Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bruner's The Gospel of John: Reading On

Weighing in at a massive 1,253 pages (not including indices, which brings the total to 1,281 pages), one does not fly through a reading of a work of this size and profundity. Bruner's The Gospel of John continues to get better with each passing page, as I am now 70 pages in and recently out of the Johannine prologue (1.1-18).

Let me make a couple of observations here. First, it is rare to find a commentator who advances either a new interpretation or at least a minority viewpoint on a particular passage who urges the reader to take his/her suggestion with caution. Bruner does just this with his interpretation of 1.7 ("This man came to be a witness to the Light, so that all might come to believe through him."). Bruner suggests that the "all" combined with "might come to believe" and the doubled "witness" points beyond John the Baptist himself, and includes John the Evangelist, especially when one considers John 20.30-31, which reads, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which have not been written down in this book. But these signs have been written down to the end that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you can come to Life by means of this person" (Bruner's trans. adapted; italics mine; 20). Bruner also cites John 21:23-24 to bolster his arguments, where the beloved disciple is said to be the one "bearing witness" and that "his witness" is trustworthy.
Bruner concludes his observation this way:

If all this supposition is plausible, then Jesus has both a pre-ministry John and a post-ministry John--in both cases 'a witness, whose name was John.' Their mutual mission has been to move all in their hearing to believe the One in the middle. We think we will meet this second John, again anonymously but a little more clearly and particularly, when we come to Jesus' initial engagement with his first two (three, or four) disciples toward the end of the first chapter (vv. 35-42; italics original; 21)

Later, in the Historical Interpretation section, which, incidentally, I find to be worth the price of the volume alone, Bruner urges caution concerning his interpretation. He writes: " I have not found many or, really any commentators who see two Johns in our paragraph (John the Baptist and John the Evangelist), and so I advise caution in adopting my surmise" (49). This sort of humility is but just one example of Bruner's posture before the text and the history of interpretation, and should be ours as well.

Second, Bruner's prose at times is breathtaking. I find myself reading out loud to my wife at some of his more profound excerpts. Take the example of John 1:18d ("He is the One who [came down and] explained [God])," which Bruner labels "The Classic Interpretation of God." He writes:

The Greek word for "explained," it will be noticed, is the root of the English word 'exegeted,' which means 'interpreted.' Exegesis is the science of the interpretation of texts. Jesus of Nazareth is the invisible God's authorized exegete and exegesis, God's authorized self-interpretation and self-explanation. As we know, a biography is the story of the life of a person by another person; an autobiography, on the other hand, is a person's self-explanation and self-interpretation. Jesus, the eternal Word of God in the flesh, is God's Autobiography. We would love to know what God is and who God is and what God thinks, wants, does, and is like. Jesus explains. 'God the Only Son' exegetes (italics original; 40).

Again, this is a small sampling of some of the hallmarks I have found in this work so far, namely, humility, great writing, and profound insight.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Danny Zacharias' New Site

Hey folks!

I would like to draw your attention to a really useful site by Danny Zacharias entitled, NT Greek Resources. Many of you might remember the interview I did with Danny on his Singing Grammarian. For those, like me, who believe the best way to learn Greek or any language for that matter, is to use all of your senses, Singing Grammarian is definitely a step in the right direction.

Anyway, getting back to Danny's site, you will find a one-stop shop for all your Greek needs here. Danny has developed some tools that look very promising to not only the beginning student but to the more advanced as well. I personally cannot wait until his parsing program is available on Android!

Do yourselves a huge favor, check out his site, peruse around, and then, purchase something!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bruner's The Gospel of John: Initial Impressions

I have never bemoaned the fact that commentaries are so plentiful, that they have become a mere rehashing of other commentaries and commentators. I find that many commentaries seek to offer, if not something entirely new, at least something from a different angle. This is often due to the differing formats of commentary series based on what sort of audience they want to target (lay, student, scholarly, etc.). So, you will hear no complaints from me regarding the commentary genre on this score. This is not say that all commentaries are created equal; there are obviously some that are considered classics in their field.

Frederick Dale Bruner's The Gospel of John: A Commentary, steps into what is quite possibly, the most commentated biblical book and the one with probably the most classics, John's Gospel (along with Romans). While it is much too early in my reading, and in the reading of others, to speculate on what Bruner's John's legacy will be, I would like to offer a few, brief, observations on my early stages of reading his work (less than twenty pages in...).

First, I will begin with the format. I confess, I do not own Bruner's two-volume Matthew commentary, so I am not aware of how he lays out his approach there, but I find, his approach eminently sensible and helpful. First, Bruner provides his own translation of the Greek text, sometimes adopting a contemporary major English translation such as The Message in John 1.14: "And the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood..." Second, Bruner's introduction to each section invites the reader to hear some of the most provocative and pithy comments made by commentators on that particular section of John throughout history. For instance, in his intro to John 1.1-2, Bruner includes this gem from C.K. Barrett: "The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous" (John, 2d ed., 156, quoted on Bruner, Gospel of John, 10). Third, Bruner provides his own interpretation of the passages under examination. Here, one encounters a gifted writer. I am reminded of the prose of Eugene Peterson while I'm reading Bruner. For me, this is high praise, as I consider Peterson, along with N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight three of my favorite writers. A good example of Bruner's writing ability can be seen in his comments on John 1.3, which read, in part:

"...If we had a microscope powerful enough to see the most minute entities in creation, imagination suggests, we might detect on them something like the imprint--'Made by J.C.' In fact, I  believe our text is trying to tell us that all creation--including what is most internal to us--has the imprint, the shape, the mark of the Son upon it. It is the large claim of the Gopel in its totality that all human 'beings' in particular come from this Person (in creation), are sustained by him (in life), and will come to (in judgment) the Sovereign, Sacrificial, Risen Christ, who is God the Father's Creative Word and Eternal Son" (16; italics original)
Fourth, and very valuable is Bruner's Historical Interpretation section. Here the reader encounters what commentators have said throughout history on John's Gospel. This is done on a section-by-section basis. Bruner is to be commended for choosing his conversation partners wisely. Here, the reader will encounter: St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Bengel, Meyer, Godet, Wescott, Barrett, Brown, Bultmann, Hoskyns, and Schnackenburg.  What I enjoy about these sections is in addition to some quotations from this commentators, Bruner also seeks to summarize their views on these particular sections.

I will be commenting more on this. I may even do a series of posts on Bruner's work, as I am finding it a delight to read thus far.

(P.S. Many thanks to the good folk at Eerdmans for this review copy. To purchase click here)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stone-Campbell Journal Conference: A Sketch of My Weekend

I had the privilege of participating in this past weekend's Stone Campbell Journal Conference at Lincoln Christian University over this past weekend (Apr. 13-14). I delivered a paper in the session  Mark's Gospel in Mediterranean Context on the subject of Jesus' sighs in Mark 7.34; 8.12. I essentially argued for the difference b/t the two sighs being one of compassion in 7.34 and one of distress in 8.12. I was able to garner some good, positive feedback during the Q&A, and also meet some great people along the way, some whom I only had the chance to chat with on Facebook until this weekend!

Other highlights for me included: Sitting in on the session concerning David Watson's important monograph,Honor Among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret, as both the respondents and the author included many penetrating insights into the work; meeting Anthony LeDonne and Rafael Rodriguez for the first time, two bright Historical Jesus scholars working in social memory theory, as well as Chris Keith, whom I finally met in person, after a few months of digital correspondence. It was with Chris that I had a great conversation with about my future plans, and I look forward to more.

I would be remiss, if I failed to mention the forthcoming conference that will feature the three gentleman mentioned above as well as scholars named Goodacre, Allison and McKnight! Click here to see more on that.

Other highlights included finally meeting another online friend in David J. Stark, whom recently finished his PhD at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under Andreas Kostenberger, and meeting with Barry Blackburn, who was very encouraging of my work and my future.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Book Haul

Here is what I picked up @ the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference. A lot of Temple, a lot of Mark...

Friday, April 6, 2012

SBL Paper Accepted!

I am delighted to announce that my very first SBL paper proposal has been accepted by the Markan Literary Source Group! It is entitled, "Of Kings and Mark: A Case of Mimesis in the Second Gospel," where I explore the possibilities that Mark 5:21-43 has been crafted after the narrative found in 2 Kings 4:18-37. Since I had to submit the paper in full, I have yet to write an abstract, but when I do, I will post it on this blog. The inspiration began when I posted this blog entry here, and continued when I had the opportunity to read Adam Winn's recent work on the Elijah-Elisha cycle in Mark's Gospel.  Further encouragement came from Adam himself, who urged me to explore my post further and invited me to turn a paper into him concerning this matter.

I am excited, honored, and humbled to be presenting at SBL annual. It's kind of a nerdy dream come true, actually! And to think, it is being held in the city I have always wanted to visit. Here I come Chi-Town!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Notice: The Church's Bible: Romans

One of the recent, helpful trends in scholarship are the recent spate of commentaries that mine patristic commentators insights. In this vein, Eerdmans has produced The Church's Bible: Interpreted by Early and Medieval Commentators. Thus far, four editions have appeared, and the most recent, Romans, is available now. I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy in my mailbox yesterday! So here are some initial impressions.

1) I love the layout! Series Editor, Robert Louis Wilken is to be commended for this commentary's ease of use.  Each section resembles the general layout of commentaries. First, the unit of scripture is demarcated, e.g. Romans 1:1-7, followed by the comments of some of the first and most important commentators in the history of interpretation, i.e., Augustine, John Chrysotom, etc.)

2) I believe the translator and editor of this volume, J. Patout Burns Jr. has wisely chosen his conversation partners. It would be impossible to include every comment made by every ancient commentator, but Burns Jr. has managed to choose his well. The reader will quickly find that figures such as, Origen , Augustine, Chrysotom, Ambrosiaster, Theodoret, Pelagius, are the  ancient conversation partners on the text of Romans.

3) A corollary to the above point is that only the best of translations was used in the making of this volume.  Critical editions of Origen and Cyril of Alexandria were included, along with many other translations provided by other translators, experts in their fields, who contributed to this project (xi).

4) I can definitely see this project being a boon to preachers and students alike. It demonstrates that our interpretations do not occur in a vacuum, and values the ancient voices and minds that have interpreted the text well before any of us came along!

5) I'll leave you with one example, here is what Augustine states about Romans 1:2 (...which he promised through his prophets in the holy scriptures...): "He says through his holy prophets, but then immediately adds, in the holy scriptures, lest false prophets seduce anyone into impiety by accidentally announcing the truth. He intended to indicate clearly that the literature of the nations, filled as it is with superstitious idolatry, should not be considered holy just because a few references to Christ can be found in it" (17, bold face original).