April 30, 2013
Lord willing, we will be travelling tomorrow morning by bus with a group of students to Hamburg, where Kirchentag is being hosted this year. I have no idea what to expect. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of people from churches throughout Germany will converge for the week in Hamburg to hear music, lectures, and discussions about religion in Germany. So, until Monday, farewell and blessings,
March 11, 2013
. . . I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretive glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was serving. Dissolusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one. . . . I do not know what version of Scripture they use at Dr Piper’s church. But I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about (Wright, Justification, 51-52).
If I had to guess what Bible they use at Dr. Piper’s church–as Wright phrased it–I would say ESV, although I really have no idea. I get the impression that the ESV is quite trendy right now in many circles, not the least of which include Baptist and Calvinistic. And, I recently had a discussion (actually, it was more of a monologue) in which a quite educated theology student praised the various qualities of the ESV, making claims about this translation that are very similar to the above claims about the NIV. “The ESV translates the Bible literally, word for word. And, the translators attempt to render a word the same way each time, so that the English reader knows exactly what is going on in the Greek. What’s more, this translation was done by those from the reformed camp!”
Wright’s claim, that one can never understand Paul’s words if one relies on the NIV, is quite bold. I think it is an overstatement. But, there is also truth behind his words. Translations can make high claims, as they are prone to do, but in the end they remain translations. This point may be lost to many people who only speak one language, and therefore don’t have an appreciation for the differences of language, or perhaps cannot understand why a literal translation is not always the best.
For example, my wife and I were talking last night about the common German phrase, “Wie geht es Ihnen?” A literal translation would be “How goes it to you?” But that makes no sense, the better translation would be the less literal one: “How are you?” or “How are things going?” But then, of course, you need to figure out how to translate “Ihnen,” which is used when speaking formally, often to a superior. So then, you might need to translate the phrase something like, “How are you, Sir?”
Personally, when I read my favorite authors, I prefer to read them in their own language, rather than in translation. So, for example, I recently read Harry Potter in German. Since I didn’t really care about capturing Rowland’s tone and style, I gladly used the books as a chance to improve my German. When I read C. S. Lewis (my favorite author), I cannot imagine wanting to read him in German. Lewis is such an artist with words, so eloquent, with such a style all of his own. To read him in another language, one would lose the feel. Much of the thought would be Lewis, but to really appreciate Lewis, he must be read in English. I think this is true about the great authors in general, they must be read in their original language.
And this brings me back to my point about Bible translation. If one really wants to capture the feel of the authors (in the Gospels, for example, if one wants to sense the casual, vivid style of Mark versus the more lofty style of Luke), one must read the original. Or, if the Bible is really a treasured book, God’s word, then to really appreciate it for all its worth, one must read the original. There is simply no comparison. I think of the often quoted phrase: “reading the Bible in translation is like kissing the bride through the veil.”
March 10, 2013
We had a great hike yesterday. The three of us who ended up going could only complete about 13 instead of 18 Kilometers. This was because the snow was so deep at the peak that we could not go any further.
There were great views the whole way
My wife always teases me because I love to take pictures of the trail. This shot gives a glimpse of how deep the snow was.
Oh technology: Martin is on his cell phone, and Seth is using his camera (and, so am I, of course)
Steep climbs in the snow are exhausting
Below, the alpine village Langgries. On a clear day we would have been able to see Munich in the distance.
This is why our hike had to end early. We were supposed to cross this snowy point. Absolutely unsafe for numerous reasons
February 20, 2013
Philo, while discussing the desire brought about by the Serpent in the garden, says:
μυρίοις ὑπερμάχοις καὶ προαγωνισταῖς ἡδονὴ χρῆται τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν καὶ προστασίαν αὐτῆς ἀνειληφόσιν, οἳ τολμῶσιν ἀναδιδάσκειν ὅτι πάντων τὸ κράτος ἀνῆπται μικρῶν τε καὶ μεγάλων, οὐδενὸς ὑπεξῃρημένου τὸ παράπαν.
Amid throngs of champions and cheering fans stands pleasure, all of whom devotedly take up for her, who dare to spread the rumor that she holds everyone without exception, small and great, firmly in her clutches.
I stumbled upon this passage as I worked on my dissertation this week. Philo, allegorizing about the snake in the Garden of Eden, compares the snake’s voice to pleasure. His description of pleasure is so fitting for our day as well, as it seems that pleasure is championed by culture.
This also happens to be the time of the year when many Christians are preparing for Easter by fasting. While I’m not fasting food for forty days, I am fasting from Facebook. This decision partly has to do with one of my New Years goals, which was to make better use of my time. How about you, what do think about Philo’s description of pleasure?
February 14, 2013
I thought I’d post a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what I enjoy doing in my free time. We are celebrating Fasching this week in Germany, or depending on where you’re from, Mardi gras, Festnacht, Fastnacht, Fasnacht, and Karneval. I find the celebration somewhat hard to understand: it seems basically to be an excuse to party the week before lent begins. There are costume parties and large parades. We went to the Collegium party last Friday, and thanks to my mom, we had outfits to wear (I am a tree and HJ is an owl):
Another bit of excitement has been playing soccer in the snow. Living in Germany has whipped me into shape, and I can once again play a full game of soccer with no problem. These pictures show our recent match played here at the Collegium. In the spring we will compete against other teams from around Bavaria. I think we will be hard to beat!
Here we are, strategizing before the game. I am wearing the red hat, and notice Melody is in the picture.
February 13, 2013
Recently, as I was reading Kleine Deutsche Geschichte, by Hagen Schulze, I was particularly struck by this piece of artwork in the book, pictured above. The painting by Adolf Reich entitled “Das größere Opfer” depicts Munich’s Siegestor. This artwork was notable to me because I see the architecture each time I’m at the University, since the Tor stands right outside the school. I’ve often read the inscription on the Tor: SIEG GEWEIHT VOM KRIEG ZERSTÖRT ZUM FRIEDEN MAHNEND (“dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging towards peace”). To me, this is just one of many examples of the complex history surrounding Munich. As I walk through the echoing halls of the University, I can’t help but think back to the student resistance movement led by the Scholl siblings, depicted in the movie “Weiße Rose” and filmed “on set”–right at LMU, where the actual events took place.
Having finished my book on German History, I hope now to read one on Bavaria, as well as to read some works by D. Bonhoeffer and Barth, both of whom I greatly respect (I was recently reprimanded in a conversation with a cleaning lady for not knowing enough German history, specifically for not knowing the reason why many Germans emigrated to Romania. I am trying to fix my deficiency!).
February 12, 2013
Yesterday’s big news was the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Giovanna Chirri happened to be the Italian reporter privilged with breaking the news. The reason that she got this opportunity? One article explains, she ”managed to translate the pope’s Latin resignation speech and file while her rivals were still puzzling it out.” See, you never know when Latin will come in handy. Giovanna also stated, “Benedict XVI’s Latin is very easy to understand .” Below is a copy of the Pope’s resignation in Latin:
Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vita communicem. Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum.
Bene conscius sum hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando. Attamen in mundo nostri temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto et quaestionibus magni ponderis pro vita fidei perturbato ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam et ad annuntiandum Evangelium etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum agnoscere debeam. Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.
Fratres carissimi, ex toto corde gratias ago vobis pro omni amore et labore, quo mecum pondus ministerii mei portastis et veniam peto pro omnibus defectibus meis. Nunc autem Sanctam Dei Ecclesiam curae Summi eius Pastoris, Domini nostri Iesu Christi confidimus sanctamque eius Matrem Mariam imploramus, ut patribus Cardinalibus in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice materna sua bonitate assistat. Quod ad me attinet etiam in futuro vita orationi dedicata Sanctae Ecclesiae Dei toto ex corde servire velim.
Not only on behalf of three canonizations have I called you to this meeting, but also so that I may communicate to you my decision, which is of great importance to the church. Having examined my conscience again and again, I have come to the certain recognition that my strength, due my frail age, is no longer fit for the proper administration of the Petrine Ministry.
I am conscious that this ministry, due to its spiritual essence, ought to be conducted not only by action and speech, but no less by suffering and prayer. Nevertheless, our world has been subjected to times of rapid change and upset by questions of weighty depth for the life of faith, so that the navigation of Saint Peter’s ship and the proclamation of the gospel necessitate a certain vigor of both body and soul, which in these last months has diminished in me in a great way, so that I must recognize my inability to rightly administer my charge. Therefore, conscious of this burden, I declare with full freedom this action, that I am stepping down from my ministry of the Roman Episcopate, as successor of Saint Peter, which was commissioned to me through the hands of the Cardinals on the 19th of April, 2005, so that from the 28th of February 2013, at the hour of 8 PM, the seat of Rome, the seat of Saint Peter, may be empty and a chamber for electing a new Pontificate ought to be formed by those who are competent.
Beloved Brothers, with my whole heart I thank you for all your love and labor, by which you bore with me the weight of the ministry, and I ask for pardon for all my failings. Now we entrust the holy church of God to the care of its Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, and we ask His holy mother Mary that her maternal goodness would assist the Cardinal Fathers as they choose the new Pontificate. As for what remains for me and my future: I want to serve with my whole heart by offering prayer on behalf of God’s holy church.
February 4, 2013
Frank Thielman, Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and author of numerous works on the law in the NT, has delivered an excellent addition to the Baker Exegetical series with his commentary on Ephesians. In his introductory section, Thielman argues: (1) that Ephesians is an authentic Pauline letter written after nearly all of his undisputed letters (p. 5); (2) that certain “peculiarities” in the style of Ephesians may be attributed to specific circumstances being experienced by Paul (p. 10); (3) that the phrase “in Ephesus” in 1:1 is genuine and identifies the letter’s recipients (p. 14); and (4) that Paul writes at the end of his two year imprisonment in Rome (p. 19) to remind believers of the gospel’s power, of their role as a church, and of their ethical responsibilities (p. 28).
The strengths of this commentary are numerous. As Thielman deals with the text’s details, he avoids getting bogged down by keeping sight of the letter’s overall flow. By doing so Thielman shows consideration for both the discourse as a whole and its individual parts. Furthermore, Thielman repeatedly allows the letter’s context to inform his treatment of difficulties within the text. So, for example, in dealing with Paul’s instruction about submitting “to one another” in 5:21, Thielman examines how the previous occurrences of “one another” (4:2, 25, 32) shed light on the verse (p. 373). Similar examples occur elsewhere in the work (e.g., pp. 397, 415). In this way, Thielman’s commentary exemplifies sound exegetical methodology for students and scholars.
Thielman exhibits remarkable thoroughness in his “Additional Notes” sections, especially in his treatment of text-critical matters. Unlike many commentators that seem overly dependent on Metzger or handle variants in a shallow and simplistic manner, Thielman models depth, breadth, and freshness in this area. He resists the temptation to slavishly follow א and B (e.g., p. 403), and adequately considers the author’s style and the variant’s geographical distribution. For such consistently excellent treatments of text-critical matters, Thielman’s commentary will be beneficial for those who focus their research on this area of the NT.
Thielman meaningfully interacts with scholars of all ages in his exegesis. Throughout the commentary he refers to both Jewish and Greco-Roman sources, to early church Fathers, to interpreters from the middle ages, and to more recent scholars of Ephesians. The result is that Thielman’s exegesis is neither narrow-sighted nor uniformed, but marked by a rich balance of insights from modern research alongside the wisdom of the ancients.
Only a few minor weaknesses are found in Thielman’s work. Thielman consistently refers to the dative of sphere. While this is by all means an important aspect of Greek grammar, Thielman regularly refers to it without ever providing a definition. And when Thielman mentions the dative of sphere, he does so in very ambiguous language. So, for example, he explains that believers “live within the sphere of existence that Christ defines” (p. 34), grow “in the sphere encompassed by Christ” (p. 183), and at one point describes the “sphere of knowledge” of prayer (p. 97). Similar language occurs in numerous places throughout the commentary (e.g., pp. 79, 82, 84, 94, 102). It seems that such a consistently used term should have been clearly defined in order to remove the possibility of ambiguity.
One final aspect that may have been improved in this commentary relates to Thielman’s understanding about the oral nature of Ephesians. In numerous places, Thielman views disjointed syntax (p. 119), ambiguous structural details (pp. 49, 225), and disorderly compositional style (p. 310) as evidence of the letter’s oral nature. At one point Thielman states that “Paul seems to have caught himself drifting away . . . [but] then he pulls his train of thought quickly back on track” (p. 379). Such statements regarding the language of the epistle deserved a more focused treatment, perhaps even a section in the introduction, rather than merely appearing as scattered remarks throughout the commentary.
In the end, Thielman’s Ephesians commentary is an invaluable resource that will serve a wide audience for many generations to come. The work’s strengths far outshine its few minor weaknesses. To be sure, Thielman’s work has accomplished the goal of the Baker series by appealing to a wide audience of students, pastors, and scholars, and by giving balanced attention to both the specific details and broader context of the text.
February 4, 2013
Dan McCartney contributes to the Baker Exegetical series with his commentary on James. The Baker series targets a wide reading audience, from the pastor seeking clear expositions, to the scholar seeking depth and precision (p. ix). McCartney’s work accomplishes and surpasses these goals. Student and pastors will find the text direct and to the point, yet without any “dumbing down” of the material. At the same time, scholars will appreciate the extensive, up-to-date works cited as well as McCartney’s thorough interaction with the most pressing issues of interpretation and text criticism.
In dealing with the text, McCartney recognizes the merits of some structural approaches but places greater value on central themes. These themes are recognized by length of discussion, structure within smaller textual units, and the interrelatedness of identified themes (pp. 62–63).
Applying this method, McCartney proposes that genuine faith is the controlling theme of James and that each issue is rooted in this idea. Thus, James 1 should be understood as an overview of the life of faith, and James 2 as a discourse about counterfeit faith. James 3 warns about the tongue’s ability to portray genuine faith, while the strife in chapter 4 reveals a lack of faith. The merchants and landlords in Jas 4:13–5:6 are “paradigms of unbelief” and “foils in contrast to the life of faith” (p. 223). And finally, believers are encouraged to look in faith to God (5:7–18). McCartney’s focused interpretation centered on the faith-theme makes his commentary an important contribution to the study of James. He convincingly writes, “The Epistle of James is properly seen as the epistle of genuine faith, not the epistle of works” (p. 271).
Beyond his insight into the importance of themes, McCartney effectively demonstrates the relationship and cohesion of smaller text units. For example, exegetes often struggle to explain why the command against oaths (5:12) is sandwiched between the discussion about patience (5:7–10) and prayer (5:13–18). McCartney points out that people of faith resolve their problems by turning to God in prayer, rather than by impatiently making oaths. This is merely one example of how McCartney views James as a logical whole and finds connection between the various parts.
Yet, despite McCartney’s ability to identify structure in James, it was here that I found the commentary’s most glaring weakness. McCartney, following the suggestion of Bauckham, argues that proverbial statements are crucial and may even be a key to the structure of James (p. 65). These statements (labeled “apophthegms”) are identified as short, memorable wisdom sayings in the third person indicative. Only seven verses in James, however, adhere to these parameters. In response, McCartney alters the definition to include verses which lack brevity and catchiness, yet still seem proverbial, and verses with verbs in the imperative. I see several problems with such an approach. A rule with so many exceptions seems to be of questionable value. One wonders if the text is being forced to fit a mold it was never supposed to. Furthermore, there are inconsistencies in the rule’s application. Three out of the seven verses which fit the original definition are not used to mark transitions in McCartney’s outline. Subjectivity and the interpreter’s need for a logical outline appear to reign in this paradigm. After all, verses considered pithy and proverbial by McCartney—verses such as “human wrath does not work God’s justice” (1:20) or “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (4:4)—may strike other readers simply as matter-of-fact speech. McCartney would have done well, before relying so heavily on the role of proverbs in James, to develop a stronger definition and grounds for using this methodology.
This critique should not cause readers to avoid McCartney’s commentary. The book’s strengths far outweigh its weakness. McCartney deals skillfully with the text, avoiding unnecessary digression so as to keep the argument and thought flow in focus (e.g., p. 162). This is particularly evident in chapter two, the highly debated section on faith and works. McCartney devotes a section of the introduction as well as an excursus to the issue of James/Paul and Faith/works so that his exegesis of chapter two can focus on the text. Elsewhere, McCartney acknowledges where adequate discussion has been achieved by other writers and refers readers accordingly (e.g., p. 157, n. 8). McCartney shows his willingness to think independently by arriving at sometimes unpopular conclusions (pp.171–172, n. 39). He is careful in arriving at his conclusions, and does so only after presenting all sides of the issue (e.g., p. 214). Readers wanting a better understanding of the structure and message of James will do well to make use of McCartney’s excellent commentary.