Friday, January 30, 2015

Fridays with Fee: Part I

Gordon Fee (image created by Matthew D. Montonini)
Last week, I introduced a series, "Fridays with Fee," in which I will be working through Gordon Fee's classic commentary, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, now in revised form (Eerdmans).

One of the sparkling features of this commentary is the sense in which the reader is captured by the drama unfolding in the letter known to us as First Corinthians. Fee is adept at walking the reader through step-by-step through each section, each verse, each significant Greek word (as well as the more technical footnotes on variants and the like), enabling a reading that sees the forest through the trees.

It is truly remarkable and fitting that Fee's wisdom is on full display in these 900 plus pages, due to the theme of wisdom that is the hallmark of this Pauline letter. Without further ado, I'd like to share some of Fee's quotables on various verses I was able to read up on this week.

1Cor 1:20d: "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"

...The cross is foolishness to the perishing(v.18), but by means of it God has himself thereby rendered as foolish the world's wisdom, wisdom that belongs merely to the sphere of human self-sufficiency. God has not simply made such wisdom appear foolish; by means of the cross God has actually turned the tables on such wisdom altogether, so that it has been made into its very opposite--foolishness (75).
1 Cor 1:21: "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."

Paul asserts that is was within the province of God's own wisdom that things have been so arranged. He does not explain how so here, but the reason seems clear. A God discovered by human wisdom will be both a projection of human falleness and a source of human pride, and this constitutes the worship of the creature, not the Creator. The gods of the 'wise' are seldom gracious to the undeserving, and they tend to make considerable demands in the ability of people to understand them; hence they become gods only for the elite and 'deserving' (76).
1 Cor 1:25: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

In the cross God 'outsmarted' his human creatures and thereby nullified their wisdom. In the same cross God also 'overpowered' his enemies, with lavish grace and forgiveness, and thereby divested them of their strength.
Thus played out before human eyes is the scandalous and contradictory wisdom of God. Had God consulted us for wisdom we could have given him a more workable plan, something that would attract the sign-seeker and the lover of wisdom. As it is, in God's own wisdom we were left out of the consultation. We are thus also left with the awful risk: trust God and be saved by his wise folly, or keep up our pretensions and perish. Better the former, because this 'weakness of God is stronger than [human] strength'; it accomplishes that which all human pretensions cannot do. It brings one into 'fellowship with God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (v.9; 81).
1Cor 1:26: "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth."

...sociology is not Paul's concern; his is theological, and he is capitalizing on the less-than-pretentious social standing of the majority--which at the same time may have had philosophical overtones--to make his point, What Celsus saw as the shame of Christianity, Paul saw as its greater glory. By bringing 'good news to the poor' through his Son, God has forever aligned himself with the disenfranchised; at the same time we have played out before our eyes God's own overthrow of the world's standards. Every middle-class or upper-class domestication of the gospel is therefore a betrayal of that gospel (86).
1 Cor 2:4: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power."
 ...the purpose of the Spirit's coming was not to transport one above the present age, but to empower one to live within it (101).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fridays with Fee: Introduction

Gordon Fee's The First Epistle to the Corinthians, is one such work that deserves its pearl status. First published in 1987, Fee's work has become indispensable, enjoying the rare status of timelessness that few works enjoy. The only knock against older works that achieve this status are usually due to the fact that they are considered dated and are not abreast of the massive proliferation of secondary literature that has been produced since the publication of the work. To remedy this situation, Fee has provided a service to all students and scholars of 1 Corinthians by updating his classic. The content remains virtually the same, but Fee now interacts with 164 total works in the twenty-five-plus years since its initial publication.

What I aim to do over the intervening weeks is to write a series of posts entitled "Fridays with Fee," as I make way through Fee's commentary. I do not know exactly the exact form these posts will take, but they will probably reflect impressions that I had while reading through the various sections. For now, I will end this post with some Fee quotables:

Although they were the Christian church in Corinth, an inordinate amount of Corinth was yet in them, emerging in a number of attitudes and behaviors that required radical surgery without killing the patient. This is what this letter attempts to do -Gordon Fee;(The First Epistle to the Corinthians; rev.ed), 4.

 To delight in God for God's working in the lives of others, even in the lives of those whom one feels compelled to disagree, is sure evidence of one's own awareness of being the recipient of God's mercies. So it was with Paul. The self-sufficient are scarcely so disposed - Gordon Fee on 1 Cor 1:4; (The First Epistle to the Corinthians; rev.ed.), 35.

Monday, January 19, 2015

James Swetnam's Online Commentary on Hebrews

I am sure I am a bit late in noticing this, but Rev. James Swetnam, S.J., Professor Emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and one of the leading scholars on the Epistle to the Hebrews, having studied it for over 50 years, has produced an online commentary on the epistle over at his website,  James Swetnam's Close Readings. At a bit over 200 pages, he spends most of his time on the text proper, providing an invaluable resource for students of the enigmatic epistle.

By my rough count, Swetnam has produced 37 articles on Hebrews alone, to go along with hundreds of other publications. His dissertation, Jesus and Isaac: A Study of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Light of the Aqedah (Analecta Biblica, 94; Rome, Biblical Institute Press, 1981), was written under the supervision of Morna Hooker. Enjoy the rare treat of a free publication from a master scholar.

Anthony Thiselton's New AutoBiography: A Brief Review and Commendation

Anthony Thiselton
Anthony Thiselton, Emeritus Canon Professor of Christian Theology in the University of Nottingham, has penned a brief, yet remarkable autobiography, A Lifetime in the Church and the University (Cascade Books).

Thiselton's life story is fascinating and is marked by what he deems "the providence of  God" (i.e. the miraculous; italics original, 1; et passim), The book is also peppered by wisdom and a wry sense of humor.  In short, Thiselton's autobiography, a brief 114 pages, is a captivating and quick read, well worth the time spent.

On such example of the providence of God at work in Thisleton's life was when he was studying for his university London BD degree. Thiselton, who had poor eyesight from childhood on, was brought before a Church Selection Board, which would advise bishops if he was fit for ordination. Thiselton was informed that he failed his medical exam. The bishop said to him, "The specialist says that you will never be able to read enough books to exercise a useful parish ministry" (4). After Thiselton objected, noting that he passed both his Hebrew and Greek exams, and noted some of the books he read, the bishop decided to tear up the report of his medical exam.

One item from Thiselton's well of wisdom is where Thiselton discusses his forthcoming work Discovering Romans (SPCK/Eerdmans) and the viability of producing yet another book on Romans, an overcrowded field to be sure. Thiselton remarks:
As was the case in writing on 1 Corinthians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Rosemary (Thiselton's wife) wondered how I could hope to say anything genuinely new about Romans when so many had already worked on it as commentators, even in previous generations. The answer is easy. First, each new commentary assimilates what is best in others, and seeks to build on this. Second, it is easy to find neglected areas (112).
Thiselton goes on to add five new interpretive approaches he will be bringing to Paul's most famous letter.

As I mentioned above, Thiselton's story also includes humorous tidbits throughout. One such story was during his curacy in South East London (1960-1963). Thiselton notes that he accepted an invitation to preach in another parish on behalf of the Church Pastoral Aid Society. It was during this occasion that Thiselton received his worst comment regarding one of his sermons:

I had meant to explain the word pastoral, by trying to illustrate this from the Parable of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep. I must have been an enormously bad communicator. For one lady commented at the door, 'Thank you so much. I have been waiting for years to hear a sermon about the need to be kind to animals; at last you have given it!' (17; italics original).
Many other such examples could be given regarding Thisleton's striking little book. I could not help but be inspired by his example after reading this; I suggest you do the same.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tribute to Gordon Fee

At last year's Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego, The Society for Penecostal Studies took the opportunity to honor one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the last half of the twentieth century in Gordon Fee.

Regent Audio is now offering the mp3 of that session for free. Click here to get it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Richard Bauckham's Gospel of Glory

An embarrassment of riches awaits students of the Fourth Gospel as a proliferation of excellent secondary literature continues to be published at a rapid clip. In particular, many excellent introductions to the Fourth Gospel already exist (see Brown [Moloney], Kysar, Anderson, Köstenberger, etc.), with more on the way (Skinner [Reading John; Cascade; forthcoming]). One of these anticipated arrivals, Richard Bauckham's Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Baker Academic), will be a must have for any serious student of John's Gospel. Undoubtedly, the volume will give readers a sneak preview of the author's highly anticipated commentary on John for the NIGTC series. Due in August, and weighing in at 240 pp ($24.99), Bauckham provides an overview of the relevant themes unique to this Gospel.

Here are the particulars:

Throughout Christian history, the Gospel of John's distinctive way of presenting the life, works, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus have earned it labels such as "the spiritual Gospel" and "the maverick Gospel." It has been seen as the most theological of the four canonical Gospels. In this volume Richard Bauckham, a leading biblical scholar and a bestselling author in the academy, illuminates main theological themes of the Gospel of John. Bauckham provides insightful analysis of key texts, covering topics such as divine and human community, God's glory, the cross and the resurrection, and the sacraments. This work will serve as an ideal supplemental text for professors and students in a course on John or the four Gospels. It will also be of interest to New Testament scholars and theologians.

 Contents:  Introduction/Preface 1. "Individualism" 2. Divine and Human Community 3. Glory 4. Cross, Resurrection, and Exaltation 5. Sacraments? 6. Dualisms 7. Dimensions of Meaning in the Gospel's First Week 8. The Four Gospels and the "Real" Jesus Indexes

Friday, January 9, 2015

Bruce Metzger Centennial Audio/Video

Bruce M. Metzger 1914-2007
Bruce M. Metzger, one of the foremost textual critics and New Testament scholars of the 20th century, taught at Princeton Theological Seminary for over forty years. When the centennial of his birth was celebrated at Princeton last year, Michael Holmes, one of Metzger's former PhD students and currently University Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, gave a lecture about Metzger's life and career during the centennial celebrations.
Michael Holmes

Holmes lecture last April, is very informative and full of wonderful anecdotes about his beloved Docktorvater.

Click here to access both audio/video of the event.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tom Schreiner on Hebrews

Tom Schreiner
With the proliferation of commentaries and their series at an all-time high, it is becoming more important for publishers to have a distinctive approach when it comes to their production.

Broadman & Holman is entering into the crowded field of the commentary genre with such an approach called the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation (BTCP). The series mission statement in part reads:

...explores the theology of the Bible in considerable depth, spanning both Testaments. Authors come from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, though all affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. United in their high view of Scripture, and in their belief in the underlying unity of Scripture, which is ultimately grounded in the unity of God himself, each author explores the contribution of a given book or group of books to the theology of Scripture as a whole. While conceived as stand-alone volumes, each volume thus also makes a contribution to the larger whole. All volumes provide a discussion of introductory matters, including the historical setting and the literary structure of a given book of Scripture. Also included is an exegetical treatment of all the relevant passages in succinct commentary-style format. The biblical theology approach of the series will also inform and play a role in the commentary proper. The commentator permits a discussion between the commentary proper and the biblical theology that it reflects by a series of cross-references.The major contribution of each volume, however, is a thorough discussion of the most important themes of the biblical book in relation to the canon as a whole. This format allows each contributor to ground Biblical Theology, as is proper, in an appropriate appraisal of the relevant historical and literary features of a particular book in Scripture while at the same time focusing on its major theological contribution to the entire Christian canon in the context of the larger salvation-historical metanarrative of Scripture. Within this overall format, there will be room for each individual contributor to explore the major themes of his or her particular corpus in the way he or she sees most appropriate for the material under consideration.This format, in itself, would already be a valuable contribution to Biblical Theology. But there are other series that try to accomplish a survey of the Bible’s theology as well. What distinguishes the present series is its orientation toward Christian proclamation. This is the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation commentary series! As a result, the ultimate purpose of this set of volumes is not exclusively, or even primarily, academic. Rather, we seek to relate Biblical Theology to our own lives and to the life of the church. Our desire is to equip those in Christian ministry who are called by God to preach and teach the precious truths of Scripture to their congregations, both in North America and in a global context.

For their inaugural volume,  the BTCP turns to the capable hands of Tom Schreiner,James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology; Associate Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Known for his scholarship on Paul, and in particular his commentaries on Romans and Galatians, Schreiner dives into the deep theological waters of Hebrews to kickstart the series. Schreiner comments:

The words of Jesus on the cross, ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30) capture the theology of Hebrews.My aim in this commentary is to focus on the biblical theology of the letter. The emphasis on biblical theology shows up especially in the introduction and conclusion where theological structures and themes are considered. In the introduction I will examine four different structures that are woven into the entire letter: 1) promise/fulfillment; 2) eschatology; 3) typology; and 4) spatial orientation (which can also be described as the relationship between heaven and earth in the letter). The commentary will conclude, after presenting an exegesis of each chapter, with a discussion of some major theological themes in Hebrews. 
Most modern commentaries consist of significant introductions and then conduct an intensive exegesis of the text, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. By way of contrast, the introduction and the commentary are relatively brief and non-technical. With the proliferation of commentaries today, a new commentary should have a distinctive approach. We now have many excellent commentaries on Hebrews which examine the letter in some detail. Many of these commentaries provide a useful function in that they draw on other parallels from both Jewish and Hellenistic literature to illuminate Hebrews. The advantage of such an approach is that the reader is plunged into the cultural world of the author. On the other hand, the careful sifting of various traditions may cause the reader to lose track of the argument of the letter. At the same time, the theology of the author may be muted, not because it isn’t recognized but because it may be difficult to follow in the welter of information given to readers. I hope a commentary that probes the theology of Hebrews will prove to be helpful. I have been helped by many scholars in preparing this commentary, especially those who have written in depth commentaries and those who have written monographs on the letter. No one writes from an objective standpoint, and hence I should state up front that I write as an evangelical Christian who believes that the scriptures are the living and authoritative word of God.
The commentary will be released in February, retail at $39.99, and weigh in at a hefty 560 pp. Meanwhile, one can read an excerpt here .

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

E.A. Judge on the Examined Life

Edwin A. Judge, the great scholar of early Christianity, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, had some wonderful words of wisdom regarding the topic of identity. This interview was conducted by CPX three years ago. Consider this a daily dose of wisdom from a great man:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis: An Interview with Moisés Silva:

Recently, I had the distinct privilege to interview one of the premier New Testament scholars and linguists, Moisés Silva, on his monumental revision of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) with The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE).

Without further ado, on to the interview:

Moisés Silva

1. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE) is the successor to the highly successful New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT). Talk about the need for updating this reference work and the reason for the name change.

Since this work’s initial publication, a whole generation of scholarship has left its mark on our knowledge of the NT language and message. In addition to the obvious need for updating bibliographical data, it was important to take advantage of new English translations and of progress in several fields related to NT studies. Because the changes were so substantial (including the restructuring of the material on an alphabetical basis), a new title seemed appropriate; the name we chose is meant to suggest a certain affinity between this work and the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. 

 2. Over eight years in the making, what were some of the biggest challenges faced in a work this scope and size?

 Rather than produce a completely new work from scratch, we wanted to maintain a genuine continuity with the first edition while at the same time introducing changes that were necessary (or sometimes simply valuable). The tension between these two goals was indeed challenging. Inevitably, some readers will regret that we deleted or substantially modified as much material as we did; others will be disappointed that many passages received little editing or that certain new publications or proposals were not included. But we believe that most users will appreciate the resulting balance. Another significant challenge was the unevenness of the material from article to article. Some of the original contributors, for example, included a flood of references to classical literature, whereas others were satisfied with very brief summaries of extrabiblical usage. Some paid little or no attention to LXX lexicography, while others sought to point out every single Hebrew-Greek equivalence. And so on. These discrepancies made it difficult for readers to compare the usage of semantically related terms. In the process of revision, therefore, much effort was expended in bringing greater consistency to the material.

 3. In the NIDNNT, 144 scholars contributed to the series. Was there any consideration of employing a similar approach to the NIDNTTE, and what were the reasons to take a different approach?

 If the goal had been to produce a wholly new work, it would have been necessary to enlist the help of many new contributors. The success of the first edition, however, demonstrated that the basic contents of NIDNTT continued to be useful and that readers would be best served by making adjustments to what had already been accomplished. Moreover, most of the revisions envisioned (such as the need for consistency mentioned above) required a uniform approach -- something very difficult to achieve if many hands were modifying different articles.

 4. Many of the new features are very helpful. One of the most useful is the “List of Concepts.” In your estimation, how does this feature mark a major improvement over the prior edition?

The first edition had grouped the terms according to concepts, and so the decision to reorganize the articles according to the Greek alphabet made necessary the production of the List of Concepts (a labor-intensive, time-consuming process). But such a list made it possible now to enhance this aspect of the work well beyond what the original work had envisioned. Users who are willing to spend time exploiting this treasure trove of semantic relationships will find their understanding of the NT Greek vocabulary greatly enriched.

 5. How did reference tools such as the TLG (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae) enrich the entries for these volumes?

 Without the TLG and other electronic resources (esp. BibleWorks), it simply would not have been feasible (within the lifetime of the revising editor!) to gather in organized fashion the large amounts of data needed to make the intended revisions. Moreover, the TLG made it possible to double-check quickly (and correct) numerous references to extrabiblical literature.

 6. I noticed that your entry for λόγος is over forty pages long (3: 127-170). In your estimation, what are the top five most essential words in the NT?

It is doubtful anyone can give a proper answer to that question, but there are some obvious ones that would be on anyone’s list, such as θεός, Χριστός, πνεῦμα, νόμος, δίκαιος-δικαιοσύνη, πίστις-πιστεύω, χάρις, etc.

 7. The NIDNTTE is a gold mine from which the student, scholar, and pastor can all benefit. What are some of the ways these volumes can help the pastor prep for a sermon or a student for an exegetical paper? 

 Perhaps the best way to respond is to refer your readers to a booklet put together by Zondervan’s team precisely to address this question:

 8. The NIDNTT had a rich legacy spanning nearly forty years. Are you hopeful that the NIDNTTE will have a similar impact? 


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The CEB Study Bible: A Brief Review

Some time back I received a copy of the Common English Bible (CEB) Study Bible. I have had the pleasure of owning many study Bibles like the NLT, ESV, NAB, NIV, NRSV, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.  The CEB may not contain some of the bells and whistles that some of the others do, but what it lacks in flash, it more than makes up for in content.

First, the CEB Study Bible utilizes the services of sixty-two contributors. This number reflects the edition that contains the Apocrypha, another unique feature that is absent in many of the ones I listed above (e.g. NLT, ESV, NIV). As expected, many of the names are very recognizable in the field of biblical studies, but what impressed me more were the names that were not as recognizable. This shows the editorship, lead by Joel Green, did their homework, finding and giving opportunities to a diverse array of scholars whom they felt were deserving to have their voices heard.

Not unique to the CEB, but a feature that was well conceived and executed were the various sidebar articles that get more extensive treatment than the study notes proper. By my count, (I had the edition that contained the Old & New Testaments) 253 sidebar articles appear, spread across 66 canonical books, or nearly four sidebars per book. So, for instance, the bizarre image of the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1:5ff. has a sidebar article called "The Living Creatures." John T. Strong, author of the Ezekiel study notes, provides some helpful information about various archaeological evidence that depicted similar imagery of a god enthroned, surrounded by creatures, giving the reader helpful context in what or whom this imagery represents (1319, OT).

My favorite area of study currently is the Gospel of John, and I was delighted to see one of my favorite scholars, J. Ramsey Michaels, author of the magisterial commentary by the same name in the NICNT series, as the author of the study notes. In fact, one can say that Michaels' contribution is a bite-size version (pp. 167-213, NT) of his massive NICNT contribution (1,094 pp.). Ramsey's introduction is brief and to the point (167-168), covering authorship, differences and similarities to the Synoptics, unique features of the Fourth Gospel, highlighting distinctive Johannine stylistic themes that appear repeatedly throughout the narrative. An outline, identical to the one contained in his commentary is featured, marked by Ramsey's unique emphasis on the "Preamble" (1:1-5) within the Prologue (1:1-18). Included in these notes is a wonderful sidebar, "The Stoning That Doesn't Happen" (187, NT). This sidebar is the bracketed episode of the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11). Many are aware that this episode does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, but has been retained, albeit in brackets, by the CEB. What makes Ramsey's article interesting, much like his comments in his commentary, is he discusses what the episode contributes by keeping it in the narrative, as well as how the narrative reads without the episode.

Much more could and should be said about the CEB Study Bible. Along with the NRSV Study Bible, it is now first off my shelf for consulting and reading. There is a wealth of information in these pages, and the editors deserve a hearty, "Congratulations" on a job well done.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Henry J. Cadbury on the Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek

Sifting through some of the offprints I was blessed to inherit from Ed Freed, I began to read one from his doktorvater, Henry J. Cadbury. The article, "Motives in Biblical Scholarship," was printed in the Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 56.1 (1937): 1-16. The article was actually Cadbury's Presidential Address delivered at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting, December 29, 1936 at Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
Henry J. Cadbury (1883-1974)

What struck my interest was a comment that Cadbury makes in relation to shifting trends in the training of ministers. He writes:

I can recall George Foot Moore, who was no conniver at ignorance, explaining apparently without regret the modern trend away from Hebrew and Greek in the training of ministers. The study of these languages, he said, had been justified and required a generation or two ago on the conviction that divine revelation had been made in those tongues, and that no one whose business it was to interpret that revelation could do so successfully if he could not read it in the original. But modern liberal protestantism had abandoned that assumption. There was accordingly less need for first acquaintance, which had often been in practice a bowing acquaintance, with pi'el and pu'al, with εἰς and ἐν and all the refinements of grammar so dear to the older theologians (4-5).

Remember this quote comes from an address nearly 80 years old. It is indeed striking how cyclical trends of this kind keep reappearing. Any curriculum that eschews the biblical languages in the training of its ministers, is a poor one indeed.

Ed Freed's Tribute to Raymond E. Brown

When I visited with Ed Freed November 29, 2014, he was eager to tell me some of the stories about people who influenced his scholarly career. I interjected during the conversation that I had authored a website dedicated to Raymond E. Brown. When I said this, Ed's eyes sparkled and he proceeded to tell me about his lifelong friendship with Ray and how it all began.

Edwin D. Freed (1920-2014)
Fortunately for me, Ed also recounts his initial encounter with Father Ray in his From Small Town Boy to Biblical Scholar: Edwin Dreese Freed: An Autobiography: With Ann Freed: A Life of Friendships, ed., Jane S. Kessler, printed locally, 2014 (141-142). I have included this account on the "Recollections of Ray" Page here.