Is Schreiner a Binitarian???

I just finished reading Thomas Schreiner’s new New Testament Theology (2008) which is a massive work of nearly a thousand pages.  At the same time, I was reading F. Matera’s new NT Theology and I must say that I liked Schreiner’s approach more.  S. chose a primarily topical approach (in contrast to Matera’s quasi-historical/canonical approach) which prioritizes a heilsgeschichtlich perspective and a covenantal framework.  All good.  One thing that Schreiner is insistent upon is the Trinitarian dimension of NT theology where the NT’s message is ‘God-focused, Christ-centered, and Spirit-saturated’; he explains: ‘God will receive all the glory for his work in Christ by the Spirit has he works out his purpose in redemptive history’ (p. 23).

I am all for that.

Interestingly, the subtitle of the book is: ‘Magnifying God in Christ’.  I beg the question: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HOLY SPIRIT .  Since I am a Methodist, I felt the need to point this oddity out, because it would have been quite easy to add ‘through the Spirit’.  This does not do much damage to an otherwise lucid approach to NT theology, but I did find it unusual.

Five Books Every NT PhD Student Should Read (and they are not theological)

I have said before that when it comes to doing a good PHD, ‘the magic is in the method’ – that means that just doing exegesis of a passage is not enough (anymore). We need ‘fresh’ approaches to the NT, largely because it is well-worn ground. How can you find something original? Now, not every thesis will be original in its method, but that is a great area to express the ‘originality’ of your thesis statement – ‘My study will take the theory of X and apply it to Y-NT text’. So, in the name of good inter-disciplinarity, I am recommending 5 books that every NT pHD Student should read.

The social construction of reality; a treatise in the sociology of knowledge,
by Peter L Berger; Thomas Luckmann (1966; the relationship between ideas and communities; the formation of our symbolic world)
Metaphors we live by
by George Lakoff; Mark Johnson (1980; how metaphors shape our thinking; they are a part of the substructure of our thought, rather than just a rhetorically-appealing way to communicate)
Purity and danger; an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo
by Mary Douglas (1966; an argument that ritual is not just the expression of belief, but a way of ordering society and reinforcing identity)
The interpretation of cultures; selected essays.
by Clifford Geertz (1973; how religion is not just about rituals, but that it offers a particular world view and ethos that provides stability and forms identity in such a way that helps things like suffering to make sense)
How to do things with words
by J L Austin (1962; how we act not just through the expression of thoughts in words, but how the doing is in the declaring – does this sound confusing? It is. But, after a few read throughs it starts to make sense)
This is a good place, I think, to start.

Why Learn NT Greek? A Pedagogical Matter…

When I taught Greek at Gordon-COnwell Theological Seminary (Boston campus) I taught a night course to about two dozen students who worked full-time in their other jobs and studied at night and on the weekends.  This was exciting, as these students tended to be dealing directly with pastoral leadership questions and were passionate about learning.  However, when it came to Greek, by the end of the first semester, we went from 23 registered students down to 9.  Believe it or not, a few of those students who dropped the course told me they decided to transfer from Gordon-Conwell to another Boston seminary that did not require the Biblical Languages.  Why did they do this?  In their opinion, IT’S TOO HARD!!!  Well, yes.  It is hard.  So, from a professor’s perspective, what can we do?

Well, I will leave aside the issue of choosing a good textbook and also teaching style overall.  Here I simply want to say that I sensed that many students didn’t understand why it is helpful to learn Greek.  I think we need to illuminate students as to the benefits of learning Greek early on in the year to motivate them and help get them through hard times.  There is a prevailing mentality that students will have to learn some Greek before you can explain to them what it is all about.  I agree, but some don’t last even a few weeks!  So, I have tried to come up with resources that encourage students to learn Greek.  Here are two resources I found that were especially helpful.  The first is an essay by John Piper, and the second is a summary (not by me) of a list-serv discussion on this very question.  Please inform me of other online texts/discussions.

Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker!

by John Piper, The Standard, June 1983, 18-19. Used by permission.
A slightly revised version of this article now also appears in Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Broadman & Holman, 2002).

“As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us as hard contend with its language”

Last year Baker Book House reissued a 1969 book of daily Scripture readings in Hebrew and Greek called Light on the Path. The readings are quite short, and vocabulary helps are given with the Hebrew verses. The aim of the editor, who died in 1980, was to help pastors preserve and improve their ability to interpret the Bible from the original languages.

His name was Heinrich Bitzer, and he was a banker.

A banker! Brothers, must we be admonished by the sheep what our responsibility is as shepherds? Evidently so. For we are surely not admonishing and encouraging each other to press on in Greek and Hebrew. And most seminaries–evangelical as well as liberal–have communicated by their curriculum emphases that learning Greek and Hebrew well is merely optional for the pastoral ministry.

I have a debt to pay to Heinrich Bitzer, and I would like to discharge it by exhorting all of us to ponder his thesis: “The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry! (p.10).

A Plague of Uncertainty

What happens to a denomination where a useful knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not cherished and promoted as crucial for the pastoral office? (I don’t mean offered and admired. I mean cherished, promoted and sought.)

Several things happen as the original languages fall into disuse among pastors. First, the confidence of pastors to determine the precise meaning of biblical texts diminishes. And with the confidence to interpret rigorously goes the confidence to preach powerfully. You can’t preach week in and week out over the whole range of God’s revelation with depth and power if you are plagued with uncertainty when you venture beyond basic gospel generalities.

Second, the uncertainty of having to depend on differing human translations (which always involve much interpretation) will tend to discourage careful textual analysis in sermon preparation. For as soon as you start attending to crucial details (like tenses, conjunctions and vocabulary repetitions), you realize the translations are too diverse to provide a sure basis for such analysis.

So the preacher often contents himself with the general focus or flavor of the text, and his exposition lacks the precision and clarity which excite a congregation with the Word of God.

Expository preaching, therefore, falls into disuse and disfavor. I say disfavor because we often tend to protect ourselves from difficult tasks by belittling or ignoring their importance. So what we find in groups where Greek and Hebrew are not cherished and pursued and promoted is that expository preaching (which devotes a good bit of the sermon to explaining the original meaning of the texts) is not much esteemed by the clergy or taught in the seminaries.

Sometimes this is evident in outright denunciation of schoolish exposition. More often there is simply a benign neglect; and the emphasis on valuable sermonic features (like order, diction, illustration and relevance) crowds out the need for careful textual exposition.

Another result when pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew is that they (and their churches with them) tend to become second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. For one thing, it is easier to read. It also gives us a superficial glow that we are “keeping up” on things. And it provides us with ideas and insights which we can’t dig out of the original for ourselves.

We may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book, but second-hand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness.

The Mother of Liberalism

Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.

Where pastors by and large can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended relativists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.

Further, when we fail to stress the use of Greek and Hebrew as crucial in the pastoral office we create an eldership of professional academicians. We surrender to the seminaries and universities essential dimensions of our responsibility as elders and overseers of the churches.

Acts 20:27 charges us with the proclamation of “the whole counsel of God.” But we look more and more to the professional academicians for books which fit the jagged pieces of revelation into a unified whole. Acts 20:28 charges us to take heed for the flock and guard it from wolves who rise up in the church and speak perverse things. But we look more and more to the linguistic and historical specialists to fight our battles for us in books and articles. We have, by and large, lost the biblical vision of a pastor as one who is mighty in the Scriptures, apt to teach, competent to confute opponents and able to penetrate to the unity of the whole counsel of God.

Is it healthy or biblical for the church to cultivate an eldership of pastors (weak in the Word) and an eldership of professors (strong in the Word)?

The Pastor Debased

One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the debasement of the pastoral office. From the seminaries to the denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips, but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars and personal example show that it is anything but foremost.

One glaring example is the nature of the Doctor of Ministry programs across the country.

The theory is good: continuing education makes for better ministers. But where can you do a D.Min. in Hebrew language and exegesis? Yet what is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures?

Why then do hundreds of young and middle-aged pastors devote years of effort to everything but the languages when pursuing continuing education? And why do seminaries not offer incentives and degrees to help pastors maintain the most important pastoral skill–exegesis of the original meanings of Scripture?

No matter what we say about the inerrancy of the Bible, our actions reveal our true convictions about its centrality and power.

We need to recover our vision of the pastoral office which embraces, if nothing else, the passion and power to understand the original revelation of God. We need to pray for the day when pastors can carry their Greek Testaments to conferences and seminars without being greeted with one-liners. The day when the esteem for God’s Word and its careful exposition is so high among pastors that the few who neglect to bring their Testaments will go home to study. The day when prayer and grammar will meet each other with great spiritual combustion.

Never Too Late

In 1829 the 24-year-old George Muller wrote, “I now studied much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew … [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees…. I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary” (Autobiography, p. 31).

In the Methodist Archives of Manchester you can see the two-volume Greek Testament of the evangelist George Whitefield liberally furnished with notes on the interleaved paper. He wrote of his time at Oxford, “Though weak, I often spent two hours in my evening retirements and prayed over my Greek Testament, and Bishop Hall’s most excellent Contemplations, every hour that my health would permit” (Dallimore, Whitefield, I, p. 77).

Brothers, perhaps the vision can grow with your help. It is never too late to learn the languages. There are men who began after retirement! It is not a question of time but of values.

Continuing education is being pursued everywhere. Let’s give heed to the word of Martin Luther: “As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us as hard contend with its language.” Bitzer did. And Bitzer was a banker!


B Greek general consensus

1. You are always subject to the choices of the translator(s) in doing
Biblical studies if you do not know the original languages.

  a.. Even though you may trust those translators, nevertheless it is more
useful in doing serious study to know the language yourself.
  b.. Unless you can read Biblical Greek, you have forever limited yourself
to low-level study aids. The inability to research commentaries and lexicons
that deal with the original language again means that you have decided to
let someone else tell you what the Bible says: commentaries that are not
based on the original languages are inadequate.
  c.. It gives you access to the best scholarly journals and books in
biblical and theological studies.
  d.. It gives you a greater independence as an interpreter of Scripture
2. It takes you a step closer to the people who used the language 2000 years

  a.. It gives you a broader and deeper understanding of the linguistic and
cultural milieu in which the NT was written.
  b.. It gives you a new appreciation of the richness and depth of the
sacred texts, which previously you have come to value even though you have
perceived them only through a veil, dimly.
  c.. Studying the Bible in the original languages brings a new dimension to
the scriptures that simply does not get portrayed in English. It allows you
to interact with the scriptures in a new way.

3. Studying the Greek NT provides a way to get a fresh look at what the text
is actually saying. It may help to overcome some of our preconceived notions
of what the English text says.

How to do NT research – some thoughts

I have thought a lot lately about how I do research. It seems so often I end up accidentally stumbling onto the most formative essays and articles for my research. This is fortuitous, but how can I research in a more systematic and effective way? Well, I don’t know, but I feel it is worthwhile to tell you how I go about it and see if you (all) have something to add. So, when I begin research on a chapter/section of my thesis (in Pauline theology), this is how it generally goes:

1. Consider the most important terms and concepts related to my chapter (so, currently, PAUL, APOSTLESHIP, IDENTITY).

2. The first thing I do is try to collect a bibliography to read through. This is sometimes the most difficult part if the area of research is not well-covered and/or if there is no standard way of referring to the subject matter. Ben Byerly (see comments) reminded me that monograph bibliographies are great places to find basic reading lists; also the reviews of literature in theses.

A. Search Tyndale House catalog on key terms (PAUL, APOSTLE, IDENTITY). Why Tyndale House? It is restricted to Biblical Studies and they are pretty comprehensive. Also, they have listed a large number of theses from places like Oxbridge, some of which have not been subsequently published. Anyway, it is a good place to begin (see After Tyndale I also check out Harvard’s HOLLIS catalog.

B. Check bibliography of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IVP). There is almost certainly going to be an article on any Pauline topic and the bibios will have all the seminal works in English and some in German.

C. Check ATLA (at first all the full-text stuff to get immediately accessible literature; then another search for all the stuff). Write down all interesting entries related to key terms.

D. Do the same on JSTOR.

E. Do the same on Googlescholar and Googlebooks. Googlebooks, in particular, has yielded for me dozens and dozens of books that I would have never thought to look up. It has been absolutely invaluable. If you are not searching googlebooks for relevant literature, you are really missing out.

F. Search other Dictionaries (on LOGOS I have TDNT, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Dictionary of NT Backgrounds, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery); see also the new NEW INTERPRETER’S DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE. Also, the DICTIONARY FOR THE THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE (Baker), but it usually has very short entries with bibliographies that are not anymore helpful than DPL.

G. Sometimes I will try and search on key terms and look for full-search books. Not often that helpful.

H. Sometimes I get on SAGE journals and do a search – usually it yeilds too many non-theological items to be helpful.

What else is helpful for others in compiling reading lists for your research? I should also mention the utilility of asking the blogging community – I have received some very helpful tips – thanks!

Paul and Apostolic Identity – need some help/advice

My penultimate chapter that I am working on deals with Paul’s self-conception of his apostleship and where he derived this understanding from and how it developed in the articulation of his status and ‘calling’ in his letters.

The only thing I know of that is substantial is Shutz’s Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority.  Does anyone know of other good resources?  I am more interested in the generation and development of his apostolic identity, rather than more current interests in social dynamics (i.e. Paul and ‘power’).  More specificially, I am studying the importance of the metaphors of Paul as ‘temple architect’ (see 1 Cor 3; Rom 15) and Paul as ‘priest’ (1 Cor 9; Rom 15) – are these just convenient metaphors or are they more formative in his identity?  Where did he get these ideas from?  Please help!
Any suggestion would be most welcome, but presume I have read basic dictionary entries and commentaries.  Thanks!

New Book on Metaphors in Paul (Raymond Collins)

My thesis research is on how Paul used metaphors to reshape identity and ‘convert’ the imagination (as Hays would say) of his churches.  One can see an early attempt to explicate this in Paul Minear’s Images of the Church in the NT. I just saw announced a new book that goes even further than Minear to also look, not only theologically, but rhetorically at how Paul used ‘images’ or word-pictures to form his communities’ symbolic universe.  See below.

In his letters to the early Christian communities, the apostle Paul left for Christians of all time an array of powerful images: from the pain of a thorn in the flesh to the tenderness of a nursing mother for her children, from the competition on an athletic field to the growth of an agricultural field. In The Power of Images in Paul, Raymond Collins explores how Paul uses the ordinary to describe what is extraordinary, how Paul skillfully uses a wide range of metaphors as a means of both persuasion and clarification. But this book is more than an analysis of Paul’s images themselves. Collins also examines how Paul deliberately draws from secular as well as religious and biblical themes in order to draw a culturally diverse audience into relationship with Christ. Entering Paul’s world with Collins, readers will better appreciate Paul’s use of metaphor and, more important, be persuaded as was Paul’s original audience of God’s unfailing love in Christ.

Though the book has not yet been released in the UK, the publisher (Liturgical Press) offers a free excerpt which includes the preface and introduction (see HERE).

A Small Celebration…

I began my blog about 20 months ago, and I am happy celebrate today getting just over 40,000 hits.  In light of this occasion, I decided to gather together some of my more popular ‘how-to’ posts for academic research onto one page for easy accessibility and review.  See the page above ‘Guide to Researchers’.

Also, you may have noticed that I changed the picture at the top.  What you are now looking at is the beautiful Durham cathedral and some other buildings on the palace green.  Durham cathedral and castle are considered to be a ‘World Heritage Site’ and one of the most popular landmark buildings in the UK.  If you are ever in northeast England, please come check it out.  BTW – the theology department is also on the palace green and the student study office is very close as well.