Saturday, March 29, 2014

Falshcards and how to Ditch Them

I found this post helpful. 

When I tutored many guys and ladies Greek in grad-school, I always found the inductive drilling of flashcards, paradigms, and grammar learning
to be very backwards to how we actually learn languages.  Of course, one must do a bit of this to get started, but one is started and seeks to maintain their language skills, using the language and learning in this way is more practical than "going back through a grammar" - as I have heard many students say they would do, and never actually do... I learned Ionic and Attic Greek deductively, and now Greek is much like riding a bike.  All that is to say, check out this blog post and take it to heart!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Some Good Resources for Better Understanding Reformed and Covenant Theology

I have been convinced lately that Reformed Theology is very misunderstood, and thus the popular responses have been equally misled.

Primarily, when referring to "Reformed" generally do not understand the theology fully explained and defined. Thus there are a couple camps that call themselves "Reformed" that don't actually represent a fully, nor historically Reformed position.

For one, many calling themselves "Reformed," simply think being "Reformed" means signing on to a version of TULIP (I was one of these folks once).  This mostly has to do with the "young restless and reformed" movement of primarily the "Reformed Baptist" persuasion.  See this book and this blog for an Arminian response to this movement (a different response than I am giving here, or course).  Unfortunately, those who respond to this movement, are not actually responding to "Reformed Theology," just a segment of it (and even that is more than I would like to concede).  But for some who have understood that Reformed Theology cannot be fully grasped without an understanding of covenants, there has been a movement of (what I call) closet-covenant theologians, proposing a type of "progressive dispensationalism."  However, many of these progressive-types are not all "Reformed" (to muddy the water).  This final group, is actually quite vocal right now - more than my Covenant Theologian brothers!

Second, there is another, less visible, camp that comes from a historic Reformed background, but like many Reformed-congregationalist churches, now mostly in the UCC, were and are more influenced by their culture and their presuppositions than their Reformed Theology.  This "less visible" camp believes being "truly" Reformed is informed by many conservative, Second Great Awakening, American, evangelical, pietistic notions...  That's a mouth full!  But it describes the position pretty closely.  This view is not really published, per se, other than some blogging that seeks to maintain a status quo of some sort. 

In light of this, last week I engaged in a dialogue about what Reformed Theology actually is. I essentially stated that Reformed Theology perceived correctly cannot be understood without understanding Covenant Theology.  The conversation went into the direction of asking what books are actually out there that would be good to read on Covenant Theology, and that is the essential purpose of this blog post.  Specifically, what should we read as a good education in Reformed and/or Covenant Theology, and what can we offer to others, especially our congregants, as good reading on this theology and its implications?  This was a tougher question than I realized, but I came up with a list with the help of Greg Perry at Covenant Seminary:

Before the list, I would say it is my opinion that anything polemical, as in, "why I am," "why I am not," "against X" and "for X" have their uses, but fall back into the trap of TULIP and the endless debates that really do not characterize Reformed Theology is the right light. 

Also, as the list below will suggest.  I believe that Reformed/Covenant Theology is best defined by Genesis 1-4 and Colossians 1, more than (though not without) Romans 8-11 or Rev. 20 (I am resisting saying that "Reformed/Covenant Theology is best defined by the Bible").

So I suggested (again, with the help of Greg):

Creation Regained  by Albert M. Wolters

Far as the Curse is Found by Michael Williams

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantiga

The Mission of God's People by Chris Wright
Center Church by Tim Keller

Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (for a longer read, which I agree with but it is not one to just read quickly - you're welcome Frank!)

Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint (yesterday I saw a review of this new-ish book, reviewed by my friend Peter Green.  [disclaimer] I have not read the book yet, but telling by Peter's review, it would be a good one to add to the list.)

Each of these books above would give a fuller understanding of what Reformed Theology actually is by also defining Covenant Theology.  I am interested in other books to add to this list.  What are your suggestions?

I will add as a parting shot what I normally tell folks about my "Reformed Theology journey": For a long time I claimed to be "Reformed," but the moment I knew I was truly "Reformed" was the moment I felt closest to a "tree-hugger" (this was also the moment that I had my last 3-10 hr predestination vs. free-will debate!).  That is, there is much more to "Reformed" than your soteriology.   

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek: Chapter 4

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 Ch. 3

Chapter Four Review – Chris Fresch

"On balance, we struggle to find an explanation of the origins of the Septuagint.  Jews in the third century BCE in Ptolemaic Alexandria had embraced the spirit of the culture around them to various degrees and almost universally through the linguistic medium.  Alexandria was an exciting city of culture and learning, and translation and textual scholarship was in the air.  In this environment these Jewish translators rendered their Hebrew scriptures into the language of the day.  That may be all we can say about the origins of the Septuagint ..." (Law, When God Spoke Greek, 41)

Upon reading the above quote in When God Spoke Greek on the penultimate page of chapter 4, some readers may be tempted to feel a certain level of dissatisfaction with Law.  Why does he refuse to provide something more concrete?  Can we not say anything more definitive about the origins, purpose, and authors of the Septuagint (NB referring to the Greek Pentateuch)?

No, we cannot.

... and I am very pleased with Law that he did not attempt to do so.  He even admits on page 42 how attractive an explanation like "religious purpose" would be, but Law, being a responsible scholar, must follow the evidence — or in this case, must not say more than what the very little evidence we have allows.

In this chapter, Law helpfully discusses key issues on the origins of the Septuagint.  He begins by providing a brief historical background, explaining to the reader that the science and art of translation had been around well before the creation of the Greek Pentateuch.  From there, he moves to the Letter of Aristeas.  This letter, likely written around 100 years after the translation of the Pentateuch, is well known for its claim to give an eyewitness account of the event and events surrounding the translation of the Torah into Greek.  Law's discussion here is helpful.  He offers a critical assessment of the Letter, suggesting its use as a "charter myth" (38) within Hellenistic Judaism, while also remaining open to the idea that there may be pieces of historical merit present.  The most important take away for Law, though, is the purpose of this narrative to affirm the authority of the Septuagint.  Law's discussion here is excellent, briefly diving into the two avenues through which such authority is affirmed: via Greek perspective (King Ptolemy II's insistence that the Jewish law be included in his library; the translators described as being on equal footing with the Greek philosophers; the description of the reasonableness of Jewish laws) and via Hebrew perspective (translators selected by the high priest; thematic links between the Letter and the book of Exodus).  There is not space to explore these avenues in detail here, but Law's few pages are a worthwhile read.  Crucially, as Law notes, this all paved the way for a very high view of the Septuagint, that is, it being regarded as sacrosanct and at least on par with its Hebrew source, if not placed above it!

The final two sections of the chapter are titled "Who Were the Translators?" and "Why the Septuagint?"  Law is cautious in both of these sections, particularly the latter, to not overstate his claims.  We have very little evidence to provide definite answers to either of these questions.

Law ends the first of these two sections with the following: "All the evidence seems to point to moderately educated, Hellenized Jews in Alexandria.  Unfortunately, certainty escapes us" (40).  Though I am sure many would prefer Law to make a more concrete claim, I am thankful that he does not.  This is an important lesson that all scholars must learn.  We must follow the evidence and never claim more than it claims and never suggest more than it suggests.  Even the few suggestions that Law does put forward in this section are up for debate.  He privileges the use of Egyptian load words, claiming that they "reflect the common vocabulary used in an Egyptian setting even by immigrants" (40).  To this, I would say, "Maybe."  To turn around Law's own analogy of an English speaker living in Mexico who will refer to an enchilada whether in Mexico or back home in an English context: I used the word "enchilada" and I have never lived in Mexico!  My wife and I will frequently use "lo siento" and "te amo" when speaking to one another despite neither of us living in Mexico or being of Mexican or Spanish descent.  The use of loanwords does not necessarily indicate the location from which one is speaking or writing.  All they absolutely indicate is some contact with the culture and language, which may be very indirect and removed.
A couple of examples:
1. My brother will refer to Mt. McKinley (tall mountain in Alaska) as "Denali" (the native Alaskan name for the mountain).  My brother has never lived in Alaska, so why does he not use the normal American designation for the mountain?  Because I lived in Alaska.  Because of his connection to me, he knows that Alaskans prefer the original, native name rather than using the name of a US President who never even visited their state.  His use of "Denali," then, does not indicate his location.  He lives halfway across the world from Alaska.  All it indicates is an indirect connection to a location and culture.
2. Although my American parents only lived in Norway for a handful of years and have not lived there for over 23 years, my mother will still say to this day "forstår du meg?" ("Do you understand me?") when she wants to communicate "You had better agree or you will be sorry."  If she were to write this in an email to me, it would not indicate she was writing from Norway.  Rather, it merely indicates a past connection to Norway.

Granted, we live in a more interconnected world and people are much more mobile these days.  I merely want to show that Law does very well to be cautious in this section and that even loanwords can be misleading.

In the last section, "Why the Septuagint," Law provides an even more cautious discussion, to which the quote at the beginning of this blog post attests.  We cannot say with any certainty why the Septuagint was translated.  There have been many good and creative ideas put forth in recent years, but none can claim to have enough evidentiary support.  Law only singles out one of those ideas, the Interlinear Paradigm (which is perhaps the most popular), and briefly discusses it (41).  I especially appreciated his assessment.  In my opinion, the Interlinear Paradigm, which posits that the Greek translation was produced with the idea that it would be read side-by-side with the Hebrew, is incredibly problematic.  Law does an excellent job here of respectfully and briefly noting the Paradigm's weaknesses yet allowing that it may be helpful in certain contexts.

While the reader may come away from chapter four feeling discouraged or dissatisfied owing to the lack of certainty we can have about the origins of the Septuagint, this is not the end of the book!  We are just getting started!  Furthermore, if Law had made concrete claims in this chapter, I would have recommended everyone to just put the book down and walk away!  The fact that Law is honest and cautious here is a good indication of his desire to follow the evidence and not go beyond it.

(As an aside, since the New English Translation of the Septuagint was guided by the Interlinear Paradigm and drew heavily from the NRSV, if anyone is interested in producing a newer translation of the Septuagint, one that starts from scratch and treats the text as a document in its own right, we should get together for a drink sometime....)

Chapter Four Response—Ed Glenny

Chapter four of Law’s book is a stimulating introduction to a very interesting topic, the translators of the LXX (Torah). I do not say the chapter is stimulating because I disagree with the contents of the chapter. In fact, after reading the chapter twice I realized I had no question marks in the margins of this chapter in my copy of the book, and I normally place question marks in the margin where there are things that I have reservations about. I agree with Chris that in this chapter Law is cautious, and he does not go beyond the evidence. However, I found the chapter stimulating because it introduces several topics related to the Greek Bible that virtually beg for further inquiry, and it inspires me to get to work. Let me mention a few of the topics introduced in this chapter that need more work and are ready and waiting for scholars to study them further. First, for the uninitiated as well as the initiate the Letter of Aristeas is a deep hole that could swallow up the scholar who dares to jumps in; yet anyone interested in Septuagint studies must take this plunge, whether they decide to stay in the water long or not. A lot of work has been done on Aristeas, but I think there is still a lot more to do. Also, the Interlinear Paradigm, which Law refers to in the last section of the chapter, has not been applied to Greek Bible studies very long and it is begging for more analysis and critical evaluation. The study of the rhetoric and style of the various books of the Greek Bible is one entrée into this analysis. Other areas of study of the Greek Bible that are worthy of further research and come to mind from this chapter are the study of translation theory and work on translation technique in the various books and sections, and all these fields of inquiry will help us have a better understanding of the translators of the Greek Bible. Thus, I found this chapter stimulating because it reminds me how much we do not know about the Greek Bible and how much more work there is to be done in it. There is great interest in Septuagint (Greek Bible) studies, and there is no danger of running out of work to do on it.

Chapter Four Response—Aaron White

Chris accurately observes the tone behind this chapter.  Caution.  For me, Law's warranted caution is needed for the reasons Ed and Chris point out.  Either the answers are not concretely presented to us in the evidence, and thus our conclusions should also be held loosely.  Or, as Ed put more clearly, there is still a lot of work to do.  I think all three of us (without making this a mutual-admiration society) would like to believe that there is more work!  Job security!

Though, I am primarily intending to respond to Ed and Chris, I found one point to be especially interesting that has not already been pointed out.  Chris noted how Law says that the Letter of Aristeas (LA) was a "charter myth" that served to establish the authority of the Septuagint for the Alexandrian Jews.  How this "myth" was established was what I found interesting.  Law notes that "LA rewrites the Exodus." (36)  For LA version of the Exodus, the Alexandrian Jews were freed from a "willing liberator," Ptolemy II Philadelphus, and then these Jews receive, not the law at Sinai, but the Law in Alexandria, in their own language (broadly speaking), Greek.  This story, Law says, was "used to bolster the authority of the Septuagint," and in time "[Some Jews and Christians] would believe it was indeed a new revelation from God."  (36, 39)  OT, Early Jewish, and NT scholars are used to seeing this same Exodus motif employed for similar reasons seen in LA.  It is not a new narrative (propaganda?).

Re: the interlinear model.  I am glad Law spoke on this.  I am also glad that Ed responded to Chris the way he did.  I think I generally find myself in the camp that I perceive Chris and Law to be.  That is, largely in response to my MT-heavy theological education, I want something more purely LXX.  Ed's comments on the infancy of research on the interlinear model gave me pause.  I think I was so sold out (though I think I still sort of am) to the idea of treating the LXX in its own right, I may have forgotten the value that this other perspective could provide.  LXX research broadly is still in its infancy, and has been slowly (very slowly) gaining steam for over100 years in modern critical research.  This recent push by Law, Jobes, Tov, Ed, Pietersma, Gentry, Wright, et. al., and future stakeholders like Chris, has shown to the rest of us how much still needs discovered.  And at this stage, no rock should be left unturned, even the ones we may not initially be drawn to.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Great Commision According to Dan Wallace

Recently, Dan Wallace has been blogging about the Great Commission, in three posts (starting here).  I recently made reference to it in the February Bibio-blog Carnival.  However, I was interested to study more fully what Wallace was saying since I often hear the "myth" he is referring to in this series.  However, I did not have time to invest in his (as blogs go) lengthy study.  I figured others are like me and would love to know what Wallace says, but would like a few bullet points.  Here they are!  I did it for you!  You can thank me later...

Presenting Problem:
Wallace contends that there is a prevailing myth about the Great Commission that goes thus (with an added comment that forecasts his own opinion of the "myth" and where his posts are headed):
“In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses. Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.” The exposition based on this understanding of the Greek text then attempts to salve the consciences of the congregation, permitting them to do nothing about the lost if it at all means going out of their way.
He addresses the "myth" in three parts: 1) The Greek Grammar. 2) The Historical Setting of the Commission.  3)  The Application of the Commission

1) The Greek Grammar

According to Wallace two problems exist with the "as you go" interpretation of the Great Commission in the Greek Grammar.

1) the verb translated "go" is an aorist participle.  This means that it is best translated "after you have gone."  Wallace reminds us what his grammar instructs, namely, according to the grammar rule of "attendant circumstance," when the aorist ptc. is used with an imperative, it "piggy backs" on the mood of the finite verb - the imperative.  His post gives 6 example in Matthew's Gospel where this happens.  In other words, "go" should sound like an imperative ("go!"), not a description of the action of going, i.e. "as you go."

2)The participle is a necessary prerequisite to the action of the main verb.  In other words, what Wallace means is that the emphasis is on the main verb, the imperative, and the descriptor provided by the ptc. is the thing that must happen before the main verb happens.  Wallace illustrates: 
For example, Peter could not throw a hook in the lake until he went to the lake (Matt 17.27); the women could not tell Jesus’ disciples that he had been raised from the dead until they went (Matt 28.7). How does this relate to the Great Commission? Essentially, it means that the apostles must go before they could make disciples.
This corrects the "myth" that places the emphasis on the ptc. and misunderstands its place in the order of operation. And in sum, according to the grammar there is no reason "as you go" should ever be considered as a translation of the Commission.  "Go" rather takes on the mood of the imperative. 

 2) The Historical Setting of the Commission

Setting: Mount of Olives in Galilee (Cf. Lk 24 and Acts 1), but the commission says that the implementation of the mission must start in Jerusalem. 

The importance of the historical setting for Wallace is the Commissions movement.  It is a mission that starts with familiar ("within Israel, within Judaism, and to the Jews") and moves steadily to areas unfamiliar to the disciples.  That is, the mission may have been heard in Galilee, but the mission is supposed to start at the heart of Judaism and move outward to the Gentiles. 

For Wallace, the historical setting itself demonstrates not an ethnocentric mission but an eccentric mission.  He says:
I cannot stress enough how difficult this change in perspective must have been for these apostles. But for the sake of the gospel, they became evangelists on an eccentric mission with a Christocentric focus. In short, they moved outside of their comfort zone: they went and then made disciples “of all the nations” rather than making disciples along the way. If it had been along the way, they would have avoided Gentiles like the plague. To translate Matt 28.19 as “as you are going” or “along the way, make disciples” misreads not only the syntax but the historical setting as well.

3)  The Application of the Commission

The imperatives are baptizing and teaching.  For Wallace, this demonstrates the means of making disciples.  He emphasizes the importance of order and how our current day has reversed them (i.e., teaching then baptizing), and how this has devalued baptism into a right of obedienceHe says:

Part of the reason why we don’t consider baptism as more important nowadays is that we see it as simply an act of obedience (which should be reason enough!) when it may be more than that.
That sounds so Covenant-theological to me!  I love it!  Maybe we can get a post on covenant-baptism next, and how credo-baptists have devalued baptism into a "choice" (etc.) and are implying some serious things about where their kids stand in relation to the people of God and under the Representative.   But, I digress...  

Next, he contends that too many Christians are not willing to "go!" outside their comfort zones.  Amen, Dan!  My favorite quote is this: 

Way too many seminary students—future pastors—are cookie-cutter Christians. They have conformed to a style of living that is not messy enough to be real. Kind of an aesthetic asceticism—you know, ‘professional casual’… monks.

Well said.  He adds, lastly, that Christians resist becoming "all things to all people."  That is, "resist becoming like the people that one ministers to."  The application essentially stems from the translation.  That is, if we are "'as-we-are-go'-ing" we get, according to Wallace, impotent attempts at mission.  But if we understand the Commission, its prescriptive means, and the power invested by the One commissioning, the church's mission looks much different and powerful.

Conclusion: Wallace contends that the "typical English translation, 'Go and make disciples,' was pretty accurate," and has important implications for the culture of evangelism and discipleship in the church today.  

I hope this series gains a wide reading.