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two helpful resources on Revelation

Let’s be honest: the book of Revelation (or, the Apocalypse) is a bit wild and even tantalizing, often resulting in confusion and debate. Unfortunately, these results persist due to the rather unhelpful (and other “un-” adjectives) interpretations of people like CI Scofield, Hal Lindsey, John Walvoord, and Harold Camping (just to name a few)–all of whom seem to find delight in debates, and who tend to read the text of Revelation through a predetermined (or pre-established) theological grid for the sake of maintaining that grid.

Fortunately, there are a handful of people who are committed to reading the text in a way that is sensitive to the history, culture, and theology of the time in which it appeared, with the hope of alleviating (some of) the confusion and debate, while allowing (most of) the wild and tantalizing bits to remain–primarily because they serve a purpose. Two of these people have written on the book of Revelation, and both now have lecture files available online for intellectual (and spiritual) consumption:

  1. The first is by M. Robert Mulholland.  These are video files of his Seminary course at Asbury (KY).
  2. The second is by G.K. Beale.  These are audio files of his lectures given at Lanesville Church (MA), back in the early-to-mid 90s, .

I cannot recommend either (or both) of these highly enough. While I have not listened to his lectures (yet), Beale’s work (especially his little pamphlet in the NIGTC series) was influential in my earlier studies and subsequent teaching of Revelation. I can only imagine that the lectures stress the needed balance between scholarship and pastoral concerns. And I can say that Mulholland’s lectures are worth every minute. He is engaging, insightful, knowledgeable, and deeply considerate of the needs of the students.

writing assistance needed

I need your help and would greatly value your input/insight. For the past two years (maybe more), I’ve been toying with the idea of writing commentaries on the NT–primarily, to begin with, the letters of Paul. I know: go figure. My plan is to start small(ish) and work my way toward the longer Pauline letters. I should say this plan also involves a consideration of the level of theological detail/content of the letters. In other words: I want to begin with letters that address only a small handful of topics and work my way through those where discussion is more involved. (NB: this is not to suggest that the ones with fewer topics are less important than the others). Accordingly, my tentative schedule is as follows:

  • 1-2 Thessalonians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Galatians
  • Colossians and Philemon
  • Pastorals (i.e. 1-2 Timothy, Titus)
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Romans

However, when it comes to coverage and content, I’ve been rather stuck on what to include. There are loads of details that I find fascinating but would surely bore the socks off of just about everyone else. That is to say: I realize and accept that commentaries are not everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee) and that their often technical nature tends to be kryptonite for most would-be readers. Because of this, I thought it best to ask around and see what would be interesting or of value to readers. Hence, I need your help.

In the main, and if you are unfamiliar with commentaries, most writers will adhere to a general two-part format, which might include any number of sub-topics:

  • Introductory matters
    • Authorship
    • Date and place of writing
    • Audience
    • Occasion (i.e. why the letter was written)
    • Major themes
    • Structure (i.e. outline of the letter)
    • Placement in the canon
  • Detailed comments on the text/document
    • Text-critical issues (i.e. dealing with variants in the Greek manuscripts)
    • Analysis of key words, phrases, clauses, sentences–usually referring to the Greek
    • Connections with (similar) NT ideas/themes/teachings
    • Relevance for the church–whether past, present, and/or future

Riveting stuff, I know. By and large, this format and many of its features, specifically their content, reflect the ongoing dialogue between scholars in the field, with the hope that non-specialist wanderers will find it interesting or even informative. Moreover, the kinds of topics discussed–and the level at which they are discussed–are often determined by the aims or purpose of a given commentary series.

For example: the International Critical Commentary (ICC) series is geared more for academics while the Interpretation (Int) series is orientated more for pastors and church-goers. (NB: this is not to suggest that the Interpretation series is not academically minded; all of the contributors in this series are experts in their respective fields). For comparison, with regard to the letter to the Galatians: the ICC¹ expends 65 pages on introductory matters, while the Int² covers just shy of 11 pages. And in terms of total coverage, the Int falls short of 160 pages (excluding bibliography) and the ICC swells to just over 500 pages (excluding bibliography and indexes).

So, to come back round to my request for assistance: what kinds of things, or level of details, would you like to see in a NT commentary? What interests you? What bores you tears? What would be something that would enhance your reading and/or understanding of a NT text? What questions would you like answered–or at least addressed? What about style and/or format? I’m looking for insight from anyone who is willing to offer it, no matter if you are an expert in NT scholarship or if you have a scintilla of understanding about Christianity or somewhere in between. I would love to hear from you so that I can write for you.

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¹ This refers to E. de Witt Burton’s 1920 commentary in the ICC series.
² This refers to C. Cousar’s 1982 commentary in the Int series.

Robinson adopting Paul’s style?

I may be completely alone in this, but I find humor in Paul’s remarks in 1 Cor 1.14-16:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Cripus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.

Every time I read this passage I hear the first bit (“I thank God . . .”) spoken with passion and definiteness. And then I imagine Paul thinking, “Oh crap, that’s not right”, before–under his breath, maybe or in hushed tones–mentioning the first half of the second bit (“Now I did . . .”), and then resuming the original passion and definiteness for the final claim, “beyond that . . .”.  It’s almost as though Paul’s desire to make a point got the better of him and he suddenly realized it, thus requiring some self-correction. (Or maybe Sosthenes chimed in and reminded Paul of what happened).

But there is something else about this passage that I appreciate, and that is Paul’s decision to leave the self-correction in the text for everyone to see. Sure, since this comment was early on the in letter, Paul could have said, “Scrap that and let’s start again.” But he doesn’t. It’s almost as though he’s saying: “See, I’m not perfect; I screw up from time to time. But I’m willing to own up to it.” Could this be a part (or an illustration) of the wider argument he is making to the Corinthians? Maybe.

However, answering that question is not the point of this post. This post is about something I noticed this morning while reading a little handbook on Romans. I found what looks to be John Robinson adopting Paul’s style:

Perhaps the easiest way to picture the progress of the epistle is as though you were making a journey by canal across an isthmus. You could imagine the epistle going from Corinth to Rome across the isthmus of Corinth, though the first canal was not in fact begun until about ten years after Paul was writing. It was started by the emperor Nero in 66-67 with a work-force largely composed of indentured Jewish slaves, and then abandoned unfinished. Until that time, smaller vessels were apparently dragged over bodily on some sort of slipway. But imagine, for the sake of the exercise . . .

–J.A.T. Robinson, Wrestling with Romans (1979), 9

It’s as though Robinson realizes, as soon as he writes it, that his analogy is crap–or at least historically inappropriate–and has to correct himself. Hence the over-qualification. As with Paul, what’s interesting in this case is that Robinson retains the analogy for the sake of his argument (which is quite good, by the way) and we get to see it–despite its inappropriateness. Any other writer today would rework the argument or come up with a different analogy for the final manuscript so as to avoid embarrassment. Not Robinson. And that’s commendable.

some self-disclosure

Every single day I have the wonderful opportunity to experience and endure all of the joys, challenges, and frustrations that come with A.D.D. This condition has been my partner-in-crime since 1989–officially, speaking; because that’s when we figured out what was making me drive my teachers mad. If you know what it’s like to have this opportunity, you’ll know what I mean. If you have no idea what it’s like, it’s something like this:

Now, imagine trying to sort through that world of weird all day long while at the same time keeping up with real life stuff, or trying to perform a task that requires focused attention. Like listening to a lecture. Or having a conversation. Or spending time with friends. Or reading. Or writing. The difficulties with paying attention are magnified when I’m in a crowded room, especially when there are multiple conversations going on in that room. Without wanting to, I wind up hearing anywhere between two and four conversations at once on top of the one I’m having with someone else. It is struggle to tune out all of the other noise so that I can focus my attention on the conversation that matters. Suffice it to say: it can be exhausting.

But the exhaustion is not always the difficult part. One of the hardest challenges, at least for me, is trying not to let on to someone else that this is happening and/or that I’m having difficulty focusing. More specifically, it’s extremely challenging for me not to send the wrong “non-verbal” message(s) or have them interpreted in a way that I would never intend. I say that because my non-verbal communication breaks all the rules–if one were to apply the rules to me on the assumption that I have no underlying condition.

For example: I have trouble standing still or even sitting still. To help prevent this from becoming visibly obvious, I will often cross my arms or put my hands in my pockets (if standing) or cross my arms and/or legs (if sitting), and will usually be touching or gently rubbing a part of my face. If I’m not touching or gently rubbing my face, I will have something in my hand (e.g. a pen, chapstick, a coin) and will fidget with it. None of this is a sign of boredom or disengagement; it is simply the way in which I can distract the part of my brain that produces the world of weird so that I can focus on what matters.

Probably the most annoying–at least for the other person, I’m sure–is that I have trouble maintaining eye-contact. This trouble is never personal, nor is it meant to signal a lack of conversational connectivity. It is simply, at least for me, a result of my A.D.D. recognizing new things in the room or immediate environment and processing that newness. It is not that the newness is more interesting or appealing than the conversation I’m in; it is simply something new. That newness hardly ever trumps my desire to talk with you or hear what you have to say.¹ Thus, I can assure you (if/whenever we ever meet) that while I might be seeing other things, I am listening to everything you say. And as strange as it may sound: my taking in the things I see is a way for me to focus on what I hear.

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¹ The only trump card in this case is if someone is having a serious problem or what I see is about to turn ugly.

parroting bad theories

Per my usual morning routine, and because I am not able to take classes anymore, I was listening to a lecture by a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, who will remain anonymous (to protect the guilty). The course, for the past 7 seven lectures has been rather good, and I anticipate its continued goodness for the remaining 17. We’ll see how it goes.

This morning’s lecture dealt with the twin topics of revelation (not the book of) and eschatology–two topics that often grab my attention. To begin the lecture, the professor (we’ll call him, “Bob”) recapped some of the previous discussions in order to show their relevance for the current one. In the midst recapping, “Bob” raised the point about names having “significant, historical, redemptive connotations”, and that sometimes names are purposefully changed by God to reflect this reality. Moreover, the name-change signals something about the person, namely: that person is now going to be used by God in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.

In an effort to illustrate (or even prove) his point, “Bob” listed off some key biblical figures where he sees this purposeful name-changing thing taking place–e.g. Abram –> Abraham.¹ And then it happened. I feared it would the moment he started this line of argument, and he proved my fears correct. He mentioned the apostle Paul as an example! I nearly came out of my skin, which would be a bit gross. And messy to clean up. I have heard and read this (bad) theory many times,² and each time it provokes the same response–i.e. the coming of the skin thing. I say it’s a bad theory because it is simply not true, let alone consistent with the biblical text. And “Bob”, being a systematic theologian, should know this–i.e. he should know better.

The only passage in the NT that refers to Paul as having another name is Acts 13.9. It is true that up to this point, he has been called, “Saul” and after this point he is referred to as “Paul” (excepting Acts 22.7 and 26.14). I’ll grant that, but only that. Nothing in the text suggests either 1) that the name was changed from Saul to Paul as a result of a direct encounter with God or with some divine, redemptive-historical assignment,³ or 2) that “Paul” was not already a name by which he was known. In fact, the text simply reads: “But Saul–who [is] also Paul–being filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Σαυλος δε ὁ και Παυλος πλησθεις πνευματος ἁγιου). Nothing about a name-change. Only that he had another name.

If such a name-change took place, as “Bob” and other parrot, and if such a changing is ordinarily linked with some divine encounter and/or redemptive-historical commissioning, then we would expect to see the Saul-Paul shift taking place after Acts 9.19 and not nearly 4 chapters later. But we don’t. And we don’t see it because it ain’t there, and it ain’t there because “Paul” was always one of his names, given to him at birth. Some 30 years prior.

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¹ This theory begins to fall apart when we consider the names of Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even James (the brother of Jesus). All of these men retained their (original) names despite encountering God and/or being given specific divine commissions.
² Augustine seems to one of the earliest to suggest it (see Sermons, 225). After that, it can be found in the works of scholars, pastors, church-goers, and even skeptics–e.g. J. Stow, Reflections on the Epistles of St Paul (1847), 318; C.J. den Heyer, Paul (2000), 27; M. Dimont, Jews, God, and History (2004), 141; B. Organ, Is the Bible Fact or Fiction? (2004), 48; A. Scheil, The Footsteps of Israel (2004), 224; J. Carter, Faith (2008), 300; D. Ridges, Your Study of the New Testament (2008), 26.
³ Adolf Jülicher already made this point–see Introduction (1904), 34.

books read in 2012

W. Travis McMaken, over at Die Evangelischen Theologen, listed all the books he’s read from cover to cover in 2012. I thought I’d follow suit and mention the ones I managed to complete, although my list won’t be as impressive as his. In no particular order:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers
  • Bill Bryson, Down Under
  • Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
  • Bill Bryson, Made in America
  • Robert Ludlum, Bourne Identity
  • Robert Ludlum, Bourne Supremecy
  • Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape
  • Alexandre Dumas (fils), La Dame aux Camélias
  • Jeremy Clarkson, The World According to Clarkson, vol. 1
  • Jeremy Clarkson, The World According to Clarkson, vol. 2
  • Jeremy Clarkson, For Crying Out Loud
  • Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Mr W.H.
  • Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
  • P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh (Blandings Castle)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

(My high school teachers would be proud that I’ve read this many. And shocked). The comparatively less academic nature of my list is due partly to the fact that I rarely read technical books from cover-to-cover. For those, I read more to get a feel of the argument and follow the way it develops certain themes/ideas, which means I wind up reading between 75-90%. (If you’re really curious–or just that bored–I can list those in a different post).

I’ve already started in on a few for this year (* indicates those in the queue):

  • G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World?
  • Robert Ludlum, Bourne Ultimatum
  • Bill Bryson, History of Everything
  • Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (started late last year, and working through it slowly)
  • * Malcolm Muggeridge, The Green Stick
  • * Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • * Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes (because I’m feeling brave… and Chris Tilling recommended it)

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’m sure the list will grow as the year progresses. Who knows, I might need a break after Zizek’s. How about you? What did you read last year and what are you hoping to read this year?

what are you reading? [answered]

My Australian brother, Mark Stevens meanderingly asked the question, “what are you reading?” Before answering, I must express my appreciation for what Mark does (knowingly or not) leading up to his question. He shows that his selection of books is purposeful and intentional. Mark is not (or does not appear to be) reading at random or to assuage a passing fancy or to kill some time. (“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity” –Thoreau).

Moreover, he reveals that his reading is reflective and integrative. Mark does not read so that he can scratch off titles from a list and do a happy dance. (Maybe he does. Mark?). Instead, he reads because he wants what he learns to make sense in real life, and knowing how that happens takes patience and cogitation. (“And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say” –Treebeard). That was my meandering way of saying: Thanks, Mark for your insight and habits.

Now, to answer the question at hand. My reading is broken up into two parts: work related and pleasure. I have a page dedicated to this breakdown, but I admit that I have failed to update it lately. So this post will be an updated version (which means I’ll need to fix the allotted page, at which point this will become redundant. C’est la vie).

Work Related
1. L.L. Welborn, Paul, The Fool of Christ (2005)
2. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (2011)
3. Adrian Long, Paul and Human Rights (2009)
4. Bengt Holmberg, Paul and Power (1978)
5. C.K. Robertson, Conflict in Corinth (2001)
6. Peter Marshall, Enmity in Corinth (1987)
7. Edward Adams, Constructing the World (2000)
8. John Lewis, Looking for Life (2007)
9. J. Brian Tucker, You Belong to Christ (2010)
10. Commentaries and journal articles beyond my desire to count.

Pleasure
1. Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (2011)
2. Jennifer Ash & Armin Brott, The Expectant Father(2001)

Now your turn. What are you reading?

I know it’s a very thin line, but he crossed it

One of the effects of constantly interacting with other people’s work, is that you gain a sense for where a line of argument is about to go once it starts. Usually this happens because of two related reasons: 1) familiarity in a particular field of study gives you an understanding of the “consensus” views/arguments on a given subject, and 2) when certain names, terms or watch-words are dropped into the discussion, you simply know how such things are ordinarily used. Thus, the second is the result of the first. I am certainly not as gifted in this regard as many others I know (my supervisors, for example), and I candidly admit that I am occasionally wrong–a consequence of not being as gifted, I guess. However, in some respects I think I am getting better. Slowly.

This morning I listened to the first lecture of a course on hermeneutics given by a professor whom we will call, “Bob.” I was delighted to hear Bob’s decision to begin with the letters of Paul, since, technically speaking, they were the first works of the NT to be written.* My delight rests in the acknowledgement that, if we want to study the NT historically then Paul’s letters are first on the agenda. (However, if want to study the NT theologically then the present, canonical order is the best. Another discussion for another time). Sadly, though, my delight in Bob’s approach began to wane for two reasons.

First, Bob started with the letter to the Romans. I am not suggesting that Romans is a bad letter; I happen to like Romans very much. What bothered me was the apparent inconsistency in Bob’s overall approach. Step 1: when studying the NT, start with Paul’s letters. No problem; they are historically first, so that would make sense. Step 2: when studying Paul’s letters, start with the one to the Romans. Quoi?! Why use a historical criterion to determine which texts to begin with and then chuck that criterion once the determination is made? To quote from a great movie: “That don’t make no sense!” However, and despite this, I knew why Bob wanted to start with Romans.

Second, Bob launched in a series of questions on specific topics, all of which have become rather familiar to me. Thus, I knew where he was about to go and why. The line of argument ran something like this: Paul wrote a bunch of letters; literacy rates in the ancient world were exceptionally low (it was at this point I though/knew: “Oh crap, he’s about to rope in the rhetorical stuff”); since literacy rates were low, and since Paul wrote letters, the natural conclusion is that they were meant to be heard; since Paul’s letters were meant to be heard, they function more like speeches (“…here it comes…”); ergo, we can/should study Paul’s letters as comparable–if not synonymous with–ancient rhetorical speeches (“ding, ding, ding!”).

However, in laying out this line of argument Bob said something that completely surprised me. He said: “So some people use a wonderful ancient discipline called, ‘Rhetorical Criticism’ to see how in these letters they are put together rhetorically–that is, in terms of putting together an argument” (emphasis added). I had to back up the recording and hear it again just to make sure I heard it right the first time. I did. Bob called “Rhetorical Criticism” an “ancient discipline.” Why, Bob why?

While studies/training in the art of rhetoric are quite ancient, Rhetorical Criticism is not. In fact, Rhetorical Criticism, as a discipline, is fairly recent–specifically, post 1969 (i.e. post-James Muilenburg’s SBL speech).**  To come at this from another direction: the ancients used theories to educate people (before the fact) in how to deliver public speeches that would be persuasive; modern scholars use models of interpretation to study the historical circumstances of those speeches and their persuasiveness (after the fact). The one is not the other; the two are quite distinct and should not be confused.

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* Caveat: I allow for the possibility that the epistle from James (if written by Jesus’ brother) predates the writings of Paul by one to two years. The basic argument here is: James presided over the Jerusalem Council in 49 CE; the letter of James says nothing about the Council (namely its substance and outcome); ergo, the letter predates the Council. However, I tend to read James–at least the latter portion of chapter 2–as responding to an immature understanding of Paul’s teaching on justification. Since Paul only did one missionary tour prior to the Council, and since the general substance of Paul’s message remained the same; we can assume that it would take time for word of this immature understanding to reach James and thus require a response. Thus, this report would either be related to Paul’s first missionary tour or at least the second, which occurs after the Council.
** I admit that both Judah Messer Leon and Desiderius Erasmus conducted what could be classified as “rhetorical criticism”; however, their approach was distinct from how post-1969 Rhetorical Criticism is (typically) done.