Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Book Notice: The Good Shepherd by Kenneth Bailey

Over the years I have been very appreciative of Kenneth Bailey's work in the New Testament. Among those that I have benefited form most are his books on the parables, Jesus and Paul. Bailey's experiences growing up and ministering in places like Egypt and Lebanon have helped him to bring a Middle Eastern perspective to reading and interpreting the Bible.

So I was pleased when his latest book arrived in my mailbox today: The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament (IVP, 2014). 

This time Bailey turns his eyes onto Psalm 23 and the theme of the good shepherd. Beginning with psalm and moving through the rest of Scripture, Bailey discusses the way that the biblical writers used the shepherd theme to describe both good and bad shepherds. Here's the blurb.
“The Lord is my shepherd." Thus begins the most beloved of all Psalms—and thus begins a thousand-year journey through the Bible. Prophets, apostles and Jesus himself took up this image from David, reshaping it, developing it and applying it to their own situations and needs. Kenneth Bailey uses his celebrated insights into Middle Eastern culture and especially his familiarity with Middle Eastern shepherding customs to bring new light and life to our understanding of this central image of the Christian faith. With each of nine major Old and New Testament passages, Bailey reveals the literary artistry of the Biblical writers and summarizes their key theological features. His work is also enriched by his unique access to very early Middle Eastern commentaries on these passages, bringing fresh understanding from within the mindset of these ancient worlds. The Good Shepherd invites us to experience a rich, biblical feast of ethical, theological and artistic delights.
I look forward to reading it. It is scheduled to be released on December 7th, but you can pre-order it now. Many thanks to the kind folks at IVP for sending me a copy. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Advice to my students

Zondervan has been producing a series of videos titled "Advice to My Students." This series provides a short interview with various seminary professors who explain what advice they routinely give to their students. Below is my contribution to the series.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Obligation of Thanks (2 Thessalonians 1:1-4)

For those who are interested, the below video is of the sermon I gave on Sunday at Linden Road Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, Ohio. The message is based on the work in my new commentary.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recent Research on Revelation: Book Notice

My friend and colleague, Dr. Russell S. Morton, professional fellow at Ashland Seminary, has published a new book. It is part of the Sheffield Phoenix "Recent Research" series and promises to be a useful resource for those doing serious study in the Apocalypse of John. Here's the blurb.

Perhaps no other biblical book has been the source of as much consternation to its readers as the Revelation of John of Patmos. Their distress has been accentuated by popular approaches, which often advance sensationalist visions of the future. But did John’s vision focus on the distant future, or was it directed to concerns of his own day? If it was directed to his own situation in Roman Asia Minor, what lasting significance, if any, does it have for people two thousand years after the composition of the work?
Recent Research on Revelation is an ambitious attempt to comprehend the great range of scholarly views on the Apocalypse. Avoiding popular and sensational readings of Revelation, this book outlines how scholars of various stripes grapple with John’s dramatic and often disturbing book. Beginning with a historical survey of scholarly opinion, the book examines the question of what form of literature Revelation is. It then offers an overview of various methods used to interpret the Apocalypse, ranging from traditional historical-critical analysis to feminist and postcolonial criticisms.
The Apocalypse continues to evoke strong reactions in its readers, both positive and negative, from comfort to perplexity to revulsion. At the very least, it stimulates readers’ interest to an extent not surpassed by any other New Testament book. We cannot shut our eyes to John’s vision, for it has had too much impact on who we are, whether Christian or not.

You can see the full table of contents here
Congratulations, Russell! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Infusing Hope into Difficult Circumstances: Paul's letters to the Thessalonians

My recent commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians in the Story of God Bible Commentary series was released earlier this month. Here is a short video in which I explain purpose of the series and talk about what I see Paul doing in these letters.

You can buy it on Amazon for  only $23.00 in print or $20.00 in digital format.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pete Enns on the Gift of Darkness

Only those who have gone through a difficult, dark period in their life and faith truly understand the experience. 

Pete Enns has a short piece on his blog today about the gift of darkness. His post is a reflection on St. John of the Cross.

The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is like, but they won’t be able to describe it.”
St. John of the Cross 
"During the dark night the tried-and-true rituals and creeds of religion no longer satisfy or bring assurances of God’s love. (So you might get bored with church services for very good reasons too, but that is not the same as mere spiritual laziness or a lack of faith.)"
Pete Enns

You can read the full post here

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Biblical World reaches one million hits!

Today the Biblical World blog reached one million hits! I started the blog in July of 2010 and never thought I would see this many visitors.

 Of course not everyone who visits is looking for my blog, but I still consider it accomplishment. Over the last few years I have tried to ensure that people who visit the blog do so because they are interested in the content and not because I had a picture or title that was designed to hook-in visitors who are looking for something else. I am unsure to what degree I have been successful.

Many thanks to everyone who reads the blog. It's not as active as it once was, but I still try to use it for letting people know about important events and developments related to the Bible.  Perhaps we will hit two million even quicker?

Now if I just had a dollar for every person who visited . . .

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Afraid you'll be left behind? The Origins of the "Rapture."

The Nicholas Cage reboot of the Left Behind series is attempting to breath new life into a story that is fairly worn out.

Although I haven't seen the film, I know that its premise is based on the idea that God will secretly "snatch away" the Christians just before a period of intense suffering begins on the earth under the leadership of the Antichrist.

The belief in a pretribulation rapture is well known in North America. Even people who aren't believers are aware of it. This is probably due to the way it has been woven into various aspects of Protestantism throughout the 20th century.

The problem, however, is that belief in a pretribulation rapture is relatively new in Church history. It began with a prophecy at a prayer meeting in either Scotland or Ireland and moved to the USA with the teachings of J. Nelson Darby and was popularized through the preaching of D. L. Moody and the Scofield Bible. I have told this story to my students a number of times over the years.

Today, in response to the Nicholas Cage reboot, Ben Witherington has produced a short video explaining the (short) history of the pretributlation rapture. If you have never heard this before, I think you will find it quite interesting.

 Incidentally,Witherington places the prayer meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. I had once read it took place in Ireland at the home of Lady Powerscourt.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Online sample of my new commentary

Zondervan has uploaded a sample from my forthcoming commentary. 

You can read the introductory material and the exposition of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3 here

To learn more about the Story of God Series click here

A new commentary for today’s world, The Story of God Bible Commentary explains and illuminates each passage of Scripture in light of the Bible’s grand story. The first commentary series to do so, SGBC offers a clear and compelling exposition of biblical texts, guiding everyday readers in how to creatively and faithfully live out the Bible in their own contexts. Its story-centric approach is ideal for pastors, students, Sunday school teachers, and laypeople alike.

It's scheduled to be released on October 14th, but you can pre-order your hardcover or Ebook version today!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It (A review)

Every once in a while someone writes a book that says exactly what you have been thinking for a long time. In Pete Enns’ most recent book I found a description of the Bible and how it works articulated just the way I would say it. In fact, I wish I had said it!

In The Bible Tells Me So: Why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it (HarperOne, 2014), Enns leads readers on a journey of new discovery. Many readers of the Bible (ok, all of us) approach the Bible with certain presuppositions about the way we think the Bible works. But as Enns points out time and again, while we may approach the Bible with an “owner’s manual” or “rule book” mentality, the Bible rarely behaves the way we want it to behave (p. 73). In fact, the more we read the Bible and try to apply it, the more we realize that it is a complex book that is not so easily tamed.

Enns’ goal in this volume is not to tame the beast, but to help readers discover a new appreciation for the Bible.  And although Enns has a PhD from Harvard and is probably too smart for his own good, this is not an academic essay on the Bible that will help cure your insomnia. In many ways this is a personal story in which Enns describes his own journey from an “owner’s manual” approach to the Bible to informed believer. This is a book by someone who found that the Bible is much more exciting and useful than a simple “rulebook.”

The central thrust of the book is the importance of story. Enns notes the difficulty with holding up the Bible to modern ideas of “history.” While he acknowledges that a lot of history lies behind the Bible, he also gives a number of examples where the Bible simply wouldn’t make the cut in documentary. But the problem is not the Bible, but the expectations moderns readers bring to the Bible.

When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey. The journey was recorded over a thousand years span of time, by different writers, with different personalities, at different times, under different circumstances, and for different reasons.

In the Bible, we read of encounters with God by ancient peoples, in their times and places, asking their questions, and expressed in language and ideas familiar to them. Those encounters with God were, I believe, genuine, authentic, and real. But they were also ancient – and that explains why the Bible behaves that way. (p. 23)

Rather than view this as a diminishing of the Bible, Enns argues that this is what makes the Bible useful. The Bible is “Story” it is that which shapes the past in order to help us make sense of the present (p. 99).

But it’s not just the stories of the Bible that are complicated. The God we read about in the Bible is also complicated and doesn’t always behave the way we would like. At times God is loving and merciful and at other times he is vengeful and violent. And try as we may to reconcile those contrasting pictures, it’s not possible. Enns, however, invites his readers to embrace this diverse presentation of God.

God certainly is a multidimensional character in the Bible. Sometimes he is up there and out of the way, unmoved and unmovable. But more often he is the kind of God you can actually have a relationship with. Both are in the Bible. Neither cancels the other out, but – ironically, perhaps – the biblical God that is least Godlike is the one we tend to connect with more in our day – to – day lives. A God like us is not a problem. The New Testament, Where God becomes one of us, calls this Good News. (p. 159).

For Enns, it is the revelation of God in Jesus that is most important.  After demonstrating how Jesus, like the Bible, didn’t always behave the way people would expect, Enns proposes that Jesus is actually bigger than the Bible. That is, while the Bible is important and tells us about and directs us towards God and Jesus, it isn’t the final word. Jesus is the final Word (p. 195).

Enns concludes the volume by suggesting that the Bible is unsettling and that it is supposed to be that way (p. 239). Our attempts to tame the Bible, to make it behave will never succeed and only frustrate us more. But that is not a reason for us to give up. Enns suggests that an unsettled faith is a maturing faith (238). He also warns that we shouldn’t expect more from the Bible than you would from Jesus (p. 243). If we are willing to accept the mystery of Jesus as God come in the flesh, we should also accept the mystery of how the Bible came to us with human fingerprints all over it.

This is a book that needed to be written. And if you know anything about Pete Enns and his story you will know that he was just the person to write it. This book should be read by anyone who has been raised in evangelical thinking, but found that at times the answers it provided were unsatisfactory. It’s a book for people who cling to their faith in God in spite of the messiness of the Bible and the way it has been used over the centuries. It is a book that I think puts into words what many have been thinking for a long time.

I highly recommend it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Book for Every Pastor's Shelf

There are many resources that I regularly recommend to my students. Among them is Craig Keener's Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament (IVP). Providing a chapter by chapter commentary of the New Testament, Craig helps readers to quickly discover what historical, cultural and religious factors may be at work in the text.

The first edition of this important resource was published in 1995. Yesterday I received a copy of the Second Edition, with many thanks to Craig for sending it to me. This is an excellent resource that should be on every pastor's shelf. And it's affordable; less than $30.00. Since the first edition lasted twenty years, your investment should last you for much of your ministry career.

Here's the blurb! Now, if you don't own already own it, click here to buy!
This revised edition of the standard reference work in its field has been expanded throughout to now provide even more up-to-date information by Craig Keener, one of the leading New Testament scholars on Jewish, Greek and Roman culture. To understand and apply the Bible well, you need two crucial sources of information. One is the Bible itself. The other is an understanding of the cultural background of the passage you're reading. Only with the background can you grasp the author's original concerns and purposes. This unique commentary provides, in verse-by-verse format, the crucial cultural background you need for responsible--and richer--Bible study. It includes a glossary of cultural terms and important historical figures, maps and charts, up-to-date bibliographies, and introductory essays about cultural background information for each book of the New Testament. Based on decades of in-depth study, this accessible and bestselling commentary is valuable for pastors in sermon preparation, for Sunday-school and other church teachers as they build lessons, for missionaries concerned not to import their own cultural biases into the Bible, for college and seminary students in classroom assignments, and for everyday Bible readers seeking to deepen and enhance their study of Scripture.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My "Aha" Moment and Those Who Don't Get It

I remember playing with fire once when I was a kid. 

Ok, I did it more than once when I was a kid.

But I remember one time when it almost got out of control. One day after the fourth of July a friend and I collected a pile of unexploded firecrackers. The fuses had burned off but the firecrackers had failed to explode. After trying a variety of methods to ignite them we decided to build a fire, throw them in and wait for the bang. When that failed to happen we decided to throw in the six or seven Bic lighters we had collected from around my friend’s house. That’s when the real pyrotechnics began.

Although the fireworks never ignited, the lighters did! Suddenly the lighters became fiery, molten plastic projectiles that were catapulted out of the fire into the surrounding woods. In a matter of moments we were confronted with a half dozen small fires that were in danger of burning out of control. The woods were too far from the house, so the garden hose wouldn't reach. We were forced to stamp out each individual fire before it spread too far. Whew!

In some ways I feel like I am in a similar situation over a blog post I wrote in June for Pete Enns.  I suppose I was playing with fire again.

The post was an attempt to explain my faith perspective as a biblical scholar who encountered the complexity of the Bible, but still maintains a strong faith in God. But instead what has happened is that some have taken a small, yet significant portion of that post, and like those molten plastic projectiles from my youth, have begun a number of small fires. Since I can’t possibly stamp them all out, I will try to communicate here what I originally said and some further thoughts about the portion that others have used to start these fires.

In the original post, I describe an “aha” moment when I realized that the Bible was different than I had understood it and that I was going to need to change if I was going to accept the Bible on its own terms. I talked about how I noticed that in Mark 2:23-27 Jesus uses, as a defense, a story about David eating the bread reserved only for the priests and giving some of it to his men. I noted how Jesus’ use of this story is at variance with what is described in 1 Samuel 21 where, in my opinion, David is clearly alone and, even more curious, Jesus mentions the wrong priest. 1 Sam 21 says that the name of the priest was Ahimelek, but Jesus says it was Abiathar.

In my post I related how I noticed the discrepancy while sitting in a Bible College class and that I pointed out to my teacher that “Jesus got it wrong” and that “Mark has the wrong priest.” I was relating what was quite a disturbing moment for young student of the Bible. I then continued on in the rest of the post to explain my understanding of Scripture and how I approach it.

While I received much positive feedback from those who could identify with my “aha” moment, there have been some that have turned my post into an argument over inerrancy (a word I never used) and have zeroed in on my story about Mark 2:23-27. And those responses have become nothing more than a game of shooting fish in a barrel.

The one response that has gone viral is from Craig Blomberg on Michael Kruger’s blog “Canon Fodder.” Let me start by stating that I am not picking a fight with him. I am honored that Blomberg responded to my post. I have followed Craig’s work for years and cut my teeth on parables using his book.

In his response Blomberg provides an alternative approach to interpreting Mark 2:23-27 based on a translation of the Greek preposition “epi” and how synagogues read through the entire Law every year (you can read the full explanation here). Blomberg is critical of me for not saying more about the passage and wonders why I didn’t give any other possible explanations (see my own explanation in the comment section below).

Blomberg’s question about why I didn’t give any other possible explanations is what bothers me about those responding to my post. They have missed the point of the series. The point was not to have an exegetical sparing match, but to talk about those moments when we were thunderstruck. But more importantly, at least for me, it was to talk about where I am at today.

Certainly I could have talked about other interpretations of Mark 2:26, but the purpose of the post was to talk about my personal faith as a bible scholar who wrestles with the Bible. Indeed, the majority of the post was about why I still believe in spite of some of the difficulties I have encountered.

More importantly, for me, to talk about the nature of scripture involves more than whether or not it contains “error.”  My comments about the story in Mark 2 don’t represent the sum of my approach to scripture. It’s that moment when I began to realize I would need to change how I read and interpret it. I hope that those he read our “aha” moment posts don’t conclude that an anecdote is the sum total of all we think about scripture.

But let’s take a moment and address the “real” issue everyone seems to find with my “aha” moment. It’s that I suggested that Jesus got the name of the priest wrong. Those who take issue with my statement seem to imply that I am suggesting that Jesus was therefore a fallible human being. Perhaps they equate making a mistake with sin. I am not sure, but I suspect that is the case.

It’s these kinds of assumptions that I think go right the heart of our understanding Jesus’ humanity. What does it mean to say that Jesus, was human? That he was God incarnate in human flesh? Does this mean that Jesus never got confused and called one of the disciples by a different name? Or that he forgot where he laid something? Did Jesus ever get so tired from travelling and teaching that miscommunicated something? Did he ever make a mistake when measuring a stone or a board? Did he ever hit his thumb with a hammer?

I am not sure, but I suspect that for some the idea of Jesus making a mistake like those named above equates him with sinful humanity. Again, I am not sure, but I think that is what they are thinking. I do not, however, understand Jesus to be someone who, as a human, was incapable of making mistakes. Making a mistake doesn’t make him sinful, it makes him human.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if Jesus “got it wrong” or not. I wasn’t there and my only access to the story is through what Mark tells me. My statement to my Bible College teacher was the realization of a young man who saw something new and, at the time, quite shocking.

But I do think that the way the story is related in Mark 2 is at variance with what is presented in 1 Samuel 21. And that is where the major difference lies between me and some others. I am able to accept a Bible that doesn’t act the way I wish it did. I can accept a Bible that doesn’t always lineup with history or even itself. And when I encounter a difficulty like Mark 2:26 my impulse is not to conclude that it’s wrong. But I also don’t feel the need to explain it to fit my modern understanding of history. Sometimes I find a very reasonable explanation and other times I realize there isn’t one. At least not one that “fixes” the Bible to fit into the paradigm I have constructed.

 At the end of the day, I still consider the Bible the word of God. And it’s the mystery and the paradox of the Bible that consistently draws me into it rather than drives me away.

I realize that there will be some who won’t accept this explanation. And a short blog post could become another fiery projectile in the blogosphere. But for those who are responding to the “aha” moments on Pete Enns’ blog I would ask that they consider the purpose of the posts rather than using them as a chance to shoot fish in the inerrancy barrel. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's your opinion of the Bible's historical accuracy?

What people think about the Bible varies.

Some would say that it contains accurate history. Others disagree and suggest that while it contains history, it shouldn't all be taken literally. And then some think nothing in the Bible is historically accurate.

A recent Gallup poll of more than a thousand American adults offered three different attitudes toward the Bible’s historical accuracy, as follows; after the question we give the percentage of people who agreed with the particular viewpoint (totaling 96 percent; 4 percent had no opinion):

What is your opinion? Biblical Archaeology Review is running on an online poll you can participate in.  Click here to cast your vote

Do take the poll, but perhaps leave a comment below whether you fit in category 1, 2, or 3.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ISIS and the Christians: Be Cautious

Over the weekend I saw a number of posts on Facebook which claimed that Christian children in Iraq are being beheaded by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I even saw one post claim that children were being buried alive. The potential evil and tragedy of the situation attracted my attention and made me wonder to what further level is humanity able to still sink.

But I also know that in our digital age nothing spreads rumors and misinformation quicker than the internet and especially social media. So I scoured the various news sites. I performed Google searches and I looked for some acknowledgement of the tragedy when President Obama announced the US would be dropping aid to the Yazidis religious minority in Iraq.

But I found no information about Christian children being beheaded. Consequently, I watched with the hope that it was not true.

And it seems now that my instincts may have been correct. I read a report on the Gospel Coalition which investigated the claims and has determined the following:

While it is possible that children are being beheaded by ISIS in Iraq, there is currently no credible evidence to support that claim. We should pray this report turn out to be just rumor and that whatever other crimes are being committed, that God is sparing the children of Iraq from “systematic beheading.”
As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth. We should avoid spreading unsubstantiated claims and inflaming dread and panic by playing on people’s natural disgust of harm to children. ISIS is an organization that has committed heinous acts of violence and violated the human rights of many of our fellow believers. But we must not partake in the spreading of lies, even if it is against our enemies.

You can read the whole article here.

The situation in Iraq is terrible. But we should also be careful that we don’t do anything that might inflame it. All of the people of Iraq should be in our thoughts and prayers. But we can best help them by spreading truthful information about the situation rather than unsubstantiated reports.

It’s easy to believe things about evil people, those we might consider to be our enemies. But we must also remember not to treat our enemies in such a way that make them out to be guilty of more evil than they already are. It becomes very hard to love and redeem one’s enemies when we are actively spreading misinformation about them that makes them look worse than they already are.

I close with a quote from C.S. Lewis that was on the Gospel Coalition site. I think it applies to situations like this one.

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hoard of Coins from Jewish Rebellion Discovered in Jerusalem.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week Jews around the world commemorated the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. This holiday is known as Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av), which is the day on the Jewish calendar the traditionally marks the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s temple.

Also this week, an announcement was made that a stash of ancient coins dating from the rebellion that led up to the temple's destruction, was discovered in Jerusalem.

This is an unusual find in some way. Here's a bit of what the archaeologists have to say. 

The coins are all of identical size and age, and possibly from the same mint. Their value has yet to be determined, but they are likely quarter or one-eighth shekel bits, Betzer said. They are all marked with the words “For the redemption of Zion” and “Year four,” indicating they were made during the fourth year of the revolt against the Roman Empire, or between spring 69 and spring 70 CE. They are decorated with the Biblical four species — palm, myrtle, citron and willow — and a vessel that may symbolize those used in the temple. The coins are still encrusted in nearly 2,000-year-old dirt and oxidation, and await cleaning and study by IAA specialists.
 “What this teaches this is that the person who held onto this trove received it all in one batch,” he said while exhibiting the brilliant greenish coins at the IAA’s Har Hotzvim laboratories in Jerusalem. “He received them from the rebel leadership; he may have been part of the rebel leadership.” Perhaps, he speculated, they were funds destined for the purchase of arms or provisions for the Jewish fighters against the Roman legions.“These coins were minted a few months before the destruction of the temple [in Jerusalem],” he said. “It was one of the last efforts by the rebels to prevail.” Ultimately, however, they failed, and on the Ninth of Av, 70 CE, the Romans crushed the rebellion by destroying the temple in Jerusalem and slaughtering the city’s inhabitants. 

You can read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Introducing the Forever Bible: Because everyone needs a Bible that floats!

There's an old saying among church ladies that goes something like this "A Bible that is falling apart belongs to someone who is not." The saying, apparently a quote from Charles Spurgeon, is used as a way to suggest that if one reads the Bible your life will be perfect. But I suspect there are many daily Bible readers who might testify to the opposite.

Nonetheless, a "falling apart Bible" is a problem. I once had a Bible for only a year before the leather binding began separating. And my Greek New Testament, which I have used regularly for twenty years, has been been glued together several times. So it is true that if you use/read your Bible it will eventually begin to show wear. And at some point you will either buy a new one or decide to tape it back together and hold on to it like an old, dear friend.

But now one enterprising company has a solution for our "falling apart Bibles." Forever publishing has announced an indestructible Bible. Here is what they have to say:
“Using Space Age nanotechnology, we are able to print the Bible on an advanced paper that doesn't use any trees, is 24X stronger than regular paper, and is completely waterproof, dirt-proof, tear-proof, and otherwise life-proof,” the company boasts. “The Forever Bible even floats in water, while keeping your notes and highlighted passages pristine.”

I'm not sure that the world really needs such a Bible and must admit that this really does antagonize the recovering cynic in me. However, watch the below video clip and let me know what you think. Perhaps I am off base and you will be ordering one of these for Christmas.

You will be forgiven if you have flashbacks of old Ronco commercials as you watch the below video. If you can't watch it all the way to end then I highly recommend that you go to minute 3:57 in the video where a gentleman compares the forever Bible to Jesus.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Solomon's Temple Rebuilt! In Brazil with a Helipad?

Usually one would expect such a headline to announce that a replica of Solomon's temple had been built somewhere in the United States. 

This is the kind of thing that normally happens in the Mecca of cheap entertainment; A place like Las Vegas or Orlando's Holy Land Experience.

But this is in Brazil, host of the recent World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. So on the one hand, I was relieved that the USA must have reached it's quota of bizarre religious sites for the year and allowed another country to have the spot light for a while.

But as I read the article about the temple I was surprised by the details, including the installment of a helipad. Here's part of the article

A vast replica of Solomon's Temple opened this week in Sao Paulo, with the capacity to seat 10,000 followers of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
The temple, which engulfs an entire city block and cost about £176 million to build, has polarised opinion, particularly among the Jewish community from which it borrows much of its most eye-catching symbolism.
The temple was built using stone from Israel and contains a number of conspicuous menorahs and an altar imitating the Ark of the Covenant.
Bishop Edir Macedo, who founded the Universal Church 35 years ago and masterminded the new temple, has a flowing beard and wears a yarmulke. A helicopter landing pad on the 11-storey complex will allow Mr Macedo to drop in for sermons.
Alongside the temple is a garden of olive trees similar to the garden of Gethsemane, and the flag of Israel flies nearby, next to those of the Universal Church, Brazil and the United States, among dozens of other countries.

I suppose having stone from Israel helps to make the temple "feel" more authentic. I'm not so sure about the helipad, however. At first I thought this was part of some type of rapture practice. Perhaps people hang-on and experience what it's like to be taken up. But then I see it's so that the pastor can drop-by for a sermon. Wow, not even Jesus had a helicopter! I mean, he had to walk everywhere when he wanted to give a sermon. Imagine the all of the places he could have preached the Sermon on the Mount if he only had a helicopter? And don't get me started about Paul's missionary journeys! 

Well, if there is a silver-lining to the story it's that this is one of the few times people can't shake their heads and say "only in America." 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let the Reader Beware: Warning Labels on Theology Books

From time to time a student will ask me about what commentaries they should use/purchase. I usually provide the standard answer about buying individual volumes rather than an entire set since every series has its winners and losers.  My answer is usually followed by a request that the faculty at Ashland Seminary create a list of what is, in our opinion, some of the best resources to buy. This is a fair request from students, but one that we have never taken the time to complete.

So I was intrigued when I noticed that someone had posted a “Basic Library Book-list” prepared by the faculty at another seminary. I opened the list and began to look over the various recommended resources. I looked over the Old Testament section and recognized a number of familiar volumes, especially under Genesis where I am wont to spend my time when not in the New Testament.

But since I am by trade a New Testament scholar, I quickly scrolled down to that section and began perusing the list. I looked over the Matthew section and was surprised not to see Hagner’s commentary listed. But I did see Nolland listed under the section on Luke, so they must not have an issue with Word Biblical Commentary. I looked further and saw more names I recognized and thus concluded that the faculty at this seminary didn't think Hagner’s work made their type five list. But then I noticed that there was precious little from Jimmy Dunn, Joseph Fitzmyer and Tom Wright, to name a few. “What an unusual list,” I thought.

Then my eye landed on one individual’s name and I felt a bit better, but only for a moment. For next to his name was what looked like a little cross, the kind publishers will use to indicate that the author has passed away. My heart skipped a beat with the sudden realization that I had somehow failed to miss the passing of another great NT scholar.

I performed a Google search forthwith, but was unable to find any evidence that this person had passed away. I returned to the list and confirmed that it was his name that had the little cross before it. And then I noticed there were a number of names with little crosses. This time, however, there was no skipping of the heart. I knew many of these people and they are certainly not dead. I began looking for the place in the document that explained the meaning of the little cross.

That was when I discovered that it wasn't a cross, but a little dagger. And next to the dagger was this explanation:

† The dagger symbol indicates that a book, although valuable, contains some theological errors and, therefore, must be used with special discernment. Books that differ from a (particular theological) viewpoint are not so marked.

Now my heart fell out of my chest. This list of best resources also came with a warning label: “Let the Reader Beware.” In other words, guard your mind and soul as you use these resources.

I was taken back since I don’t live and work in a world where these types of theological warning labels exist. Certainly I will advise a student that a particular author, volume, or series has a particular theological, historical or methodological point of view. But I don’t warn them that they could be in mortal peril if they use them. My goal is to always encourage students to read widely and use any source that helps them to best answer their questions. Not infrequently, this will mean using resources that we don’t always agree with, but can learn from.

I wonder, what kind of theological thinkers are we training? Do we want those who can’t think for themselves or have to be warned that a particular resource may challenge some of their own theology? Is this truly what it means to educate?

When first found this list I thought perhaps I could “borrow” it from the seminary (with permission of course) and edit it to fit the preferences of our faculty and the needs of our students. But as I look closer I recognize I will still have to build my own list. At the same time it reminded me that, when I finally do create such a list, that I also consider why I may or may not include certain books. Am I truly picking the best resources, or am I subconsciously telling the reader to “beware” by not including them? 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

More "aha" moments with biblical scholars

Pete Enns continues his series with biblical scholars to which I contributed last week. In addition to Pete's and my own story you can now also read Daniel Kirk and Michael Pahl.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"aha" moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.

In case you haven't see it yet, Pete Enns is doing a series of blog posts in which biblical scholars from evangelical backgrounds tell their stories about their “aha” moments that convinced them they needed to find different ways of handling the Bible than how they had been taught.

Today's post is a piece I wrote for Pete on the topic.

Friday, June 13, 2014

My Commentary is Available for Pre-order on Amazon

I am pleased that a project I completed recently is moving through  the publication channels quickly. My  commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians is scheduled to be released on October 7th, but it can be pre-ordered now  through Amazon for $20.99.

The commentary is part of the Story of God commentary series edited by Scot McKnight. This is the first commentary I have written and I am pleased that it was on these two epistles since they are the first two NT books I translated from Greek.

I found the exercise of writing this commentary both challenging and refreshing. Since the target audience is those in ministry and believers who want to study the Bible more in depth, it was a challenge to communicate important information about these letters to a non-specialist readership. At the same time, I found writing the application sections (the "Live the Story" sections) refreshing as I considered how these ancient texts can and still should be applied in our 21st century setting.

Below is a blurb describing the series and a short video. I look forward to hearing  what you think of this new series and my work in particular.

A new commentary for today’s world, the Story of God Bible Commentary explains and illuminates each passage of Scripture in light of the Bible’s grand story. The first commentary series to do so, SGBC offers a clear and compelling exposition of biblical texts, guiding everyday readers in how to creatively and faithfully live out the Bible in their own contexts. Its story-centric approach is ideal for pastors, students, Sunday school teachers, and laypeople alike.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Should Christian Colleges Let Female Faculty Teach Men the Bible?

By now I suspect many are familiar with the new policy at Cedarville University. In March the president of Cedarville announced
that Bible and theology classes taught by female faculty members would not include male students. In other words, women will only teach women. A university spokesman said:
In courses where we seek to equip women for women's ministry in the local church, classes have been reserved for women in order to accomplish this goal most effectively," said Mark Weinstein, spokesman for the university.

I am not looking to debate whether or not what Cedarville is doing is correct. The fact is I am in strong disagreement with the decision. I teach at a seminary where women are full faculty members and have men in the classes they teach. I have also been a student at colleges where women were my instructors. So I think the restriction is wrong. 

But what I do find curious is that the restriction is only on those females teaching Bible/Theology. In other words, a female could, in theory, teach English, history, science or any other topic that wasn't somehow related to the Bible or, more importantly, viewed as training potential candidates for the ministry. Somehow that is the problem based, I'm sure, on 1 Tim 2:11-15. 

This is not the first time I have encountered this attitude. I have met many a person who thought women couldn't be pastors, but could teach Sunday school. The logic here seems to be that the women can teach children, but not adults. But now this logic is being extended to the halls of the academy. 

Christianity Today posed the question to five people most of whom play some role in a college or seminary. All of the respondents would agree that women should not be pastors, but they have varying views on how that works out in the classroom.

What do you think about their conclusions? Does the topic or location of a female teacher impact whether or not she can teach? 

"A college is not a church. It does not baptize, exercise church discipline, have elders and deacons, and so on. Biblical restrictions refer only to office (usually elders) rather than function, and that view simply can't be fairly transferred to a college or even a seminary."
Craig Blomberg, New Testament professor, Denver Seminary 
"It comes down to your view of ecclesiology. I don't think you take an 18-year-old, crank him through a 4-year degree, and once he has a letter behind his name he's a church leader. I think that's a worldly way of looking at the office as an institution."
Mary Kassian, women's studies professor, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"The university is a gray area, but we should stay as much to the center of God's Word and principles as we can. He is going to have far greater pleasure in seeing a male theologian in the classroom than in our seeing if we couldn't put a woman in simply because she's gifted."
Dorothy Patterson, first lady, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
"While Scripture addresses church settings, teaching roles that are elder-like should be shaped according to biblical eldership. Other aspects of elder qualifications would be operative for schools, so there's no reason to lop off the requirement that they be men."
Owen Strachan, executive director, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

"Mixed-gender theology classes should be taught by men. It is illogical to say a woman should train men to be Bible teachers and pastors when she shouldn't be one herself. If women shouldn't be pastors or elders in churches, then they should also not have that role in other contexts."
Wayne Grudem, theology professor, Phoenix Seminary

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Case for Requiring Biblical Languages in Seminary

It's no secret that many students come to seminary fearing having to take Greek and Hebrew. Many can't see the point since we already possess so many good English translations. Indeed, I have struggled with the notion of requiring languages (see my post here) since many pastors never use them after seminary. And in the next curriculum about to be unveiled at Ashland Seminary, languages will no longer be required for most degrees.

But I'm still convinced that those going into ministry should be able to work with the original languages; and this means more than owning a copy of a Bible Software.

Over at the Seminarium Blog Reed Carlson has a good post in which he makes a case for requiring languages and answers the following statement that are often raised in opposition to requiring languages.

But seminaries prepare ministers, not scholars…
OK, but isn’t there an abundance of Bible 

translations, software, and other tools for that sort of thing?
Look, seminary curricula are already bloated with bookish coursework. We need more relevant learning experiences for the twenty-first century.
The Bible is just too big… 

Friday, April 25, 2014

What Happened to Cain in the Bible?

I recently published an article in the May/June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. BAR has provided an abbreviated version on the Bible History Daily page. Below is the article.

What happened to Cain in the Bible? In the Book of Genesis, we are told about Cain’s birth, his violent act of fratricide and his subsequent exile. We learn that he married and had descendants, but the Bible is strangely mute about his death.
How did Cain die? If he did not die naturally, who killed Cain? In the Bible, do we have any clues? John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, tackles these questions in his column“Did Cain Get Away with Murder?” which appears in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR.
DID LAMECH KILL CAIN? How did Cain die? This 12th-century column capital from the Cathedral of Saint-Lazre in France depicts Lamech hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. They accidentally shoot and kill Cain, mistaking him for a wild animal. Photo: Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.
DID LAMECH KILL CAIN? How did Cain die? This 12th-century column capital from the Cathedral of Saint-Lazre in France depicts Lamech hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. They accidentally shoot and kill Cain, mistaking him for a wild animal. Photo: Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.
Byron explains that ancient interpreters were not afraid to change the story of Cain in the Bible to fit with their sense of justice, ensuring that he was adequately punished for killing his brother Abel. One of the most popular interpretations credits Lamech—Cain’s great, great grandson—with killing Cain.
Lamech admits to having killed a man in Genesis 4:23–24. Ancient interpreters believed that this passage sheds light on who killed Cain in the Bible, and they identified the man Lamech killed in verse 23 with Cain.
How and why did Lamech kill Cain? According to the Lamech legend—which was based on Genesis 4 but which evolved over the centuries—Lamech accidentally killed Cain while he was hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. In the legend, Lamech is a blind but skilled hunter, and Tubal-Cain accompanies him to direct his bow and arrow. Hearing a noise in the bushes, they shoot what they think is a wild animal. Upon investigation, though, they discover that Lamech’s arrow has killed Cain.
In this version of events, how did Cain die? Like an animal. Justice is served.
However, the Lamech legend is just one of the ways ancient interpreters sought to answer the question: How did Cain die? Did Cain die in the flood? Did he die naturally? Did Lamech kill Cain? If Lamech did not, then was there someone else who killed Cain? In the Bible, we will not find a definitive answer.
To find out more about the Lamech legend and other interpretations that seek to explain what happened to Cain in the Bible, read the full column by John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Test results for the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife"

Newspapers and blogs are announcing the long awaited results from the tests performed on the papyrus fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus' Wife (see here for earlier story). 

According to Harvard Magazine the tests reveal that both the ink and the papyrus are ancient, perhaps from the eight or ninth century of the common era. While this certainly indicates antiquity, it should also be noted that the carbon 14 dating could not demonstrate that the fragment was from the fourth century, as some were claiming. Here is the relevant section of the article. 

Because the fragment is so small, carbon-dating it proved troublesome. Researchers at the University of Arizona called into question their own results—which dated the papyrus to several hundred years before the birth of Christ—because they were unable to complete the cleaning process on the small sample of papyrus with which they were working, and felt that might have led to spurious results. A second carbon-dating analysis undertaken by Clay professor of scientific archaeology Noreen Tuross at Harvard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute dated the papyrus, and a separate one (also believed to be of ancient origin) with text from the Gospel of John to approximately A.D. 700 to 800.

The debate surrounding this fragment is certainly not over. Even if the papyrus and the ink are from 700-800 CE it doesn't mean that this fragment is "authentic." It's possible that it is an ancient forgery. Moreover, even if it is authentic, the fragment is so small and incomplete that it is impossible to conclude that it offers any proof that Jesus was married. 

I said before, it's quite possible that the fragment is authentic and represents thoughts about Jesus from someone in antiquity. But this doesn't automatically suggest that Jesus had a wife. When this find was first announced I praised Karen King for the way she presented it to her peers. But the situation quickly deteriorated when  it was also announced that she had already filmed a special segment for the Smithsonian Channel. This was, in my opinion, a bit premature since there had not been adequate time for peer review and subsequent scientific testing. If there is a moral to this story it's that we should be careful how we present our discoveries. While no presentation of research is immune from criticism and potential flaws, allowing time for the community of scholars to weigh in cannot be overstated. 

For those with access to Harvard Theological Review, you can read Karen King's long awaited article here.


Christopher Rollston still doubts its authentic and here's why:

As for the laboratory tests, the carbon tests on the papyrus demonstrate that the papyrus is ancient. That’s no surprise. Just as modern forgers of ostraca use ancient pottery sherds for their logia, so also a modern forger of a papyrus inscription would use some ancient papyrus (which, although certainly not as readily available as pottery, is still available….with or without ancient ink). It should be emphasized that papyrus was often reused (note the phenomenon of palimpsests) and so the putative date for the papyrus itself (prior to the Common Era) is not an important issue at all, neither for authenticity, nor against authenticity. It is an absolute non-issue. Also, the fact that the “ink” used on this is consistent with the chemical composition of ancient ink is also not necessarily evidence for antiquity. After all, the chemical composition of ancient “ink” has been known for some time and the chemicals available in antiquity are certainly still available today. Thus, the chemical composition of the ink is not necessarily an argument in favor of authenticity. Also, it is also possible for someone to scrape off (e.g., from a papyrus) ancient ink from the words of some mundane ancient inscription….and then add a little water to the dried ink which had been scrapped off and then resuse the ink. Some people (including some scholars) assume that modern forgers are not all that bright (and thus would not be that clever in forging something). In contrast, I believe that modern forgers (at least from the final quarter of the 20th century and on) are quite sharp…..and for good reason they try to be very clever: after all, there is much money to be made and modern forgers knows this….so, as for this piece, I remain very suspicious of its authenticity. Perhaps it’s ancient….but I doubt it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Commentaries without a Library

Every student needs good resources, but access often depends on having a library. But there are ways to access commentaries on Google Books, if you know how to do it. In the video below Tim Bulkeley of Sansblogue demonstrates how to get the information you need.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Not original therefore not inspired? The story of the woman taken in adultery.

One thing that confronts every first year Greek student is the existence of variant readings. These are verses in the New Testament that either don't appear in our earliest manuscripts or, if they do, read somewhat differently.

Many readers of English Bibles have probably noticed a footnote now and then with the statement "this verse doesn't appear in our earliest manuscripts." See John 5:4 and Mark 16:9-20 as two examples.

Probably one of the most famous variants is the passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Although this is one of the best known stories in the Bible, it wasn't originally in John's Gospel till centuries later. No one is exactly certain of its origins, but we are certain that it wasn't part of John. In fact, it even appears in Luke 21 in at least one manuscript.

Nonetheless, although the inclusion of the story is late, most text critics agree that the story seems to be an authentic tradition about Jesus. And thus it remains in John where it's been for centuries and will do so, unless some get their way.

Apparently there are some who want to see the story of adulterous woman confined to a footnote in John's Gospel (see here). But even more interesting is the suggestion by Denny Burk is that the story is not inspired. Here's what he says.

What many people do not know is that the story was not originally a part of John’s gospel. A scribe(s) added the story centuries after John’s Gospel was written for reasons unknown to us, and it is therefore not inspired by the Holy Spirit. The story remains in our English Bibles more for tradition than for anything else.

Burk's comments raise an important question. How old does a tradition about Jesus need to be to be considered inspired? Burk's assumption seems to be that since we don't know where the story about Jesus and the adulterous woman originated we therefore cannot consider it inspired and I assume, therefore, authoritative. In fairness, Burk does say that he thinks it communicates a truth consistent with biblical truth. But does he mean the story of the woman is not "biblical."

While I am not seeking to blow open the New Testament canon, I do think Burk and those like him have an overly narrow view of what is "biblical" and what is inspired. Even if it wasn't written by the author of John and is perhaps very late does this mean it is no longer inspired?

What do you think?  Is it inspired? Should we remove the story?