a curious appeal

At present, we (our church) are doing a sermon series entitled: “Credo: Faith and Identity.” It’s a seven week series that runs through confession of the Apostle’s Creed. (In short: it’s a “what we believe” series). While preparing for the various topics, I refreshed myself on some of the common misconceptions about each point in the Creed, and I did this so that I could help our people become aware of such things. For the one on the Holy Spirit, I naturally defaulted to the views of the “Jehovah’s” Witnesses–since they are a modern group who flat out deny the personhood and (true) deity of the Spirit (see here).

What I found intriguing in their denying explanation is the first entry under their “Misconceptions” section, and entry that deals specifically with the personhood issue. As you can see (if you clicked on the link), the JWs declare: “Misconception: The ‘Holy Ghost,’ or holy spirit, is a person and is part of the Trinity, as stated at 1 John 5:7, 8 in the King James version of the Bible.” There are a handful of problems with this assumed misconception–not least of which are the underlying assumptions about the KJV (and the JWs incessant use of it as a reliable text)–but I’ll leave those alone for now. The thing that struck me was the response or rebuttal the JWs gave to this so-called misconception:

Fact: The King James version of the Bible includes at 1 John 5:7, 8 the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” However, researchers have found that those words were not written by the apostle John and so do not belong in the Bible. Professor Bruce M. Metzger wrote: “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain.”—A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

Okay, yes, what is claimed here is indeed factual. And it’s primarily factual because of the inferior (=crappy) manuscript testimony that undergirds the KJV translation. But let’s be fair and honest (and not merely selective with our “facts”): scholars have known this detail for ages. So, nothing new here; move on, please. Moreover, simply referring to this passage and pairing it with some inflated rhetoric does not deal with the assumed misconception in a convincing way. So, you’re going to need something more.

That “something more” would seem to be the JWs peculiar appeal to Metzger as their supporting voice for denying the personhood and deity of the Spirit in particular and the doctrine of the Trinity in general. True, Metzger–in nearly everything he writes on that passage–does say it is not a part of the original (or best/earliest) manuscripts and is most likely a (much) later addition. But again: so what? Scholars have known that for years. Even Erasmus knew about it. But here why I find their appeal peculiar:

There are many other passages in the New Testament which reveal how deeply the Trinitarian pattern was impressed upon the thinking of primitive Christianity. Thus, besides the direct and obvious statements in Matt 28:19 and II Cor 13:14, there are texts as I Cor 6:11, 12:4-[6]; II Cor 1.21-22; Gal 3:11-14; I Thess 5:18-19; I Pet 1:2; and others.[*] (Because the manuscript evidence of I John 5:7-8, King James Version, is insufficient, this text should not be used. There is, however, abundant proof for the doctrine of the Trinity elsewhere in the New Testament.)

That quote (with emphasis added) comes from… You guessed it: Bruce M. Metzger. And the source: a rather polemical article entitled, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ”, found in Theology Today 10.1 (1953): 65-85. It would seem counterproductive (and counter-intuitive) to rope in someone to support your case when that someone utterly contradicts (and rejects) the very case you’re trying to make. Moreover, Metzger was adamantly opposed to the hermeneutical gymnastics that JWs perform in order to justify the claims they often make–and not just about Trinitarian doctrine.

On a slightly different tact, I find it odd that on both their Holy Spirit page (noted above) and their Trinity page (see here), they do not engage with any of the texts that Metzger cites–instead they focus on only a very small handful which they have already deemed questionable. And while they do have these texts in their “translation”, in each case the reference to the Spirit is downplayed–i.e., it’s always lower case (because they think the Holy Spirit is a thing [an impersonal force] and not a person). But that is highly suggestive of the fact that they are allowing an existing theological presupposition to determine the interpretation of the texts that deal with a given topic, and thus interpret those texts a way that favors or supports their existing theological presupposition. That’s eisegesis. And in hermeneutics: eisegesis is bad.

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[*] Metzger provides a footnote to JND Kelly’s book, Early Christian Creeds (1950) for the interested reader to find a more extensive list of texts supporting a Trinitarian view.

cracks in the dam(?)

Dedicated readers of this blog will know at least two things: 1) I am poor at posting consistently, and 2) a number of posts have dealt with the problems of plagiarism. Many of the instances of plagiarism I highlight tend to come from students who either fail to abide by the rules of proper citation or are ill-informed about such rules, or from (more or less) popular writers/authors–and often for similar reasons. In the main, I can excuse such things because they can be seen as rookie mistakes. Thus, I tend to get over those instances rather quickly. I see it. I gripe about it (usually to myself, sometimes here). And then I move on.

But there are times when I don’t move on as quickly. And these times are related to when I discover plagiarism in scholarly work–either personally or I hear/read about it from others. Recently, two seasoned scholars have been criticized for plagiarism in their respective commentaries, and both have admitted to the regrettable causes for it (e.g., pressures of publishing, time-crunches) and it appears that both commentaries will be pulled from circulation. This bothers me, in part, because scholars should know better–or at least they are better informed about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. But as we’re discovering, that idealistic view is being rattled by reality. And what I fear is that this kind of rattling is creating cracks in the dam, which if it gives way will bring about disturbing and disruptive consequences.

I still remember one of the more disturbing instances I encountered: it was in 2011, while I was doing some follow-up research during my doctoral studies. Specifically, I was reading a published dissertation on a theme in Pauline theology.¹ I first suspected it when the writer made an argument that was surprisingly similar to the scholar he cites. The differences in wording were minimal at best (e.g., transposing two words, alternate spelling on a Greek term, an elision of one minor clause). However, I became concerned because the writer did not place the argument in quotes, despite the minor differences. Though, to his credit, he did cite the scholar’s work with an in-text reference, but the citation gave the impression of an allusion to the other’s work, not one that signals explicit reliance upon it. So I ultimately let it go as a one-off, one that might be debatable and thus not sufficient for further thought.

But then it happened. When reading an earlier portion of this same dissertation, I found an explicit use of another’s work without proper citation–let alone quotation marks. In this second example, the author presented an explanation of a particular Greek term and this explanation carried on for nearly 120 words (essentially the length of the preceding paragraph in this post). Only at one point did the author place a portion of the explanation in quotes (5 words, to be precise), followed by an in-text reference. However, by looking at the argument found in reference cited and comparing it with what is found in the dissertation, it is obvious that the author lifted more than the five quoted words. In fact, nearly the whole 120 words were lifted from the source used. But again, since there were no quotation marks around this larger section, thus signaling the use of another’s work, one would not suspect that the larger section was boosted. The only reason I knew of the similarities is because I had read the source used only the day before. Thus, when I came to this portion of the dissertation, things sounded far too familiar.

Not knowing what to do, and being a mere PhD student at the time, I decided to ask a professional. His initial response was this: “From your description it sounds to me like carelessness rather than deceptive plagiarism (i.e. there is a reference to the source material, but the wording is too close to the source without being acknowledged as citation). And it is not uncommon. Deceptive plagiarism (if no source/reference is given, and large portions are found to be derived from an unacknowledged source) is a different matter and would perhaps warrant some further probing.” Even though this distinction and criteria for making it were a touch different than what I was used to, I heeded his follow-up response, which was (paraphrased): I’d leave it alone. You don’t want to start your career as being the one who outed an established scholar and professor for plagiarism.

To borrow from Ron White: “I told you that story to tell you this one”. This morning, while doing some research for a sermon series I’m doing, I came across the following:

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The book on the left was published in 1978, while the one on the right was published in 1993. (I am going to leave the authors for these two works unnamed for now). The parallels in the larger description are close enough to raise an eye-brow, though such material might be said to fall into the category of general knowledge, which is not necessarily required to be cited. (I would debate some of the nuances of that escape clause, especially in this case, but point taken). However, it’s the smaller paragraph that bothered me. The wording is exactly the same, with the exception of one qualifying phrase (i.e., “of the guild”). But there is no reference. No footnote. Nothing. There’s not even a entry in the “Further Reading” list of the newer book for the older one. This should not be happening, especially by a scholar who is known for thoroughness and precision.

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¹ I’m being intentionally cryptic at the moment because I am still torn with how to proceed with this.

a subtle poke(?)

While reading a published PhD dissertation from 1900 (as you do), I saw this in the introduction:

It is the purpose of this book to present a study of Alexander Campbell’s theology by the historical method. He was not a voice crying in the wilderness and having no connection with his age except to receive from its degeneracy an impulse toward reformation. Try as he would, he could not sweep aside all that men had thought during the past eighteen centuries, and lead a religious movement or formulate a system of Christian doctrine as if a true word had not been spoken since the death of the Apostles.¹

I may be wrong (which is always possible), but I think he just took a shot at Joseph Smith with that last sentence. Or maybe even Dispensationalism. Either way: If so… well played, sir.

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¹ W.E. Garrison, The Sources of Alexander Campbell’s Theology (St Louis: Christian Publishing, 1900), 14-15.

something else

So apparently, this Gap ad was perceived to be racist*–despite efforts to explain the pose:

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Yet, as far as I can tell, this earlier version was not perceived in a similar way:

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But putting that debate aside, I’d like to point out one small(ish) detail that’s getting missed:

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Either Cherokee/Target or Gap has some ‘splainin to do. Who wants to go first?

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* And since perception (not truth) is all that really matters these days, it must in fact be racist.

one detail

Just discovered a job that looked rather interesting:

The College of Christian Studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor seeks applications for a tenure-track faculty appointment at the rank of Assistant/Associate Professor of Christian Studies beginning August 2016. The College of Christian Studies is committed to preparing men and women for service to the church as well as providing core courses in Bible and theology for all the University’s undergraduate students. UMHB seeks faculty who are active Christians and dedicated teacher-scholars to prepare students for leadership, service, and faith-informed discernment in a global society.

Sounds good. Tell me more about the job.

Faculty Responsibilities: Activities required of all faculty include exemplary teaching, curriculum development and student advising; professional attainment; and service to the department, college, university, and the community. While primarily a teaching institution, UMHB recognizes and rewards research, publication, and other forms of scholarly attainment.

Specific Responsibilities: The successful candidate will have competence in biblical studies and/or theology for teaching in the Core. Teaching responsibilities include online as well as classroom courses. Full-time faculty members typically teach 12-14 hours per semester with three course preparations.

Very nice. All fairly standard. What about the candidate?

Qualifications:  Ph.D. in biblical studies or theology is required. Excellent teaching and communication skills, a dedication to professional attainment, and commitment to quality improvement are essential. Because of the specific mission of the College of Christian Studies, the successful candidate must be a Baptist and must sustain active membership in a local Baptist church.

Ah, crap… That Baptist thing gets me every time. Oh well, the search continues.

books* read in 2015

Since I’m not likely to finish reading a new book before the end of the year, I’m posting this early.

This year’s reading was a bit different, and intentionally so. Unlike the previous annual posts, this year’s list includes those writings read for pleasure and for academic purposes–the latter including books and articles and essays. (Hence, “books” with an *). Here’s this year’s list (in order of reading, according to category):

Pleasure reading:

  • Robert Ludlum, The Matlock Paper
  • Robert Ludlum, The Scarlatti Inheritance
  • PG Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
  • Lemony Snicket, The Unauthorized Autobiography
  • Robert Ludlum, The Cry of the Halidon
  • Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Brian Moore, The Black Robe
  • Beowulf
  • Heinz Schaeffer, U-Boat 977
  • William F. Buckley Jr., See You Later, Alligator
  • James Cobb, The Arctic Event (Robert Ludlum’s Covert One Series)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, vol. 1 (i.e. Study in Scarlet; Sign of the Four; Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes; Hound of the Baskervilles)
  • Robert Ludlum, The Holcroft Covenant
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, vol. 2 (i.e. Return of Sherlock Holmes, Valley of Fear, Last Bow, Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes)
  • John Grisham, Sycamore Row
  • Robert Ludlum, The Osterman Weekend

Academic reading (books):

  • Martin Hengel, Crucifixion
  • Kelly Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians
  • Charles Quarles, Illustrated Life of Paul (see my review of it here)
  • Howard Clark Kee, What Can We Know About Jesus?
  • Arthur Pink, The Doctrine of Election
  • Michael Halcomb, Paul the Change Agent
  • John Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis
    (though I hesitate to include Walvoord’s book in the “academic” category, for it is hardly worth that label)
  • Mark Howell, Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians ([lengthy] review coming later)
  • R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked
  • Vern Poythress, Christian Interpretations to Genesis 1
  • Charles A. Briggs, Biblical History
  • Cornelius Vanderwaal, Hal Lindsey and Biblical Prophecy
  • Charles G. Trumbull, The Life Story of C.I. Scofield
  • J.J. Ross, Some Facts and More Facts about the Self-Styled “Pastor” Charles T. Russell
  • Charles A. Shook, American Anthropology Disproving the Book of Mormon
  • F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr. as a Translator. An Inquiry Conducted
  • Michael Bird, Introducing Paul
  • Frank Matera, What Are They Saying About Mark?
  • I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (NT Guides)
  • Bruce Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions
  • Kató Lomb, Polyglot: How I Learned Languages
  • Albertus Pieters, A Candid Examination of the Scofield Bible
  • Constantine Campbell, Keep Your Greek
  • Charles Halton, ed., Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?
  • David Bosworth, The Millennium and Related Events
  • Stephen Travis, Starting with the New Testament
  • Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Academic reading (articles, essays):

  • J. Daryl Charles, “Angels, Sonship and Birthright in the Letter to the Hebrews.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33.2 (1990): 171-78.
  • James R. White, “Is Your Modern Translation Corrupt? Answering the Allegations of KJV Only Advocates.” CRI Journal 18.3 (1996): 20-27.
  • Walter Kaiser, Jr., “What Commentaries Can (and Can’t) Do.” Christianity Today 24 (1981): 24-27.
  • David G. Horrell, “Who Are ‘The Dead’ and When was the Gospel Preached to Them? The Interpretation of 1 Pet 4.6.” New Testament Studies 49.1 (2003): 70-89.
  • Benjamin Edsall & Jennifer Strawbridge, “The Songs We Used to Sing? Hymn Traditions and Reception in Pauline Letters.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 39.3 (2015): 290-311.
  • Calvin Roetzel, “The Judgment Form in Paul’s Letters.” Journal of Biblical Literature 88.3 (1969): 305-132
  • Abraham Malherbe, “The Holy Spirit in Athenagoras.” Journal of Theological Studies 20.2 (1969): 538-42.
  • William J. Deane, “The Growth of the Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body Among the Jews.” The Expositor (2) 7.3 (1884): 190-204.
  • A.P. Salom, “The New English Bible Translation of 1 Thessalonians.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 1 (1963): 91-104
  • Sydney Allen, “On Schedl’s Attempt to Count the Days of Daniel.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 4.2 (1966): 105-06.
  • Tremper Longman III, “What I Mean by Historical-Grammatical Exegesis–Why I Am Not a Literalist.” Grace Theological Journal 11.2 (1990): 137-55.
  • Loren Stuckenbruck, ” ‘One like a Son of Man as the Ancient of Days’ in the Old Greek Recension of Daniel 7,13: Scribal Error or Theological Translation?” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 86 (1995): 268-76.
  • H.J. Cadbury, “Gospel Study and Our Image of Early Christianity.” Journal of Biblical Literature 83.2 (1964): 139-45.
  • Norman R. Gulley, “Progressive Dispensationalism: A Review of a Recent Publication.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 32.1 (1994): 41-46.
  • Hans K. LaRondelle, “Paul’s Prophetic Outline in 2 Thessalonians 2.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 21.1 (1983): 61-69.
  • Sakae Kubo, “Review Article: The New Revised Standard Version.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 29.1 (1991): 61-69.
  • Kenneth Strand, “The Two Witnesses of Rev 11:3-12.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 19.2 (1981): 127-35.
  • Gerhard Hasel, “The Book of Daniel: Evidences Relating to Persons and Chronology.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 19.1 (1981): 37-49.
  • Gerhard Hasel, “The Book of Daniel and Matters of Language: Evidences Relating to Names, Words, and the Aramaic Language.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 19.3 (1981): 211-25.
  • Jacques Doukhan, “The Seventy Weeks of Dan 9: An Exegetical Study.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 17.1 (1979): 1-22.
  • Abraham Malherbe, “A Physical Description of Paul.” Harvard Theological Review 79.1-3 (1986): 170-75.
  • W.D. Davies, “Reflections on the Mormon ‘Canon’.” Harvard Theological Review 79.1-3 (1986): 44-66.
  • John L. White, “Saint Paul and the Apostolic Letter Tradition.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45 (1983): 433-44.
  • I.I. du Plessis, “Once More: The Purpose of Luke’s Prologue (Lk 1.1-4).” Novum Testamentum 16.4 (1974): 259-71.
  • Gordon H. Clark, “Wisdom in First Corinthians.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 15.4 (1972): 197-206.
  • Kenneth A. Kitchen, “The Chronology of Ancient Egypt.” World Archaeology 23.2 (1991): 201-08.
  • John Lyons, “The Fourth Wave and the Approaching Millennium. Some Problems with Charismatic Hermeneutics.” Anvil 15 (1998): 169-80.
  • Mark Sidwell, ” ‘Come Apart and Rest a While’: The Origin of the Bible Conference Movement in America.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 15 (2010): 75-98.
  • Joseph Plevnik, “1 Thessalonians 4,17: The Bringing in of the Lord or the Bringing in of the Faithful?” Biblica 80.4 (1999): 537-546.
  • E. Calvin Beisner, “Does Acts 2:38 Teach Baptismal Remission?” Christian Research Journal 28.2 (2004): 50-51.
  • Andrew Lincoln, “The Promise and the Failure: Mark 16:7, 8.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108.2 (1989): 283-300.
  • Paul Raabe, “Daniel 7: Its Structure and Role in the Book.” Hebrew Annual Review 9 (1985): 267-75.
  • Vern Poythress, “Comments on Mark Strauss’s Response.” Westminster Theological Journal 74 (2012): 133-48.
  • Vern Poythress, “2 Thessalonians 1 Supports Amillennialism.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37.4 (1995): 529-38.
  • Vern Poythress, “Genre and Hermeneutics in Revelation 20:1-6.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36 (1993): 41-54.
  • J.C. Coetzee, “Christ and the Prince of this World in the Gospel and the Epistles of St John.” Neotestamentica 2 (1968): 104-21.

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This refers to those items where I willingly subjected myself to mental torture.

jabs with bad analogies

For the past couple of weeks I’ve seen more and more people (or groups) taking pot-shots at Christians, trying to make it look silly or inept. It might be because we’re a few days away from Christmas and that’s what normally happens. But it appears as though, because there is not a huge show-stopping crapumentary on the Discovery Channel or H2 or whatever about Jesus, the attempts have been reduced to quick jabs–or sucker punches, if we’re honest–given for a cheap thrill or an easy laugh.

Earlier this month, Conan O’Brien gave this little quip (about 5:28 in):

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A few days later, I saw these images floating around, the first slightly more subtle than the second:

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(Whether people stole it from Conan and rejigged it or Conan got it from these images is not really my concern. Frankly, I don’t care).

There are two initial problems with these kinds of claims. First, they are not fair to the discourse that needs to happen concerning the refugee crisis. In fact, these types of claims not only politicize the crisis, which is insulting those who truly need refugee, but also reveal that at least one side of the debate is happily wearing its “ideological blinders”.* The other side might be, but they are not as expressive or honest about it.

Second, these sorts of political jabs are uncalled for, primarily because they operate on a faulty premise and a crap analogy. For those who have done their homework, it will be obvious that the image of Mary and Joseph frantically looking for housing in Bethlehem only to be turned away repeatedly until some gruff inn-keeper’s wife Gibbs-slaps him and make him offer the barn; that is nothing but sensationalized tradition. The historical and textual evidence about the birth narrative does not support such view.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Mary and Joseph situation was anything comparable to the refugee crisis. Mary and Joseph were not trying to flee their home country and find safe harbor in another. They were simply traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the purposes of taxation. If we wanted to say anything (admittedly in dramatic terms), we could say they were being “hunted down” in the same way that the IRS wants our money each April. But they were not under threat for their lives because of the ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, etc. To say otherwise betrays a lack of understanding about the data and an inability to make an appropriate analogy.

The refugee crisis is admittedly an awful situation, one that has created a rather heated debate with varying and often conflicting responses. It is a situation that needs to be taken seriously and it is one that deserves conscientious and respectful discussion and action. It is one where all sides of the debate need to come together and shut up and listen openly and fairly. And it is a situation that most certainly deserves more respect than being used as one side of a crappy analogy for the purposes of taking cheap-shots at Christians. Such one-lines are good for a laugh and caricaturing a group of people, but they do nothing for moving the discussion forward. It’s school-yard antics. It’s weak. It’s empty. And it’s hypocritical.

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* Taken from “West Wing”.