Sunday, August 6, 2017

Don't Fake Your Greek

An Adventist satire page has a post about a pastor getting fired from a church for making things up with Greek. It could have been funnier I suppose. Next time they should write me and I can draw one up for them. We needed a little more of the story. But isn't it true how some pastors love to tell people about their knowledge of Greek; they love to put those skills on display. When digging a foundation for their sermon, they choose to rest it on nothing less than the Greek text. The problem is this: Few ever really check whether the foundation is really there. "Pastor says it, therefore it must be true." I suppose this is, for me, one of the strongest reasons why every Christian ought to study Greek for his or herself and gain a knowledge of it that allows them to spot "fake Greek." Recently I heard another reference to that agape love that Jesus has for people––that divine love and selfless. I'm surprised we hear references to agape like that today. Every pastor and every teacher of the Scriptures ought to have read Don Carson's Exegetical Fallacies. And if someone isn't set straight on the fallacy of agape love statements we hear in churches, then there's a problem. It's just too basic.

A better rule of thumb is to opt to not use Greek in any way, shape, or form during the act of teaching. Better to just explain the text, folks. That's all we're called to do as teachers. What does the text mean? And we can do that just fine without telling people what the Greek word is.

A Snapshot Of A New Greek Grammar By Richard Gibson And Con Campbell

Jeremy Bouma has a snapshot of Con Campbell's new Greek grammar, co-authored with Richard Gibson, over at the Zondervan Academic blog. You can read about it here. I appreciate the lists. Can you imagine getting something delivered to your house that required assembly and yet there were no step-by-step instructions? Maybe you're like me and an example (or three) immediately comes to mind. Well, you know what I mean. Lists are helpful when you're trying to learn how to do something. We can deviate from those lists as we get more comfortable with what it is we're doing (e.g., word studies or translating a sentence), but in the beginning it really is helpful.

I haven't seen the book yet. I will shortly. A journal has asked me to write a review of it. And so it should be coming in the mail soon. I'm sure I'll have some praise and some hesitation. I always do. The only book we ought to agree with entirely is the Bible. But I think this book is going to have a lot of strengths. And from what I see so far––and hope is the case––it looks like a very practical text.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Carl Sanders' "Biblical Language Instruction By The Book"

If you would have asked someone forty years ago to describe the "statistics" class of the future, I'm sure it would have been hard to imagine a world with SAS/STAT software. Most of the statistics profs would have scoffed at the idea of a classroom incorporating technology like that. The purists out there would have ridiculed it as a cheapening of the real thing, a watered down version, a stats class that was not even a stats class. But, my friends, there would have been some other people out there, the ones who could look to the horizon and see beyond, the ones who could imagine a classroom that leveraged what innovation had afforded them in order to make stat courses better for everyone, not just for the Gertrude Cox's of the world. And, as it would happen, these individuals would be the ones who shaped statistics education for the next thirty years (and beyond).

My friend Carl Sanders has written a paper that in my opinion echoes the calls of the 1990s for a "new pedagogy" in the field of statistics. Carl, though, is calling for a new pedagogy when it comes to the teaching of biblical languages. The article is now published in Teaching Theology and Religion 20:3 (July 2017): 216–229. You can find the abstract and other information here.

Should you read it? –Yes. What if you don't have TTR? ––Order it, or request it via inter-library loan. This one is a must read. You might spill your coffee as you disagree vehemently, but read it all the way through. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe there's no evidence to back up a task-based approach to teaching the biblical languages. Maybe. But maybe there's none to back up grammar-translation either. Most of the people I ask who had Greek, even as early as a year ago, can't do a smidgen of what they were told they would be able to do "after this course." It's true: Students own a lot of the responsibility for not getting their Greek, not keeping it all, or altogether losing it in the months and years that follow their final course. But there's a big question that is often never asked: What skills that have a direct impact on ministry are developed and acquired in each language course? Language professors often––so often––tie exegesis to the third or fourth course in a sequence of language courses (e.g., Greek III/IV). Here's the problem though: Most students only take the "required" language courses, if any at all. And if exegetical skills are the focus of those later courses, you're not cultivating skills that make a difference in the lives of most of the students. That's a major problem. And even then, many of the third or fourth semester language courses are just beefed up grammar-translation courses.

Is it time for a rethink? I think so. Carl thinks so. Some others have told us they think so too. But what say you?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

First-Century Letters Discovered

My friend Carl Sanders forwarded me a link to an interesting article over at the Daily Mail. It discusses the discovery of twenty-five letters written in Greek in the first century. They were found near Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. You can read more here. Looks like we'll have to wait at least a few months (probably more) before we get more of the content.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Colossians 2:14 And The Certificate Of Debt

Certificate of debt? Record of debt? Debt? Written code? Handwritten certificate? Etc. What exactly did Jesus "cancel out"? What was it that Paul says was hostile against us? When we talk about this word as we are teaching through this passage, what should we emphasize and what should we not emphasize?

I wanted to show you what some people have written in the commentaries concerning this word.

John MacArthur writes: "Certificate of debt translates cheirographos, which literally means 'something written with the hand,' or 'an autograph.' It was used to refer to a certificate of indebtedness handwritten by the debtor in acknowledgement of his debt" (Colossians and Philemon, 112)

Richard Melick writes: "Literally, the handwriting is a certificate of indebtedness written in one's own hand. Taken this way, this means that there is a pronouncement that the personal note which testifies against us is canceled" (Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, NAC, 263).

Allan Bevere writes: "Several different interpretations have been given by scholars: a certificate of debt, a heavenly book of deeds, and the Mosaic law...[I]t is my contention that the χειρόγραφον refers to the Mosaic law...I simply want to make a couple of internal arguments from the text of Colossians itself to support this view. To my knowledge it has not been noticed by commentators that there may be a play on words taking place in ch. 2 between ἀχειροποιήτῷ (2.11) and χειρόγραφον (2.14). The believer in Christ has been circumcised with περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳ which means, implicitly, among other things, that a circumcision 'done with hands' is no longer essential because the 'hand-written document' which requires such circumcision has been erased in the cross of Christ. This would, of course, make the χειρόγραφον a reference to the law of Moses...[Referring to τοῖς δόγμασιν,] the law was known as 'decrees' and 'regulations' in the Judaism of the first century" (Sharing in the Inheritance: Identity and the Moral Life in Colossians, 139-140).

Murray Harris writes: "A χειρόγραφον (-ου, τό) was a handwritten document or note of any description, and in particular a signed certificate of debt in which the signature legalized the debt (cf. Phlm 18-19), a promissory note signed by the debtor...'certificate of indebtedness'...'bill of indictment'...'record of debt'...[The χειρόγραφον was] an accusation of guilt; it also constituted a threat of penalty because the human inability to discharge the debt" (Colossians and Philemon, 96).

Jerry Sumney points out that this word appears nowhere else in the New Testament (Colossians: A Commentary, 146).

Daniel Durken writes: "'The bond' is the legal document listing human failures. The image is like the slave with the impossible debt in Jesus' parable (Matt. 18:21-35)" (NCBC: New Testament, 644).

BDAG has this: "a hand-written document, specif. a certificate of indebtedness, account, record of debts."

The UBS has this: "record of one's debts."

Louw-Nida has this: "A handwritten statement, especially a record of financial accounts (similar in meaning to γράμμα 'account,' but perhaps with emphasis upon the handwritten nature of the document)."

N. Walter writes: "But the assumption that χειρόγραφον is being used in its literal, legal-technical sense for indebtedness also makes good sense here...[The readers] recognize, as it were 'by their own hand,' their own guilt as binding, since it exists according to norms (δόγματα) that they in this fear consider valid" (EDNT).

I didn't provide all of the commentaries, of course. And, I didn't quote them entirely on this section of Scripture. But, out of those quoted above (excluding BDAG and those below it), which author at least tries to wrestle with the word in its context? It doesn't mean he is right, but it does show us that exegesis, especially lexical exegesis, has to involve more than looking up a word in a dictionary.

Let me add this really fast...Some have said that this word "literally means" something written with the hand. With what then is a γράμμα written, or a γραφή? Feet? How far does this χειρ- need to be emphasized, if at all really? Be careful with defining a compound word based on the root meaning of its different parts (a+b=ab; instead of a+b=c).

I can't tell you how many people I have heard say something like, "This word is formed by the two words . . . meaning "hand" and "writing." Therefore, this is the "handwriting." Therefore, God wrote it himself . . . or something like that. This is crazy exegesis, and we should do better than woo people with stuff that is not built into the text. What is more important, folks? --A connection to "handwritten" or the fact that this is canceled out? I think some preacher/teachers get lost in the etymology and never get their people to understand that this is an image of debt being cancelled out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Read An Interview With Me On The Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog

Peter Gurry recently interviewed me for the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog (one of the best blogs in the world). You can read the interview by clicking here. Here are the questions Peter asked me:
1. I understand you have two doctorates, the first one in education (EdD) and the second in New Testament (PhD). Most people who teach New Testament in U.S. seminaries only have the second, so what led you to do both?
2. Can you tell us more about what you worked on at the Complutense University?
3. As you said, the biggest question about the NT portion has always been, ‘What Greek manuscripts did they use?’ Can you get us any closer to answering that question?
4. In hindsight, it seems obvious to work on the Complutensian Polyglot at the university where it was produced, but how did you come to that topic and that university?
5. If New Testament students know anything about the Complutensian Polyglot, it’s that it was the first printed Greek New Testament but not the first one published. That title is due, of course, to Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum omne (1516). What else do you wish New Testament students knew about the polyglot?
6. How many copies of the Complutensian Polyglot were printed and how many have you seen? Can you tell us about the volume that you found?
7. Recently, you’ve been presenting some provocative ideas about teaching Greek. What have we all being doing wrong in how we teach the language?
8. You did your PhD in Spain which is a bit unusual for an American-trained seminarian. Did you enjoy the experience and would you recommend it?
9. Can you tell us a bit more about Spanish New Testament scholarship today?
10. If you were to name your son after a famous textual critic, who would it be?
Peter, thank you for the opportunity to share my research with the ETC blog audience.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Presenting The Festschrift To David Alan Black

This morning, on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, we presented a volume of New Testament essays to David Alan Black. The campus was packed with visitors, students, staff, and faculty. Danny Akin explained the significance of a Festschrift and offered some very kind and ever true words regarding our honoree, among which were the following:
"He has challenged numerous students on the campus on Southeastern to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and he has inspired even more throughout the world to study the New Testament with a humble heart and with the greatest precision, which it deserves. I often tell people that Southeastern is a Great-Commission seminary and every classroom a Great-Commission classroom. That only happens when you have a faculty that is committed to the Great Commission. And David Alan Black is an example par excellence, having the sort of devotion that I hope to see in my own life and that of every graduate of Southeastern. His contributions to the field of New Testament studies are many, but they pale in comparison to the investment he has made (and continues to make) in people and seeing them come to know and love the one who gave his life for us on the cross."
Following those words, Danny invited Dave up to receive the Festschrift. After some hugs, placing the book in Dave's hands, and a moment to share some quick words of appreciation underneath the applause from the audience, Dave was invited to speak. Folks, I wish I could have recorded it. It was special. He thanked Harry Sturtz, Paige Patterson, and, most importantly, Becky Lynn Black.

Below are some pictures from the presentation. What a wonderful morning!

Dave, thank you for the huge investment you've made in my life and in the lives of so many others. May this Festschrift and the memory of this presentation day always be a reminder of the great appreciation we have for you and for your impact on the field of New Testament studies.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Announcing A Festschrift In Honor Of David Alan Black

I have the privilege and the pleasure of announcing a new book titled Getting into the Text: New Testament Essays in Honor of David Alan Black, which was recently published by Wipf and Stock. You can find the book on Amazon here and on the publisher's website here, and you can download the promotional flyer from the publisher here. The back cover reads as follows:
"David Alan Black has been one of the leading voices in New Testament studies over the last forty years. His contributions to Greek grammar, textual criticism, the Synoptic problem, the authorship of Hebrews, and many more have challenged scholars and students to get into the text of the New Testament like never before and to rethink the status quo based on all the evidence. The present volume consists of thirteen studies, written by some of Black’s colleagues, friends, and former students, on a number of New Testament topics in honor of his successful research and teaching career. Not only do they address issues that have garnered his attention over the years, they also extend the scholarly discussion with up-to-date research and fresh evaluations of the evidence, making this book a valuable contribution in itself to the field that Black has devoted himself to since he began his career."
I'll have more to share about the book––and the man it aims to honor––in the days ahead, but I wanted to let you know about it as soon as possible. Danny and I are so thankful to each of the contributors, and we trust you'll find much in this volume to reflect on as you get into the Text.

Hint: If you're in Wake Forest, North Carolina or its environs on Thursday, April 20th, you might want to head over to Southeastern for chapel (or tune in on the live stream here). That's all I'm saying . . .