatians commentary is on its way. Unfortunately, it will be another seven months or so, before it is released (July 2013).

I have always enjoyed the BECNT series as I believe the format strikes a good balance between technical and intermediate levels of discourse.

Also, Moo's stellar work in other commentaries, particularly Romans (NICNT), makes this a must-have.

Here are some of the particulars:

Pages: 848
Price: $54.99
Release Date: July 2013

"In this addition to the award-winning BECNT series, highly regarded New Testament scholar Douglas Moo offers a substantive yet accessible commentary on Galatians. With extensive research and thoughtful chapter-by-chapter exegesis, Moo leads readers through all aspects of the book of Galatians--sociological, historical, and theological--to help them better understand its meaning and relevance. As with all BECNT volumes, this commentary features the author's detailed interaction with the Greek text and an acclaimed, user-friendly design. It admirably achieves the dual aims of the series--academic sophistication with pastoral sensitivity and accessibility--making it a useful tool for pastors, church leaders, students, and teachers."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Doug Moo's Romans class, the brain-child of President and founder, William Mounce, has been providing free, excellent audio resources for some time now. The goal of the site is in part,   
"to help leaders in the local church become effective ministers of the Gospel by providing them with world-class, Christ-centered educational resources that will allow learning to take place in community."

The latest resource to become available is Douglas Moo's class on Romans, which he taught at Carolina Graduate School of Theology for a DMin Seminar in May 2012. One will find several hours worth of audio/video. One does need to sign up for an account with BiblicalTraining in order to access these video/audio files.

David deSilva's Blog

I'm a little late in getting to this, but I am delighted to see that my mentor and friend, David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor, Ashland University, is now blogging over at Apocryphal Writings. 

Please do check out his site here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ancient Context Ancient Faith Series

One of my great passions in life is to unite biblical scholarship with the church. It seems to me that the 'so what?' of our scholarly callings is the single, most meaningful question, aligning ourselves with what we do not merely for the academy but more importantly, for the church.

Therefore, I would like to commend those in teaching roles in their church to make use of an exciting, new series Ancient Context: Ancient Faith (Zondervan), spearheaded by series editor and contributor, Gary Burge (Wheaton). The series consists of six volumes, each 100-140 pages in length.
Gary Burge
All six volumes of the Ancient Context: Ancient Faith series

Photos from Timothy Laniak's Finding the Lost Images of God
What makes this series a must-have you ask? Well, like all Zondervan's projects, the aesthetics are remarkable. Full-color glossy photos appear on nearly every page. Say what you want about style, but it does matter, and Zondervan never fails to disappoint on that score. 

Secondly, and more importantly, is a matter of substance, and Burge, et. al, have done an outstanding job of educating the reader on biblical backgrounds that inform a well-grounded reading of Scripture. For instance, the last volume in the series, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, provided me with an excellent resource for teaching John 7-8. Burge, a Johannine specialist, is at his best here, providing insights stretching from the Old Testament to the Mishnah in helping to elucidate various Johannine passages. My class found some of the information that I shared from Burge's volume with great enthusiasm.

Pages from Gary Burge's Jesus and the Jewish Festivals

Therefore, I cannot recommend these volumes highly enough, especially for Bible and small group studies. Burge and Zondervan are due many kudos for the excellent, accessible work they have provided teachers, pastors and scholars alike.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Getting To Know Mickey Klink

 Quite some time ago when I started this blog I introduced a series of posts called "Getting to Know..." which featured up and coming New Testament scholars, asking them about their work and ministries. After a nearly five-year hiatus, I have decided to bring the series back.

I am delighted that Mickey Klink, Associated Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University is jump-starting this new addition of "Getting to Know..."

1.        Tell us a bit about your background, family, etc.

I was born in northern Illinois, in the city of Rockford, raised by a wonderful single mom, and actively involved in an EFCA church. I met my wife in college and we married in 1999. We have three kids, two boys (ages 7 and 5) and a girl (age 1), and are living as aliens and strangers (Mid-westerners) in southern California. We are actively involved in our local church, our local public school, and at the University at which I teach.

2.      Could you share a bit about your educational journey beginning at Trinity International and culminating at St. Andrews where you studied under Richard Bauckham?

I went to Trinity (undergrad) because I was recruited to play football there by Leslie Frazier, the current head coach for the Minnesota Vikings. The university does not have the academic strength of my current university, but for me and my situation in life it was a wonderful place. I was introduced to the study of the Bible by some loving professors, and was cared for pastorally by several wonderful men.

I left Trinity for two years to study at Dallas Theological Seminary, but returned to finish my MDiv at Trinity (TEDS). I loved DTS, but felt the pull to go back to Trinity for both academic and personal reasons. Toward the end of my MDiv I was sensing that academic work might become a possibility for me, so I stayed on to do a ThM in New Testament – an excellent decision. My ThM coursework and thesis allowed me to more fully establish my general knowledge of NT studies, as well as the skills needed for doctoral work. I also began my work in the Gospel of John at that time; a work I have not yet completed.

As I was considering PhD studies I asked one of my professors, D. A. Carson, who he would recommend for me to study the Gospel of John under. He mentioned three people, one of whom was Richard Bauckham. I spent three years in St. Andrews, Scotland, studying under Richard and had a wonderful learning experience. And it was not just the influence of Richard, but also a rich a vibrant learning community, which included a seminar called “Scripture and Theology,” led by Chris Seitz and Mark Elliott, that became formative on my thinking of hermeneutics, theology, and the Bible. From beginning to end I have seen God’s providence in my educational journey, for which I am very thankful.

3.       Speaking of your time at St. Andrews, discuss some of the factors that lead to your choice of dissertation topics, which eventually was published as The Sheep of the Fold: A Critical Assessment of the Audience and Origin of the Gospel of John Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 141 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007; paperback 2010)?

My thesis (dissertation) developed quite simply out of my growing interest in seminary in the gospels, especially how the gospels were (and are!) intended to be read and interpreted. My eventual monograph was more deconstructive than constructive, but a necessary start for my own journey. In the process I learned how the gospels were (and are) being read and, more specifically, what is going on in Johannine studies. I also developed my own sensibilities regarding the gospels, especially the Fourth Gospel, leading to the constructive work I am directly involved in now.

4.      You are a recognized scholar of John’s Gospel. Discuss some of the projects that you are working on now, including the commentary on John for ZECNT.

Since my published thesis I have written several articles and essays on the Fourth Gospel. John’s rich historical nature and powerful theological presentation continues to be my area of research, as well as a more general interest in how to read the gospels, specifically the combination of history and theology. I was invited to contribute the John commentary for ZECNT in early 2010, and have spent most of my time focusing on that massive project. While all commentaries have different agendas, I like what ZECNT is trying to do and hoping to provide its readers, both the academy and the church. This commentary has allowed me to develop as an exegete, as well as to wrestle with my own constructive approach to the intersection between historical exegesis and theological exegesis, both of which I am utilizing. In many ways my approach to John will fit well within an evangelical and confessional approach to the gospel; at the same time, I think I am bringing several different perspectives to certain texts, as well as a few different exegetical emphases that I hope will be helpful and well received. I am currently in chapter 11 of John (over half way!) and plan (and am on schedule) to be finished with the commentary by the end of summer 2014.  

5.      You have also co-written a book with friend and colleague, Darian Lockett, entitled Understanding Biblical Theology (Zondervan, 2012). Share some of the aims of this volume and how it unpacks the various schools of Biblical Theology.

Our book UnderstandingBiblical Theology, which just came out, finds its origin all the way back in St. Andrews, Scotland, in the Scripture and Theology seminar that Lockett and I participated in as doctoral students. You have already given a helpful overview of the book on your blog, so my summary can be brief. In short, this book tries to explain the different expressions of the “theology of the Bible” that spring from the history-theology tension spreading across biblical studies and theology. It is merely a descriptive book; we make no argument for a pure definition but offer a mere map for others to find their way – no matter which direction they may want to travel. The book began over numerous conversations between fellow professors and friends and will continue, we hope, to find life over fresh conversations.

6.      You serve as an associate pastor at Calvary Community Church (Brea, California). How has your pastoral ministry informed your scholarship and vice-versa?

I began studying theology because of my commitment to Christ and in light of a calling to the church, and I believe my current work, even if done primarily in the academy, is a service to the church. I do not believe my calling to the church has changed, I just think it is multifaceted. My service in the church serves as a constant reminder that theology is about life, not books or tests, and that people are the end goal. I have to admit I still wrestle with tension between the local church and the academy. As I write my John commentary I am thankful to be in the academy, for I do not see how I could get it done in this period of time without the freedom of university teaching. Yet I would not be surprised if the Lord moved me to the church at some time – a move I would be more than willing to make. I conceive of myself as a pastor-scholar, even if I am described on paper as a professor.

7.      For those of us who would like to continue our education at the PhD level, what advice would you give?

In light of my own story I would encourage the potential PhD student to base their decisions and motivations on their calling by the Lord, and not merely their perceived gifting or professional aspirations. I would also encourage them to consider topics of study or specialties that might meet specific needs in this generation. For example, while I am thankful for the amount of people and time spent discussing method, especially in light of recent theological readings, etc., I think it is time for an equal amount of time to be spent on interpreting texts. Finally, I would also ask them to consider if they would be able and willing to take their completed PhD not only into an academic post, but also into a church pulpit. My own participation in the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology ( is a reflection of my growing concern that exegesis and theology be a comfortable principle and practice in the church, and not just the academy.

Thanks for your time, Mickey!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Review of the Gospel According to Isaiah 53

(The fine folks at Kregel Academic sent me this review copy. Having said this, I have done my best to offer an objective review of the volume's contents.)

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser (eds), The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 2012).

This volume is unique in many ways. First, it has an evangelistic focus in that Chosen People Ministries and Mitch Glaser has envisioned this project to “reach Jewish people with the message of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, as he is described and extolled in Isaiah 53 (22).” Thus, it should be no surprise that evangelical scholars such as Darrell Bock, Walter Kaiser, Robert Chisholm and a host of others teamed up to organize and recruit the other contributors to this volume. The volume is divided into three parts: Interpretation of Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53 in Biblical Theology, and Isaiah 53 in Practical Theology. The first part is kicked off by Richard Averbeck, Director of the PhD Program in Theological Studies and Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Averbeck kicks off the volume by examining Isaiah 53 by examining Christian interpretations of Isa 52.13-53.12. Averbeck, using Franz Delitzsch’s three-level pyramid on interpretive choices on Isaiah 53, helpfully lays much of the groundwork for his essay, as he looks at options such as the servant denoting a broad reference to Israel as an elect nation, a remnant within Israel, and a single servant who suffers vicariously on behalf of Israel. Overall, I found agreement with Averbeck’s position that Jesus takes up the role of the latter in a representative role on behalf of Israel.

 Next, Michael L. Brown looks at Jewish rabbinic interpretations of the servant in Isaiah 53. While he notes that most of the rabbi’s view the Servant as Israel, he does note some exceptions that narrow this figure to an individual. In section two, Walter Kaiser kicks off the proceedings with a chapter that examines the identity and mission of the Servant of the Lord. Like most things I have read by Kaiser, I found myself a bit perplexed at the exegetical gymnastics that he performs to argue his point. For example, Kaiser, in this reader’s opinion, undermines the first-person plural pronouns in Isaiah 53, which represents Israel, by stating that the Holy Spirit may have deliberately left the identity of the speaker vague “so that anyone could read these verses and put themselves in the same confession” (100).

Following Brown, Michael Wilkins contributes an essay that examines the role of Isaiah 53 in the Gospels with a special focus on Matthew, where most of the allusions occur. I had no major quibbles with Wilkins work, as I too share his opinion that Jesus’ self-identification is to be found in the role of the suffering servant of Isa 53. After Wilkins, Darrell Bock contributes an interesting essay on the ways in which the MT and the LXX of Isaiah 53 may have impacted Acts 8. This may be the most technical essay of the entire volume but it pays a careful reading.

 Next, Craig Evans contributes a chapter that looks at the remainder of the NT and also provides an interesting survey of the ways Isaiah 53 has impacted the theologies of Peter, both in Acts and his letters, Paul, and lastly, John. For Evans, the Suffering Servant Hymn laid at the heart of early evangelism aimed at the synagogue. David Allen’s contribution, despite repetition with the others in this work, lies in his reading of Leviticus 5-7, 16 as atonement, thus comparing Isaiah 53 role of the Servant to this conclusion allows him to see Jesus’ sacrifice as one of atonement for the nation of Israel.

 Robert Chisholm concludes this section by looking at the themes of forgiveness and salvation in Isaiah 53. Language such as “lifting up” and “taking away” are examined here. Chisholm concludes that the Servant’s redemptive work entails release from exile and restoration to the Promised Land, while making forgiveness of sins and covenant renewal possible. Part III, an area of the volume that I did not read thoroughly has contributions from John Feinberg on Post-Modern Themes in Isaiah 53, Mitch Glaser in using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism, Donald Sunukjian on Preaching Isaiah 53, and a conclusion by Darrell Bock which attempts to draw the disparate essays together in the end.

Conclusion: Like many volumes, essays can tend to be uneven in terms of the level of writing, scholarship, etc. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is no exception. However, there is some real gems in this volume, Bock’s and Evans’ essays immediately spring to mind. That being said, this book is forthrightly evangelical. The contributors of this volume make no apologies for this, but one needs to be aware that this is the presuppositional starting point. This may grate on some nerves when approaching this volume, as it tends to take on apologetic overtones, see especially the contribution by Kaiser. Overall, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 makes a fine contribution to the ongoing discussions as to the identity of the Servant, but will probably not be the final or definitive word on this hotly contested topic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More Gospel of John Videos: Mary Coloe

One of the best-known and finest Johannine scholars going today is Mary Coloe, Senior Lecturer, School of Theology, at Australian Catholic University. Coloe has a series of videos on John's Gospel entitled "Ecce Homo & Ecce Mater Tua"  available online.

I have posted them here in order for your viewing convenience.

Gospel of John Video Resources: Andrew Lincoln

Andrew Lincoln, who has written one of the finest commentaries on John's Gospel in recent memory, has a series of videos on a blog site published by the institution he teaches at, the University of Gloucestershire.

I have placed them here for your viewing convenience:

1. The Spiritual Gospel

2. The 'I Am' Sayings in John's Gospel

3. The Water into Wine Miracle

4. The Purpose of John's Gospel

In addition, there are videos on Luke's Gospel by Llyod Pietersen on this site as well as videos from J. Gordon McConville on OT issues. Enjoy! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sneak Preview: Paul's Missionary Methods

The good folks at IVP Academic have released a sneak preview of the forthcoming volume, Paul's Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours. The preview contains essays by Mike Bird and Eckhard Schnabel. Other contributors to this volume include Craig Keener and Benjamin Merkle among others. This volume is released to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Roland Allen's Missionary Methods.

Check out the preview here.

Eerdmans Titles to Look For

There are always a spate of books that come out just in time for SBL. However, there are others that will postdate SBL by a few months, either being released in the late winter/early Spring of the following year.

Here are some of the latter that I'm anticipating from Eerdmans.

  • The Oral Gospel Tradition (release date: 2/28/2013; pp. 448; retail: $45.00). Following on the heels of his magisterial Jesus Remembered , Dunn releases another volume that addresses many of the same issues. 

Here are two descriptions that I found concerning this volume:

 "The traditions about Jesus and his teaching circulated in oral form for many years, continuing to do so for decades following the writing of the New Testament Gospels. James Dunn is one of the major voices urging that more consideration needs to be given to the oral use and transmission of the Jesus tradition as a major factor in giving the Synoptic tradition its enduring character." -Eerdmans site

 "The Synoptic Gospels all share similarities---and discrepancies. How can one explain the "same yet different" character of Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Showing how oral transmission has influenced the shape of Jesus' story in the Synoptic tradition, Dunn examines Q as a source; Matthew's awareness of Markan redaction; the reliance on history, memory, and eyewitnesses; and more."- CBD site

 I am rather curious as to how this volume will be different than Jesus Remembered (henceforth JR), perhaps it will be even more refined than the previous contribution considering Dunn wrote JR almost 10 years ago. Nevertheless, anything Dunn writes is worth owning.

  • Another volume that has piqued my interest is Francis Watson's Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Release date: 4/30/2013; pp. 624; retail: $48.00). Watson has been working on this volume since his ground-breakng  Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (2005). Like Dunn, Watson has transitioned out of Pauline studies to focus on the Gospels.

Here is a description: "That there are four canonical versions of the one gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: for, where gospels multiply, so too do apparent tensions and contradictions that may seem to undermine their truth claims. In Gospel Writing, Francis Watson argues that differences and tensions between canonical gospels represent opportunities for theological reflection, not problems for apologetics. In exploring this claim, he proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for gospel studies — one that engages fully with the available noncanonical gospel material so as to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical." (Eerdmans site).

  • Last, but certainly least is Jack R. Lundom's Deuteronomy: A Commentary (Release Date: 3/18/13; pp. 1056; Retail: $80.00). Perhaps my favorite OT book, Deuteronomy, gets a masterful treatment from a masterful OT scholar, in Lundom. Perhaps best known for his massive Jeremiah commentaries in the Yale Anchor series, Lundom now contributes another massive commentary.
Here is the description:

This commentary is intended for a broad readership wanting to better know and understand this Pentateuchal book that has come to occupy such a prominent place in Judaism and Christianity. For Jews Deuteronomy contains the Decalogue and the Shema -- "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one" (6:4) -- supplemented by a code of primal legislation. Deuteronomy is much cited in the New Testament and has come to occupy an important place in the life and doctrine of the Christian church. It lifts up important wisdom themes such as humane treatment and benevolence to the poor and needy and is rich in theology, calling repeatedly on Israel to reject other gods and worship the Lord alone as holy. Besides making use of language, archaeology, and comparative Near Eastern material, Jack Lundbom's commentary employs rhetorical criticism in explicating the biblical text. He also cites later Jewish interpretation of the book of Deuteronomy and makes numerous New Testament connections. An appendix contains all references to Deuteronomy in the New Testament.

Doh, looks like my 'wish list' just got longer!

Monday, October 8, 2012

William Varner's James Commentary (EEC): A Brief Interview

Of the making of commentaries there is no end...

I am not one of those who bemoans this fact. I am convinced that new formats, contributors, can always contribute to this well-ploughed genre by making original contributions.

It seems that  William Varner, Professor of Bible and Greek at the Master's College, has made an original and stimulating contribution of his own in the new Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series for Logos with his commentary on James. In fact, the endorsements for his work represent a veritable "who's who" in Jacobean scholarship and beyond. Check these impressive blurbs:

"Will Varner has provided a highly valuable and well-needed contribution to the exposition of the book of James in his new commentary on James for the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. His reasoning is clear, cogent and very welcome to the church's great heritage in this precious epistle."

F. David Farnell
Professor of New Testament
The Master's Seminary

“Varner's commentary is so complete one can get by with this commentary alone! It sketches the significance of the man James, sketches the exegetical options, sorts out primary evidence, examines each text in light of larger themes in biblical theology, draws even-handed and compelling conclusions, and so puts on the plate all we need to read, interpret, and live the message of James.” 

Scot McKnight
Professor of New Testament
Northern Seminary

"In this installment of a first-ever detailed exegetical commentary written first for digital publication, William Varner sets a high standard with his comments on James under numerous headings. After a thorough introduction highlighting the importance of James, the half-brother of Jesus, as the leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem, the commentary expounds short sections of text with introductions, translations, textual-critical notes, biblical theology, devotional insights and potential sermon points often nicely alliterated, all sandwiched around detailed clause-by-clause explanation of the text. Particularly helpful are the grammatical categorizations, fully conversant with verbal aspect theory and discourse analysis, and the voluminous knowledge of and interaction with other scholars. Time and again Varner helps the reader sift through complex exegetical conundra clearly, always coming to plausible and usually to persuasive conclusions. A must for any serious scholar, preacher or teacher of this often neglected epistle!"

Craig L. Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary

Will Varner's James is marked by all the characteristics that make for an excellent commentary on Scripture: careful attention to the text, wide-ranging research, comparison with other ancient texts, and concern for theological and practical application.” 

Douglas Moo
Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies
Wheaton College
Chair, Committee on Bible Translation

“While the homily we know as James has not been neglected in recent NT scholarship, there is always room for another detailed interaction with this document written to Jewish Christians, not least because it may well be the earliest NT document we have.  William Varner presents us with an up-to-date, detailed, helpful analysis of James which interacts with a wide range of scholarship, ancient and current, and gives us a new reason to affirm once again that Luther, and James' other cultured detractors, were wrong to neglect, parody, or pit James over against Paul.” 

Dr. Ben Witherington, III
Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies
Asbury Theological Seminary
Doctoral Faculty St. Mary's College, St. Andrews University, Scotland

I’m no Jacobean expert, but Varner has produced a fine commentary, with a very readable introduction and sober comments throughout. He seems very much on board with Hengel and Bauckham in attributing a significant role to James in the early church. Each section has an introduction, outline, original text, textual notes, ESV translation, commentary, biblical theology comments, and a devotional/application section. A fine commentary to add to your Logos collection!”
Dr. Michael Bird       
 Lecturer in Theology and New Testament
Crossway College     
Brisbane, Australia                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Recently, I was privileged to ask Dr. Varner a few questions on his James commentary.

1.      Talk about what attracted you to the opportunity of writing a commentary on James for the new Logos series the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series?
I had finished my discourse commentary on James and felt like I would like to delve even further into the text of James. I liked the proposed format of the EEC commentaries, and when I heard that they had not yet contracted for James, I threw my hat in the ring.

2.      What was your process in writing this commentary?

I had amassed a lot of articles from my first commentary so I started by reviewing them. I then took a fresh look at the intricate details of the Greek text in James and engaged in some more detailed lexical studies of individual words, especially how they were used in extra Biblical Greek literature like Philo, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Greek ethicist, Epictetus. I then explored some larger Biblical theological issues in each passage. I then further developed some homiletical suggestions for preaching each pericope.

3.      You have published a commentary on James before, The Book of James: A New Perspective (Kress). How did this commentary prepare you to write a much larger commentary for the EEC?
It was the best preparation I could ever do. The earlier commentary was based on the principles of discourse analysis and focused on a top-down analysis that resulted in examining the macro-theme/s of James. With that in hand, my work on this commentary focused on a bottom-up analysis, and to my great delight the results confirmed the “big picture” that I discovered earlier.

4.      Following up from the previous question, what does a “new perspective” on James look like, and what are the implications for the church?
I use that expression “new perspective,” not out of a desire to copy the New Perspective on Paul, but to alert readers to the importance of looking afresh at this book and its author. By a new perspective on James the man, I mean to convey my argument that the uterine brother of Jesus was not only the head of the Jerusalem believing community, but that he was the human head of the entire Jesus movement from the early 40’s to his death in 62 AD. I think that this recognition has implications for seeing Paul in a more historically accurate role – the one who called himself the “least of the apostles” and an apostle who acknowledged James’s leadership role described above. A new perspective on the James the letter revolves around my discovering what I believe is the “peak” of the letter that opens up a fresh understanding of its overall theme and structure. I do believe that I am suggesting a new way of looking at James and his letter that will free the church from a wrong idea that Paul is the uncrowned Pope of the Protestant faith.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Interview with Sherri Brown: Gift Upon Gift: Covenant Through Word in the Gospel of John: Part II

Sherri Brown, author of Gift Upon Gift: Covenant through Word in the Gospel of John (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 144; Pickwick 2010) and professor at Niagra University, answers more of my questions regarding her revised dissertation under the supervision of Francis Moloney at the Catholic University of America (2007) in the second part of a two-part interview.  For the first installment click here.
Sherri Brown (center), with students on the Rabbi steps in Jerusalem.

1.       Could you discuss the dual roles Jesus plays as both plaintiff and judge in his heated exchange with the “Jews” in 8:31-59?

As a literary piece, John 7–8 is one of the most difficult movements in all of the gospel narratives. When the dialogue between Jesus and the Jewish leaders and the crowds in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles reaches its climax (8:31–59), it is the most passionate, and even vitriolic, conflict narrated in the Gospels. Both sides of this encounter are very heated: “the Jews” accuse Jesus of having a demon (v. 48), and Jesus calls them children of the devil, the father of lies (vv. 42–47). The entire encounter brings the people (and the readers) to a crisis, to a point where they are forced to begin to make decisions about where they stand in the mounting christological conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities.
The gulf separating Jesus and “the Jews” that he encounters at the feast of Tabernacles is a profound closedness. Readers of John 7–8 have the prologue resonating in their ears as they listen to Jesus’ teaching in this most heated segment of his public ministry. They have been given information about Jesus and the glory of God’s action in and for the sake of the world. Thus, when readers experience Jesus verbalizing what God is doing through him in the tenor of his own voice, there is room for his word. “The Jews,” who stand outside the world of the prologue, are ultimately not open to hearing and seeing God the Father in the voice and person of Jesus the Son.  Although many can come to a partial faith in the messianic mission of Jesus when it rings familiar to their long-standing religious system, they cannot take root and abide in his word when he reveals the full implications of the life-giving truth of his messiahship. They cannot appreciate nor participate in the openness of the very figures of their religious history to which they appeal. Thus, even as authentic progeny, they choose to remain outside the covenantal realm of the children of God. The covenantal challenge given by Jesus to “the Jews” in the setting of the feast of Tabernacles is initially taken up in part by “many of the Jews” (v. 30). However, when the full messianic implication of abiding in the word of Jesus is revealed, they ultimately reject the covenantal gift to become children of God.

For his part, Jesus stands in the temple area in the midst of the feast of Tabernacles that celebrates the experience of God’s care for the children of Israel in the wilderness at Sinai and presents himself as the covenantal mediation of the experience of God’s life-giving care now and forever. As the one challenging what his opponents think they “know,” Jesus serves as the plaintiff in this symbolic covenant lawsuit.  However, at the same moment the participants in the Tabernacles celebration relive their ancestors’ experience of God through rituals of water and light, Jesus shows himself to be the living water and true light that reveals God to all who would open themselves to him and take root in his word, thus empowering them to become the covenantal children of God.  In this way he is also the ultimate judge.  In the dialogue of Tabernacles, Jesus reveals that all that is accomplished in that annual feast is perfected in him through the covenantal love between the true Son and the living Father, now and forever.

2.      During Jesus’ trial, explain how Pilate’s dismissive question, “What is truth?” (18:38) closes the door on his opportunity to be in covenant with God.

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, is the only new character introduced in the passion narrative.  Because he is a character just introduced to this Gospel narrative and his assumed authority renders his action decisive for the remainder to the story, it behooves readers to pay particular attention to his role in this act of the passion drama. Pilate’s interaction with “the Jews” outside the praetorium is openly hostile and the two parties stand in clear opposition. However, his interaction with Jesus inside the praetorium is more complex. When Jesus’ interactions with his dialogue partners across the Gospel are also considered, we must clarify not only how Pilate’s dialogues with Jesus affect Jesus and where he stands in the Gospel narrative, but also how they affect Pilate and where he stands in relation to the gift of truth that forms the basis for the entire Gospel story.
In their first dialogue inside the praetorium (18:33–38a), Jesus reveals himself as a king whose kingdom is not of the world, but is nonetheless in the world (v. 36). Jesus’ role in establishing this kingdom is testifying to the truth so that all those who are of the truth may hear his voice and enter into and abide in relationship with him (v. 37; see 10:1–21; 13–17). He gives the gift of truth by giving himself both in his revelatory dialogues with those he encounters and, the reader has come to understand, in the giving of his life. According to the prologue, those who receive him (who are of the truth) are empowered to become children of God (1:12).  This self-revelation of Jesus to Pilate and the implicit gift of truth that accompanies it constitute an offer of covenant to Pilate. Pilate has come in to question Jesus openly, and as Jesus does in every encounter across the Gospel, he engages Pilate in a dialogue in which he offers himself as the gift of truth. By responding to Jesus the way Pilate does, with the brusque rhetorical question, “What is truth?” followed by an immediate exit (19:38), Pilate dismisses Jesus’ challenge. Further, he shows that he does not really understand the question, i.e., the truth of relationship in covenant with God that is at stake. By not being open to the revelation of Jesus and the offer of truth, Pilate fails to recognize the gift of truth that is standing in front of him. Therefore his attempts to remain neutral, to act as if the person and fate of Jesus has nothing to with him, also fail (18:38b—19:8). Eventually even his appeals to his own power before Jesus and his attempts to act decisively before “the Jews” fail as well (19:9–15).
The sheep that are of Jesus’ fold hear his voice of truth and enter into abiding covenantal relationship with him as empowered children of God. There are others who, when challenged by Jesus’ revelation of this gift of truth, not only reject the offer of relationship in covenant, but also use all human means to rid themselves of the perceived threat his person and offer constitute.  Pilate, then, constitutes a third possible response to Jesus as the questioner who is given the revelation of truth and the challenge to accept relationship as a child of God that Jesus’ offers.  In the end he proves himself to be so committed to human endeavor and the powers of this world (including his own) that he cannot understand what is really being asked of him. He fails to see the truth when it is standing before him and thus, despite all efforts to exert his own will, hands the Truth over to its enemies to be crucified.

3.      You see John 21 as an epilogue to the rest of the Gospel. How does the treatment of Peter and the beloved disciple instruct the Johannine community to continue to live as covenant-abiding “children of God” (1:12)?

I suggest that John 21 can be understood as an epilogue insofar as it brings the Gospel story beyond its conclusion into the time of its readers and clarifies the form and mission of the community it engenders.  Further, this narrative episode can be contextualized in terms of the problems emerging with the Johannine letters. Broadly speaking, the covenant relationship made possible by Jesus in the Gospel of John leaves its community of readers with only two commands: to love and to believe. However completely these truths are revealed, living through them as a community can become problematic over time when members differ on what exactly to love and to believe. The resulting issues can be summarized as an ecclesial problem and an authority problem.  The former is handled in the first part of John 21 (vv. 1–14), and the latter in the second part (vv. 15–25).  Who is to be included in the community? Everyone.  Who is the authority?  The second part of the epilogue and the reconstitution of Peter suggest the Johannine community should follow the mainstream authority of Peter.  However, the Beloved Disciple is still put forth as the model disciple.  He is the one the community should continue to turn to for a guide to living and loving in the new covenant as children of God.  The narrator closes by describing the unique mandate of the Beloved Disciple (vv. 21–25). He is the paradigmatic disciple and witness. Already in the first century of the church, there is a concern for the recognition of the pastoral role in authority and the testimonial role of discipleship. These roles do not have to be incorporated in one person. They can be, but they usually are not. The best disciple is not necessarily the best shepherd of the community. Therefore, in this Gospel these roles are embodied in two separate characters, Peter and the Beloved Disciple. The narrator then concludes his story by attesting to its limitless nature (v. 25). He speaks in the first person and sends his readers into the world and their shared future as the new covenant community of God as children living in the love and faith of Jesus.

4.      Could you discuss some other projects that you are working on now?

I have several articles recently out or in the pipeline.  I had a great time working with long-time friends Chris Skinner and Kelly Iverson who edited a volume in honor of our Professor and friend, Frank Matera who recently retired.  They presented it to him at the CBA at the end of June in honor of his 70th birthday.  The book is called Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of FrankJ. Matera and my article explores Paul’s theology and is called “Faith, Christ, and Paul's Theology of Salvation History.”  The other two articles in the pipeline have me returning to John, this time exploring characterization.  One of them focuses on John the Baptist and will appear in another volume edited by Chris Skinner and will come out in the spring of 2013 in the Library of New Testament series.  The other focuses on the role of the Greeks in the Gospel and will appear in a massive volume that explores all the characters in the Gospel.  It will also likely come out in early 2013.  At the moment my writing focus is entirely on an introductory level textbook on the Gospel and Letters of John.  It will follow the reading I established in the Giftupon Gift text but be aimed at an undergraduate/parish level. It has been a fun challenge this summer and will likely carry me through the academic year as well.  Further down the road Chris Skinner and I are now talking about editing a volume on virtue in John’s Gospel.  So there is always more to explore and more fun to be had!  Thanks for your interest in my work!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Interview with Sherri Brown: Gift Upon Gift: Covenant through Word in the Gospel of John: Part I

In a provocative and well-written dissertation (Gift Upon Gift: Covenant through Word in the Gospel of John; Princeton Theological Monograph Series 144; Pickwick, 2010), Sherri Brown argues for the concept of the Old Testament covenant metaphor as the key to understanding the narrative of Jesus as portrayed by the Fourth Evangelist. Brown, who is currently a professor at Niagara University, completed this doctoral work under the expert supervision of Francis Moloney at the Catholic University of America in 2007. Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing Sherri about her work. Part I of a two-part interview is below. Enjoy!

Sherri Brown standing outside the Temple Mount.

1.       In your Preface (viii.) you mention the origin of your now revised dissertation, Gift Upon Gift. Could you recount the seminar and the project you undertook that lead eventually to this book?

This is an interesting experience for me to recount because sometimes it can be remarkable to look back and see something providential occurring when you didn’t necessarily experience it that way at the time.  We found out the previous spring that Frank Moloney was going to offer a seminar the next fall on John 1-6, and since I had been looking forward to this, I registered.  The department then gathered for an end-of-the year cookout at my house (I was always finding reasons to have a party, but that’s another story).  I remember telling Frank then that I really wanted to work on Cana.  It wasn’t something that I had been planning, I was just certain at that moment that I wanted to do my seminar paper on John 2:1-12.  The next fall when the class met and we chose our passages, I was so eager that Frank just said something like, “we know, we know, you want Cana…”
We had a great seminar and everyone did interesting work.  I was just so compelled to “figure out” this strange dialogue between Jesus and his mother.  I had never been convinced by the work of others and felt sure the symbolism was prominent.  That said, I gladly built on the work of others, including Frank’s own insights on the symbolism of Pentecost across John 1-2, and found myself focusing on the concept of covenant and how the mother becomes a model of how to respond to Jesus’ often enigmatic and provocative words.  After my presentation, and with Frank’s support, we began to talk about how this approach could be extended across the Gospel and, of course, how I could write a dissertation on such a topic.  The rest, as they say, is history...

2.      Talk about the reticence of scholars to embrace the notion of covenant in John’s Gospel, and two, discuss some of the more recent works of Rekha Chennattu, Sandra Schneiders, and Jo-Ann Brant that help lay the groundwork for your own study.

The reluctance of scholars to embrace the presence of covenant imagery and symbolism in the Gospel of John is generally the result of a strict adherence to a historical-critical philological standard whereby if a word does not appear than the corresponding concept cannot be present.  Now, in other parts of our lives we are perfectly willing to accept that we can make a point without ever stating the primary term or concept on our minds.  We even do this purposefully on occasion for effect.  But the concern for eisegesis and general overreaching has led many scholars to refuse to accept this tactic on the part of our biblical authors.  Recently, more literary-oriented commentators like the ones you mention that I reviewed in my book have begun to lay the ground work for recognizing the more nuanced storytelling techniques of the biblical authors in general and the evangelists in particular.  Their work on John spurred me to take the next step and make the somewhat bold claim that not only is the covenant metaphor present in John, it is woven through the very fabric of his rich symbolic world.

3.      You state in your review of the concept of covenant in the OT, that it “…is the guiding literary and theological paradigm of the entire Hebrew Bible” (29). Later in the chapter, you mention that the concepts of “knowledge” and “truth” recall God’s covenants with Israel in the Prophets. How do these and other themes help illumine a covenantal reading of John’s Gospel?

In recent conversations with colleagues who work in the OT, I have learned that many of OT scholars are moving away from the metaphor of covenant as a historically unifying concept in Israel.  Nonetheless, as I tried to show in my work, and as many others have done before and after me, on the literary level the metaphor of covenant can be traced across the story of Israel from beginning to end.  As we read through the narrative we see Israel’s relationship with God grow and the covenant that forms the basis of this relationship develop and deepen.  Once we get to the 8th c. prophets, especially Isaiah and Hosea, we see the challenge to Israel by way of the accusation of breach of covenant. This is all based on the concepts of knowledge and truth.  Knowing God and relating to God in truth is right relationship, whereas failing to know God and not living in truth is breach of covenant.  These ideas permeate the prophets even though they rarely use the term covenant.  We see much of these same ideas in John.  Across this Gospel the Evangelist wants to show that Jesus challenges people and what they think they “know.”  Every time one of Jesus’ dialogue partners claims to “know” something from within a closed religious system, Jesus pushes them to see the truth of God’s action in the world.  Sometimes they respond positively, sometimes negatively, and sometimes they take some time to come around, like Nicodemus.  To live in the truth of the love and knowledge of God, then, is the fundamental purpose and the overarching hope of the OT covenant relationship.  John presents Jesus as the new gift of truth, if only those he encounters can see it and hear his words. This is, of course, is how John can use the symbolism and imagery of covenant without ever using the word.

4.      Could you describe how the dialogues, particular to John’s Gospel, help manifest the underpinnings of the concept of covenant, for instance, in the case of the wedding feast at Cana (2.1-12)?

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus teaches primarily through parables, we all observe that John’s Gospel presents Jesus as teaching through long discourses, most of which begin as dialogues.  In this way, Jesus encounters people and begins to converse with them where they are, but it isn’t long before he begins to push them past their comfort level and begins to challenge their ideas about how God works in the world.  At the wedding feast in Cana, we see the ground laid for how this is going to play out, though this first dialogue is quite brief and the mother of Jesus responds completely positively.  The festive scene is set and all the characters come together, but are immediately faced with a potentially shameful situation.  The mother of Jesus brings it to him and they have a brief, highly symbolic dialogue during which she responds by telling the servants (and readers) to do whatever he says. 
An overview of the covenant narrative of Israel’s scriptures produces five fundamental characteristics of the essence of biblical covenant texts and the covenantal relationship these texts emanate. The first and most basic characteristic is the aspect of chosenness. The second element characteristic of the OT covenant relationship is the offer of covenantal promises. Those chosen by God to participate in covenant relationship are made promises as part and parcel of establishing that particular obligation. The third characteristic that manifests is the corollary human response to the first two covenantal moves on God’s part: covenantal obedience in action. The first three characteristics of the OT covenant relationship each build upon the former to establish the relationship itself. Taken together, these three characteristics and the resultant relationship they form make possible the fourth characteristic: the abiding presence of God in creation and in the lives of those who accept the covenantal offer. Articulating the final characteristic of the OT covenant relationship in many ways brings us to the purpose of the entire activity: making God known in creation. The fifth basic characteristic is thus the knowledge of God. This knowledge includes understanding God’s binding loyalty (in terms of steadfast covenant love) and faithfulness (in terms of truth) in kinship with his people (see Hos 4:1–3).   The flourishing of this knowledge of God through the dynamic of daily living in covenantal obedience breathes life into the relationship between God and his people. Likewise, however, the failure or wearing out of this knowledge (see Isa 5:13) threatens the very existence of the covenantal relationship. This is the essence of this relationship and when these characteristics are overwhelmingly present in this literature, then the underlying fabric is covenant even if the term is not used by the biblical author.
The wedding scene at Cana is filled with the language and symbolism of covenant and even the backdrop of Pentecost.  The mother of Jesus becomes the model for how to respond to Jesus and her response becomes the one against which all others can be measured as Jesus’ ministry proceeds.  The ensuing dialogues become lengthier, more complex, and more intense, but they work in this same way.

5.      How does the Fourth Evangelist treatment of the feasts in 5-10, relate to the Johannine community?

In biblical literature, the feasts of Israel are presented as cultic celebrations that recall God’s saving action in the past and render that action present in the current community. The celebration of these festivals was also intimately connected with the experience of God’s covenantal action in and with creation.  If the Johannine Christians were indeed being expelled from the synagogues (see 9:22; 12:42; 16:2), they were not simply being excluded from these celebrations (a social experience), they may have felt that they were losing contact with the God of creation and God’s covenantal saving action in history (a religious experience).  As believers in the saving action of the Christ event, they were taught that covenantal relationship with God is engendered through the Word of Jesus.  But this still presents a problem: what about these feasts and the experience of God’s presence they facilitate?  Not only does the Fourth Evangelist have to care for the community members pastorally because they are no longer in that world, he also has to show God’s fidelity to them and God’s continuing presence in their lives as members of the new covenantal community.   This reshaping of the experience of God in the life of the community is the background for the indications of the feasts of Judaism in the Gospel (see 5:9b; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22).   The evangelist renders christological the feasts of Judaism.  It is Jesus the Christ who is now the perfection of Jewish liturgy and theology.   It is Jesus the Christ who reveals God’s presence in the ongoing lives of the community.  John 5–10 is the focus of the evangelist’s teaching on this topic as he describes Jesus’ actions and teaching during two major festivals of Judaism, Passover and Tabernacles, as well as during the feasts of Sabbath and Dedication.  The climax of John 10 is the revelation that Jesus and God are one.