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November 2010 Blog Archives

Monday, November 29

8:27 PM They're BACK! The Rondeaus that is. Just returned from gallivanting in Alabama with some old friends of theirs. They had their supper (Becky's lasagna -- superb!), then Papa B read them a good-night story. What a crazy, zany family I've got. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Welcome home Lizzy Pie, Matt, Caleb, Isaac, and Micah. You were solely missed. And you are deeply loved.

7:40 PM Just got this email from a SEBTS student:

I just read on [y]our blog, "Perhaps what I write amuses or entertains, or even encourages others. I do not know. I surmise my students get a kick out of seeing their prof in "real life," and what accidents and incidents befall him."

I've been both entertained and encouraged - and let me add challenged! - by reading your blog. Especially for us young guys, getting insights into your life and walk with the Lord are good and profitable. How else would we see such blisters from post-hole diggers??

Smart aleck.


7:34 PM No sooner said than done. For the press release from Energion Publications, go here.

Sweet-tastik! I am excited!

There are several other great books in the works. Stay tuned.

5:38 PM Great news! Just received word that Ultimate Allegiance, the next volume to be published in our Areopagus series, is due out momentarily.

I'm expecting a press release any day. As soon I hear anything I'll let you know. This book promises to be the Rolls Royce of the series!


5:10 PM How funny. I've been perusing the blogs this evening (as I often do this time of day) and it seems that everyone is trying to force themselves to say something clever. Some are content to link to other, more interesting posts. Yes, the blogosphere can be BORING at times. So can bloggers. I'm not even sure why I blog. By recording my daily thoughts in autobiographical form, I suppose I'm deceiving myself into thinking that I am writing reminiscences for the benefit of my grandchildren -- who, of course, will be far too busy earning a living and paying off the national debt to care whether grandfather or grandmother went to a concert at SEBTS. (Someone has said that the grandchildren of famous authors never read any of their grandparents' books. I do not doubt that it is true.) Perhaps what I write amuses or entertains, or even encourages others. I do not know. I surmise my students get a kick out of seeing their prof in "real life," and what accidents and incidents befall him. They and others have urged me to write these lines. But only my wife will be able to read all that is written between the lines.

But now -- back to the blogs!

4:50 PM I snapped this not 5 minutes ago. A patch of sunlight in the dark gloom of this freezing cold day.

The fact that our downstairs HVAC has gone out makes us doubly glad to have gas fireplaces in the house!

4:44 PM We're back from the hospital and Becky is now resting comfortably at home. The next few days will require great amounts of bed rest. It's so good to be here with her. I have enjoyed many wonderful things in life, then have watched them go downstream with all the others. The most precious gift for which, looking back on my life, I ought to thank God is surely my wife. I have not the slightest doubt that domestic happiness is the greatest of all God's good gifts to a man other than the privilege of knowing and serving Him. The tolerably long row of books that have my name on their fading dust covers can't begin to compare with the joys of hearth and home.

Sleep well, Becky Lynn. Thank you, God, for giving her to me.

8:30 AM In my opinion, Vernard Eller (d. 2007) was one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. He is also almost completely unknown today.

His book Christian Anarchy is a classic work of theology and should be required reading by seminarians. (If you're unfamiliar with the term "anarchy" used in its specific religious sense, see my book Christian Archy for a simplified explanation.)

In a wonderful little essay Eller addresses the problem of using the term "sacrament" to describe the Lord's Supper. He writes:

The inevitable imagery that lies behind sacramentalism is that of the abnormal, the exceptional, the esoteric, the supermundane breaking into the sphere of normal life. In the more highly liturgical churches the entire ecclesiastical staging (altar, vestments, lighting, music, the works) is designed to foster such a mood; in less liturgical churches the pastor tries to create the same effect by sliding into unctuous language and a "reverent" tone of voice. But stage it as you will, there is no denying that for people to come together to eat the body and blood of their leader (whether he be man or God, or both; whether it be done in actuality, in symbol, or in drama) - this fairly can be described as nothing other than the Great Abnormality, if not the Greatest Abnormality.

Of course, I agree completely with this point of view. The human tendency is to sacralize our faith and transform it into something the Founder of our faith never intended. I've often smiled at the funereal ambiance in so many of our supper observances: you have the pall bearers solemnly removing the shroud that covers the deceased's remains etc. etc. As Eller notes: "The word 'sacrament' ... is a bad one; it says all the wrong things - although the tragedy is not simply that it's a poor word but that the word all too accurately describes the current practice of the church."

What word, then, shall we use? Ah, that's the rest of the essay. You can read it here. And, for a bibliography of Eller's books, go here.

7:55 AM Karl Barth was a great theologian not least because he could laugh at himself. So writes Daniel Migliore in this delightful piece (.pdf) over at the Princeton Seminary Bulletin. "The point is not only that Barth had a sense of humor but a theology of humor," notes Migliore.

Barth's playful spirituality reminds me of his son Markus, whose seminars in Basel were always joyful experiences for me, even if I was the only student who didn't smoke a pipe. Both father and son lampooned those who wanted to be known as Barthians. Forgive me for saying so, but I wonder if they would have said the same thing about all the Piperites and MacArthurites out there today. 

7:37 AM One of my former doctoral students discusses three essential qualities of wise leaders. You can read about it here.

7:33 AM Oakwood University announces an opening in Bible.

7:15 AM Just received an email invitation from one of my Chinese students to dine with him and his family on Tuesday night. They're cooking Chinese dumplings. I accepted of course. Bribes from my Greek students are always welcome :)

6:54 AM Later this morning we're off to get B's Adriamycin treatment at UNC. That will make 5 down and only 1 to go. After that? We'll see.... 

6:34 AM Guess what? There's a new essay at our home page: Advice to Prospective Doctoral Students.

6:30 AM Recently I've been corresponding with some old friends from my Biola days (1971 and on). And I do mean "old." It's been over 30 years since we've communicated with each other. Since I don't do Face Book, here are a few pix from that era for your enjoyment, entertainment, and education.

1) Becky in her student days. 

2) At a banquet somewhere in Southern California (I don't recall the venue).

3) Yours truly performing Hawaiian music with our friend Tom Matsumura. Two island boys doing their thing (Tom is to the far left).

4) Becky studied nursing. She was planning on becoming a medical missionary to Ethiopia. Then I came along.

5) I still haven't popped the question.

6) Finally married and enjoying Hawaii together.

7) My wife the seamstress. She still sews all of her own dresses.

More to come.

Sunday, November 28

3:45 PM One more thought about missions. Our missionaries at Bethel Hill are for the most part our own church members, like Joel and Kimberly. They are a real flesh-and-blood part of us. Their children play with your children. They are real people and are accepted as such. Oh -- it's also impossible to wear masks when your missionaries come from your home church. Another reason why we should return missions to the local church!

3:26 PM Just got this email:

I picked up and read C. E. Hill's new book Who Chose the Gospels? Are you familiar with it?  The subject has more to do with who decided on the four gospels and at the end he suggests that it was the apostle John.  But he uses a lot of the same quotes from the patristics that you do. 

Well, my interest is piqued. Looking forward to checking it out.

3:20 PM Another blogger assesses Why Four Gospels?

3:12 PM Without a doubt, God has blessed Bethel Hill with some godly and goodly leaders. This includes brother Joel Bradsher (who also happens to be a SEBTS student) and his wife Kimberly. Today we had a sendoff for their family as they leave for a short-term mission trip to Honduras.

What a wonderful testimony Kimberly gave today. She has found peace in her heart even though one of her children will not be able to take malaria meds for health reasons. That's a huge step of faith for a mother to make (and dad too). Her testimony made me think of trust. I trust Jesus deeply. I know He cares about me. Even when things go desperately wrong. I know that Christ has already won the victory over sin, whether I understand it or not.

So here's the plan folks. Allow God to do something amazing in your life. So amazing that people shake their heads and exclaim: I can't believe she would do that! It's so scary over there! Just think what could happen! When people say that, just smile. And remember: It's never glib to give the same answer each and every time: If God wants to, He'll protect us. 

Joel and Kimberly, I want you to know that Becky and I will be in prayer for you continually as you serve the King of kings in a faraway place. We love you guys.

9:05 AM Sorry, but I couldn't pass up a link to this essay: Thinking of Christmas?

Update: The needs in Burji have changed a bit since I wrote this essay. For an update of current needs, please email me at Thank you.

8:54 AM Good news! I've finished writing yet another chapter in my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. Yesterday I exegeted 1 Thess. 5:12-22.

The text goes round and round in my brain and then comes out looking like this.

I still have to type it up, but I'm making progress.

8:50 AM Speaking of Christmas, this is only the second time in many years that Becky and I have not been in Ethiopia on December 25. It feels so odd. Last year B was undergoing radiation at this time. This year it's chemo. Being in Ethiopia has changed my perspective on life in so many ways. I've gained a broader understanding of poverty, of love, of sacrifice, of forgiveness, of -- interestingly -- Christmas. In Ethiopia my safe and secure world quietly crumples up into a little ball. It's hard to believe in Santa Claus when your friends are being murdered because they're Christians. In January we would return stateside, bleary-eyed after all we had seen and experienced. I can become too content with my American lifestyle, I would think to myself. This world is so broken I don't have the foggiest idea of where to begin to fix it.

Thankfully, I know Someone who does.

8:38 AM Quote of the day (Arthur Sido):

Any exhibition of personal holiness that is not accompanied by substantive action and an urgent sense of compassion is not Biblical holiness. It is nothing more than self-righteousness.

8:27 AM Today, I am told, marks the first Sunday of Advent. Pardon me, but my Anabaptism is about to show. I feel strongly that the Christmas holiday is a distraction, especially for Christians. If you'd like to know why, I hereby resurrect an essay I wrote on the subject years ago:

Temples of Ceramic Deities

On those rare occasions when a commentator is flummoxed for a topic to write on, where does he turn? Inwardly, very often. So please forgive me for today’s column, which is personal at best and theological only in an ancillary way.

It was while worshipping in our wonderful little church in rural Virginia yesterday that I was suddenly struck with an epiphany of sorts. As our preacher was winding down an excellent sermon on the real meaning of Christmas (“it’s not about trees and candles and manger scenes, but about the Savior”), I was troubled by an odd specter directly in front of me. It was our communion table. This fairly large-sized table is normally adorned with offering plates on either side and a large-print Bible in the middle, opened to a biblical text (which one, I have never bothered to discover).

Yesterday, however, I noticed that all this had changed. The Bible had been removed from its position of prominence and shuffled off to one side of the table, its place of honor having been taken by a now prominently-positioned manger scene, replete with a ceramic Jesus surrounded by all the typical trappings—animals, Mary and Joseph, and, of course, the “three” wise men. On the table was a small Christmas tree, and the table itself was surrounded by several large poinsettia plants that straddled the floor of the sanctuary. A much larger Christmas tree (decorated to the hilt) stood beside the organ, and Christmas candles throughout the sanctuary completed the ornamentation.

What, you ask, did I find so disturbing about this scenario? It is open to criticism from many angles. It fails to grasp the New Testament teaching on the centrality of Scripture (sola scriptura) and the danger of human traditions. It fails the test of historical accuracy (the wise men, of course, were not present at the birth of Jesus but later visited the “boy” in the “house”). It confuses church tradition with biblical truth. It misconceives the psychology of Christmas by feeding our capitalistic urges. But the basic criticism must surely be that it loses sight of the Second Commandment, which forbids the worship of God in any way that is unworthy of Him (Exod 20:4-6).

This law, of course, is not limited to crude pagan statues. It includes the more subtle, “Christian” (if you will) forms of idolatry as well. It points to the principle (stated so eloquently by Charles Hodge) that “idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but in the worship of the true God by images.” For Christians, this means that visual or pictorial representations of the Triune God, or any Person of the Trinity, for the purposes of worship are forbidden. In the words of J. I. Packer, “statues and pictures of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid to worship.” After all, the Lord God said it quite plainly: “Thou shalt not make any likeness of any thing.” The reason is that whatever image we concoct, whatever statue or figurine we produce, rather than accurately depicting the Object of our worship, ultimately ends up distorting Him. It inevitable obscures His glory, or His love, or His power, or some other attribute of His and thus conceals, rather than reveals, who He really is.

As I see it, the real difficulty with all of our Christian hubbub at advent season lies not so much in the fact that the early church had no interest whatsoever in celebrating our Savior’s birth, or in the fact that the holiday itself is based on a pagan rite (sun-worship), or in any of the many other (valid, in my view) objections that can be made against a Christian celebrating “Christ’s Mass.” It lies rather in the fact that the cradle of Bethlehem finds it true meaning only in the cross of Calvary. As James Denny has rightly insisted, “The New Testament knows nothing of an incarnation which can be defined apart from its relation to atonement…. Not Bethlehem, but Calvary, is the focus of the revelation, and any contribution of Christianity which ignores or denies this distorts Christianity by putting it out of focus.” What Denny is saying is that the incarnation is simply not the point. It is its meaning that matters: that the Son of God should take upon Himself humanity and die the death of a common criminal for our salvation.

As I sat riveted to the scene before me, I noticed one last, poignant, thing. Just below all the glitter of Christmas—just below the manger bed, and the ceramic Christ-Child, and the animals, and the little Christmas tree, and the magi—was an inscription written in large letters upon the front of the communion table. They were the words of our Savior: “This do ye in remembrance of Me.” The “This”—what, I asked myself, was Jesus referring to? It certainly wasn’t the observance of Christmas, but something infinitely more profound. Our Lord Jesus desired for His people to celebrate, not His birth, but His Supper, eaten as a full meal foreshadowing the great wedding supper of the Lamb made possible through the gift of His own body and blood. The Lord’s Supper was the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before His crucifixion. It was the one ceremony that Jesus committed to His followers for their faithful observance. Thus we read that the early Christians “devoted themselves … to the fellowship, that is, the breaking of the bread” (so the Greek of Acts 2:42). These believers ate the Lord’s Supper weekly, and it was, in fact, the main reason they came together in the first place (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 11:18). It was, as Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Restoration Foundation likes to put it, the true “happy hour” of the early church.

I couldn’t help but notice the irony. Here we spend a month of frenetic activity in elaborate preparations adorning our humble church sanctuary in candles and greens, in the lighting of the Advent Candle, in the reading of the Christmas story, in decorating trees and tables, in canceling Bible Study so that we can rehearse our Christmas play. Yet how often does our congregation celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the one memorial that Jesus Himself commanded us to observe? Once a quarter.

As I looked upon those lonely, forgotten words, “This do ye in remembrance of Me,” my heart was grieved beyond measure. I felt like Paul upon entering Athens, of whom it was said, “His spirit was provoked within him as he beheld the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16). When I first visited Athens and saw the workmanship of the architects and sculptors, I admired them as works of art. But to Paul they were temples and images of pagan deities. Whatever he may have thought of the art of Athens, the spectacle of a city dedicated to false worship stirred in him the conviction that here were people who needed the truth of the gospel. And I wondered to myself as I walked to my car after the service: Could not the same be said of us who worship in temples of ceramic deities?

7:49 AM Last night Becky and I watched Tora, Tora, Tora. It's the classic flick on the Pearl Harbor attack and far outshines the sleazy "Pearl Harbor" fiction that appeared a few years ago in the nation's movie theaters. By assuming that Japan could not attack Southeast Asia and the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor at the same time we practically invited attack on "the most impregnable fortress in the world." Pearl Harbor is a dramatic reminder that, no matter how well prepared we think we are to face the unexpected, the unexpected can and often will happen.

An incident not shown in the movie: On the night of December 6, General Walter Short, Commander of the Hawaiian Department, along with his wife, left a dinner party at Schofield Barracks at 10:30. During their short drive home they passed Pearl Harbor, its lights blazing. Short remarked, "What a target that would make!" In less than 12 hours his words would come true, and he and his naval counterpart, Admiral Husband Kimmel, would be found guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to be on the alert when disaster struck on "Bloody Sunday."

On the stages of our own lives disaster often plays out. Why me? Why now? Why again? Why? Difficulties taunt us with their unpredictability. As Job put it so long ago: "A person is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). All I can say is this: If God chooses you or me to bring glory to Him through pain in this world, let's do it well. Let's bear it joyfully and bear witness through it to others that God can be trusted.

7:22 AM When missions becomes an idol. Great read from the Biola Magazine. For me, life has had its idols. I have worshipped at false altars. Can missions become yet another false god? Sadly, it's possible. Ditto for any cause that we put over Christ -- and this includes doing church "right." God knows that our self-sufficiency so often turns into pride and idolatry. The problem is that we don't.

Saturday, November 27

4:02 PM Yours truly put his (considerable lack of) culinary skills to work today and prepared a lunch basket of tuna fish sandwiches before kidnapping the Luv of his life to a secret rendezvous on the lake.

The wind from the lake, which was frigid and totally unexpected, forced the love birds to finish their lunch in the car.

Ain't we funny?

1:12 PM Perfect day for working outdoors.

12:16 PM A debate seems to be a-brewin' in cyberspace, which I am not even faintly interested in. However, this quote caught my attention:

Here's my contention: there are great riches to be mined from the original languages; however, if you cannot teach the meaning of a text without teaching your audience the original language itself, you aren't much of a communicator/instructor. I love teaching the languages, but there is truth in the criticism of some that sometimes academics turn the languages into a key of gnosis, all because they do not seek to edify the saints first and foremost.

Now that is certainly speaking the truth in love. Students of Greek, please take note.

12:05 PM Just found this absolutely delicious quote over at The New Republic. It you are as much a language lover as I am, get ready for a big smile to break out all over your face.

If you really take in the awesome variety among the world’s languages – ones with only three verbs, ones with almost two hundred sounds, ones with only eight, ones where one word covers what we need a sentence for, ones where the basic word order is object-verb-subject, ones where there really are more exceptions than rules, ones with a hundred genders, and so on – then the idea that there is anything especially anything about little English becomes as hopeless as rhapsodizing over the aptness and universality of a squirrel.

11:35 AM Here are two events we've added to our social calendar for the month of December:

1) Friday, December 3, 8:00-9:15 pm. Messiah Sing-Along at the Edenton United Methodist Church in downtown Raleigh.

2) Friday, December 10, 7:00-8:30. The Northeast Piedmont Chorale sings Vivaldi's Gloria in the Binckley Chapel at SEBTS. Becky and I had the privilege of singing with this excellent chorale for 3 years before we started traveling to Ethiopia so often. They will be accompanied by a full orchestra.

Join us if you can.

11:23 AM I've been reading this article on ancient versions of the New Testament and their importance for New Testament textual criticism. My interest was stimulated, in part, by a discussion I had with my father-in-law, who knows modern Amharic and has studied its ancient counterpart, Ge'ez (also called Ethiopic). I was amazed at how many Byzantine readings are found in the Ethiopic, despite its affinities with the Alexandrian text type. I'm also curious about what the author of this essay calls the mysterious origins of the Armenian New Testament. The article states:

The link between the Armenian and the "Cæsarean" text was noticed early in the history of that type; Streeter commented on it, and even Blake (who thought the Armenian to be predominantly Byzantine) believed that it derived from a "Cæsarean" form. The existence of the "Cæsarean" text is now considered questionable, but there is no doubt that the Armenian testifies to a text which is far removed from the Byzantine, and that it contains large numbers of Alexandrian readings as well as quite a number associated with the "Western" witnesses. The earliest witnesses generally either omit "Mark 16:9-20" or have some sort of indication that it is doubtful (the manuscript shown above may credit it to the presbyter Arist(i)on, though this remark is possibly from a later hand). "John 7:53-8:11" is also absent from most early copies.

When I was in Armenia a few years ago I was surprised (and delighted) to hear that it was American missionaries who were responsible for translating the Bible into modern Armenian. It was also interesting to learn that there are two modern dialects of Armenian in existence today, Ararat-Armenian and Constantinopolitan-Armenian. If you are at all interested in the art and science of textual criticism, you will want to become acquainted with the ancient versions and their significance for resolving textual variants. The essay I linked to above is an excellent entrée into the subject.

Here are a few pix taken during my visits to Armenia. You never forget your first sight of Mount Ararat in neighboring Turkey. Spectacular.

Churches everywhere. Armenia was Europe's first "Christianized" nation.

I was privileged to give several talks while I was in Yerevan. Here I am lecturing on Greek morphology in the Linguistics Department at Yerevan State University.

Later I was asked to speak to the political science students. I was pleasantly surprised at how well everyone seemed to know English. It was my "American" that gave them trouble.

Here's my class at the Baptist Seminary. We spent a week looking at the book of Philippians.

Finally, I was invited to give a lecture at the Orthodox Seminary just outside of Yerevan. Here are my attentive students. 

I spoke on the importance of Greek in teaching and preaching from the New Testament. Here the dean receives a few gift books for the seminary library.

I love traveling. And I loved my visits to Armenia. I can't wait to get back.

10:30 AM Here's Jason, one of our elders at Bethel Hill, with his newborn son Keson. If this isn't a picture of pure contentment. What a duo. A book and a baby!

For more beautiful pix, go here.

10:10 AM I should have linked to this quote from David Platt before, but better late than never:

When we pool our resources in our churches, what are our priorities? Each year in the United States, we spend more than $10 billion on church buildings. In America alone, the amount of real estate owned by institutional churches is worth over $230 billion. We have money and possessions, and we are building temples everywhere. Empires, really. Kingdoms. We call them houses of worship. But at the core, aren’t they too often outdated models of religion that wrongfully define worship according to a place and wastefully consume our time and money when God has called us to be a people who spend our lives for the sake of His glory among the needy people outside our gates?

9:55 AM One of my favorite bloggers just posted a blog entry about the Pentecostal scholarship of Gordon Fee. I enjoy reading about my New Testament colleagues through fresh eyes, and I think Brian writes extremely well. Check it out here. I love the reminder that our scholarship is always to be for the church, and in the power of the Spirit. There's always a tendency to downplay the role of the Third Person of the Trinity is doing exegesis. I've been oh-so guilty of that myself. I shake my head just thinking about it.

Update: Henry Neufeld joins the discussion here.

9:43 AM I direct your attention to a post-SBL essay on the wonderful books that were available at a discount during the conference. It's a good reminder of the importance of reading in our book-wary generation. It also shows me how much reading boils down to a matter of taste and possibly need. I have absolutely no interest in reading about half the books listed here, but that's just me.

Friday, November 26

7:44 PM It was a fine afternoon, though a bit gloomy outdoors.

The storm clouds did not dampen our spirits one iota, however. Here the patriarch of the family waxes elephant about various and sundry.

When the dinner bell was rung, this is what greeted us in the dining room.

I have rarely seen a more beautiful spread of food. Becky and I were deeply honored and graced by everyone who sat around our table this evening. Our thanks to each one for coming.

The art of eating Ethiopian food is only acquired after long years of experience. Here dad shows us the way.

Before dessert was served Becky gave her testimony of God's faithfulness to her (and us) through the past several years of seemingly endless trials. Life is fragile, she told us. But God's character can always be counted upon. It was truly a wonderful time of celebrating the Lord we love and so feebly serve.

The hall now sits empty again, except for Becky and me. All is peace and quiet. Truth be told -- a bit too quiet. We can't wait for Liz, Matt, and the boys to return.

Life is fragile. Boy is that the truth. Thank God for VEPs -- Very Encouraging Persons. My desire to pursue higher levels of commitment to Christ increases because of them. The further we are along the passage of time the more we need others to make a positive contribution to our passion to follow hard after Christ. Tonight I feel like I have been greatly encouraged along those lines. The desire to finish the course remains strong, perhaps as strong as ever. Praise be to God.

3:57 PM If you're planning on taking my exegesis of Mark class next semester, here's a website you'll want to bookmark.

2:08 PM Have you ever witnessed a miracle? I have. The story begins a few years ago when Tesfai's 8-year old daughter is beheaded in central Ethiopia. The enemies of the Gospel in their little village sought to force Tesfai and his wife, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, to leave and settle elsewhere. Then tragedy followed tragedy. Because of the severe persecution Tesfai's wife turned her back on her Christian faith and returned to her former religion. She married a man from this faith, who promptly began beating her. She had had enough and finally divorced him too. All this time Becky and I had been fervently praying that Tesfai and his wife would somehow be reconciled. At long last she was ready to repent and return to Christ -- and her husband. But Tesfai was not ready for that. How can I forgive her after all she's done to me and my children? On my last trip to Ethiopia I met with brother Tesfai just to love on him and pray with him. I can't imagine what you're going through, I thought to myself. I then asked him if he would be willing to read the book of Hosea and meet with me a week later. He did -- and at this point in the story I pour the situation into my mental receptacles but so much runs over that I just can't account for it apart from a miracle. Everything worked out just as we had been hoping for and praying! Tesfai forgave his wife, took her back home, and the mother church held a church-wide ceremony celebrating their restored relationship. Today Tesfai and his wife live in a different village and manage their small roadside shop along with their surviving children. Their testimony for Christ is strong, and many of the enemies of the cross can only shake their heads in wonder at the power of the Gospel.

I thought, O what a foretaste of glory divine! This story is but one small fragment of the glory that will be revealed when Christ returns. This age is a wreck but as many as received Him to them He gave the authority to become children of God. The whole creation, meanwhile, waits on tiptoes for the day when the children of God will be revealed.

Have you ever heard of such a miracle? Perhaps your own marriage is one. The lesson is plain: There is NO hurt that is so big that God cannot heal it!

1:45 PM Can't wait to get back to campus next week. My colleagues will be coming down off their post-ETS/SBL highs, excited and passionate about what they're learning, and my students will (hopefully) return from their holiday travels safe and refreshed. What ought to be the goals of our instruction? Love God and love others. Simply that. The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord and then to others. Too often a good term paper or doctoral dissertation is a substitute for the gift of ourselves. Only Christ can satisfy, and when He does, everything else falls into place -- including our studies. The church always multiplies when the Word is not only taught but lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.

1:36 PM Becky just cooked up the best chicken fettuccini. I wanted seconds but decided I'd save my appetite for injera and wat tonight. Then I'll pig out.

12:24 PM Guess what I'm reading (online) this weekend? The classic book by James Alexander Haldane: A View of the Social Worship and Ordinances of the First Christians, Drawn from the Scriptures Alone. It was through Haldane and his pupil Greville Ewing that Alexander Campbell entered the fold of the restorationist movement. If you are at all interested in church renewal, this is a must read.

11:56 AM Quote of the day (from a fellow Basler, John Howard Yoder):

Pentecostalism is in our century the closest parallel to what Anabaptism was in the sixteenth; expanding so vigorously that it bursts the bonds of its own thinking about church order, living from the multiple gifts of the spirit [sic] in the total church while holding leaders in great respect, unembarrassed by the language of the layman and aesthetic tastes of the poor, mobile, zealously single-minded.

From Concern: A Pamphlet Series for Questions of Christian Renewal (p. 78).

10:16 AM From Why Four Gospels?

If, then, the evidence favoring Markan priority were now to be seen as no longer compelling, there is reason to question whether the rejection of ancient Christian tradition about the origins of the Gospels may have been premature. And, in fact, during the past thirty years the hypothesis of Markan priority has been subjected to such a devastating scrutiny that it is no longer possible to use it as a sure basis for exegesis (1). And if its basis is no longer certain, then it can no longer be used as an argument for the rejection of the historical evidence.

(1) As far back as 1976 J. A. T. Robinson noted, “The consensus frozen by the success of ‘the fundamental solution’ propounded by B. H. Streeter has begun to show signs of cracking. Though it is still the dominant hypothesis, encapsulated in the textbooks, its conclusions can no longer be taken for granted as among the ‘assured results’ of biblical criticism”; Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 93. More recently, C. M. Tuckett, “Jesus and the Gospels,” in New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 8:71–86, openly acknowledges that many of the standard arguments for the priority of Mark are “weak and inconclusive.”

9:43 AM Strayer University (Online Department) announces an opening in Religion. (Is online, telecommunicating teaching the wave of the future?)

9:12 AM This morning I am writing a long recommendation letter for a teaching position for one of my current Ph.D students. I am doing this often these days. Even though they are ABD I am encouraging them to apply for fulltime teaching jobs, since on the job training is still the best kind of all. I began teaching Greek at Biola when I was still an M.Div. student. Let's never underestimate the potential of our scholars-in-the-making.

9:08 AM Just got an email from a close friend. He wrote:

I just wanted to take a moment to encourage a friend.

This man has been to me a partner in the ministry, an intercessor, a rebuker, a counselor, an affirmer. Becky and I have enjoyed a large of number of these kinds of people in our work and ministry. You can spot them a mile away. They are always asking you about the issues you're facing or the trips you're about to make or the problems you're trying to solve. I am so thankful for special friends who play a special role on our team.

Now the question is: Do I fill this role in the lives of others?

8:45 AM Commenting on spiritual gifts, Alan Knox concludes that

...when the church gathers, it should not be a one man – or even a two man – show. In fact, every believer should expect to speak to or serve brothers and sisters whenever they get together with them. Multiple people speaking or serving one at a time is not disorder – in fact, this is Paul’s very definition of order. We miss what God wants to say to us and what God wants to do among us when we do not allow everyone to speak and serve as God directs. Will it be messy? Probably. But, people are messy, and we are fooling ourselves if we think our highly planned and efficient meetings keep people from being messy. If anything, our meetings hide the messiness, or sweep it under the rug, instead of actually dealing with people and their lives and their messes.

Please read that last sentence again. It seems that God's idea of a "worship service" is utterly different from ours. How many times have I been in a church meeting that "went wrong." That's because we planned the service ahead of time and decided in advance just what kind of meeting it was going to be, what would be done, and what results we wanted. When it didn't work out exactly the way we planned, we were disappointed.

God has handed down His plans for the meeting of the church. Perhaps it is high time we reported to Headquarters for His pattern.

A final thought: I am seeing more and more Madison Avenue approaches to church advertising by which we "sell" our programs and push our "ministries" (our wares) to attract the attention and money of people away from other equally pushy churches. The hype and competition seem almost normal today in some denominations. 

8:22 AM Going shopping on this Black Friday? Nothing wrong with saving some money. But Mammon is still a god, as Eric Carpenter reminds us (On Mall Worship):

Many people who claim Christ as Lord never stop to even question "Black Friday." They never step back to ask whether or not we should be involved is this materialistic, gluttonous worship-fest. On a bigger level, they don't seem to ask larger questions about how we spend the money over which God has made us stewards. Simply put, on this issue at least they act just like unbelievers.

God has made America one of the wealthiest nations on earth, and most of us think this is our divine right, as if we had no obligation to a lost world. Could it be that our materialism is keeping the world in darkness?

7:38 AM One of the reasons I love the farm so much? It allows for quiet conversations in a peaceful atmosphere. Right now Becky and Mrs. Lapsley are having some mother-daughter time on our front porch, sipping coffee together and sharing their hearts and lives. In the tidal wave of life's events and experiences, the porch is a safe place.

A takeaway? If we are to gain spiritual passion from our friends, we must spend time with them. 


Thursday, November 25

6:52 PM Just back from the Lapsleys in Cary. Had gobs of fun and plenty of turkey and ham to eat. I've got lots of family pix. But those are for tomorrow. Tonight I wanted to show you this 1824 KJV Bible that Becky presented to her brother Ben today.

It has been in the Lapsley family for generations. The names in it go back to the early 1700s. Somehow we ended up with it when Becky was given all of the genealogical records her dad had been keeping. We thought it was high time that the eldest (and only) son in the Lapsley clan received the family Bible. What a great heritage!

Mom and dad are now with us at Bradford Hall. They'll spend tonight and return to Cary tomorrow. The hall, of course, is named after Becky's dad (Bradford Lapsley) as well as one of her direct ancestors, Captain William Bradford (of Mayflower fame). The rest of the clan will come to the farm tomorrow for an Ethiopian feast.

Hope you're having an enjoyable and Christ-centered Thanksgiving Day wherever you are. The secret of the abundant Christian life is Christ and Christ alone. May He have the preeminence in our families this day and every day.

9:21 AM Read: I am Thankful -- for Troubles?

8:08 AM I was greatly blessed and challenged last night while listening to a  sermon on fatherhood by Mark Stevens of Happy Valley Church of Christ (see 5-9-10, "Fathers Submit!"). "When you become a father, your heart permanently resides on the outside of your body for life," said Mark, and he is right. When God touched my family with a renewed burden and vision for missions, it was partly through the example set for us by Becky's father. Here's a man with a huge "father's heart" for the people of Ethiopia, so much so that many years after leaving the country he still serves the people of that great nation through his online ministry (Good Amharic Books). I think this idea of "vision-shaping," of getting our children to look beyond themselves and their own families to a lost world, is a hugely important part of parenting. There is something for everyone to do. This is true of your family and of mine. We can all become world Christians. May God grant each one of us a heart today, not only of thanksgiving, but also of thanks giving -- giving our all for the Greatest Cause on this earth, sharing the love of Jesus with the nations.

Wednesday, November 24

3:06 PM Praise the Lord! Becky had her bloodwork done again this morning and we just got the results via fax. Her white cell count is now 3.9 and her platelets stand at 171. This is wonderful news. So much to be thankful for this week of Thanksgiving.

2:48 PM I just posted the Spanish translation of my most recent essay: Los Diez Mejores Libros para el Estudio del Griego Nuevo Testamento. My thanks to Lesly and Thomas Hudgins for their labor of love in translating this piece for me. (See their website for more.)

2:20 PM A long overdue update on our sister Ayelech. As you know, we sent her, via our clinic "ambulance" (a rickety old Land Cruiser), all the way from Burji to the hospital in Soddu for a check up. However, nothing could be done for her until she has a double mammogram, so she returned home. Some time this week or next Becky and I hope to send Ayelech to the capital where mammography is available. We are praying that the results are benign. It is next to impossible to treat cancer in Ethiopia; chemo and radiation are simply not widely available. This seems like an incredible statement to make, but it's true. It makes you feel so small, so useless when faced with a medical system that is broken (but really, really trying). This is the real world of missions -- learning to make do with what you have and getting to know God so much better in the process. Please pray for Ayelech. It breaks my heart to think that her tumor might be cancerous. I'm coming to realize again and again that this is the rhythm of our mission work in Ethiopia: hope, despair, then hope again. One can never stop hoping.

P.S. Speaking of cancer (and hope), I just learned that my dear colleague Rod Decker of Baptist Bible College and Seminary is now facing his own battle with cancer. Rod, you are in the prayers and thoughts of all of us.

9:48 AM The latest essay on our home page is called Ten Best Books for Studying New Testament Greek.

Tuesday, November 23

6:52 PM Potpourri:

  • Becky's mom and dad have arrived in Raleigh. Hooray! We'll have Thanksgiving dinner with them, Lord willing, on Thursday.

  • Our meeting with the radiologist today went splendidly well. God has blessed us with such excellent health care at UNC. All of the staff in the radiology department were so excited to see Becky again. The feeling was mutual.

  • Was delighted to see this huge victory for the U.S. Constitution.

  • Grateful for this review.

  • Am writing an essay on my favorite books on New Testament Greek. Hope to post it tomorrow.

10:36 AM Brian Fulthorp's latest (on 2 Corinthians) is a real doozy:

It is through strong effective leaders God mediates his gospel power!  People of good standing and strong character, well dressed and well spoken, well organized and without any flaws, well educated and on and on!  No weakness allowed, no flaws, no poor speech or speaking skills, none of that right?  And probably too, many of us would not last long in a congregation lead by weak leadership would we?  or leadership that was perceived as weak…

Too bad Brian has never been to post-graduate school. We'll have to work harder on hiding the truth: that many of us in Christian leadership are driven by the same petty ambitions as everyone else in America -- ambition, pleasure, and recognition.

9:55 AM Why the Gospel of Luke?

Through hindsight we can determine the assignment that Luke received from Paul by comparing the Gospels of Luke and Matthew and by noting Luke’s deviations. In the first place, Luke carefully followed the main structure of Matthew throughout and generally adhered to the order of its various sections and anecdotes, though he also made highly interesting changes. For example, his story of the birth of Jesus is totally different from Matthew’s, which (as we have noted) was almost entirely apologetic in tone and content. Luke, however, provided a straightforward narrative that stems either directly or indirectly from Mary herself. When Luke came to Jesus’ Galilean ministry he added certain details to each of the stories from Matthew’s Gospel that he decided to adopt. Indeed, in one way or another he absorbed nearly everything that Matthew had written, and yet managed to add a good deal of extra material. Luke did this by omitting a number of duplicate stories (e.g., the famous Lukan omission of Matt. 14:22–16:12) and by inserting into the heart of the Matthean text at the end of the Galilean ministry (cf. Matt. 19:1–2) a section of no less than nine long chapters, Luke’s central section (9:51–18:14), comprising (1) the excerpts that he had extracted from Matthew’s five great discourses in order to lighten the content of his own version of them and (2) additional sayings and parables that Luke had collected. (It is perhaps worth noting here that Luke’s central section roughly corresponds to the conjectural document known as Q, which many modern scholars consider to be one of the sources of Matthew and Luke.)

From Why Four Gospels?

9:33 AM I love porches. Becky and I sat alone (the Rondeaus are visiting friends) both last evening and this morning on our front porch. Last night we enjoyed the relatively warm air and the bright full moon, so full that we could see the contrails of invisible jets flying 30,000 feet overheard. This morning we ate breakfast together on the front porch, yours truly having fried up some eggs and potatoes, along with farm fresh toast and homemade jam. As we sat there and talked about life, the thought went through my mind that joy -- genuine joy! -- is never optional for the believer in Jesus. This includes joy in times of testing and even despair. I recall once hearing one of my pastors in Hawaii telling his "preacher boys" (there were about 5 of us whom he was mentoring), "All of you will face times of despair in life. If you never face despair, you are not a genuine Christian. Being a Christian means being like Christ. It means facing life as He faced it. You must enjoy things in life just as He enjoyed the good things of life. You must be as happy as He was when He attended the wedding at Cana. But you must also know what it means to be in the Garden of Gethsemane, when your friends have forsaken you, when you feel that God Himself has forsaken you. Life will go on. Just remember Easter Sunday. So if you are a genuine Christian, you will know peace and joy and happiness. And you will know despair and sorrow and testing. Accept both as from the hand of the God whom you love and trust."

That counsel has remained with me all through the years. This is the message of Christianity, and B and I are going to tell it to anyone who will listen to us, here or in Africa.

God loves you, each of you, with all your hurts and your fears, joys and sorrows. He wants to throw His arms around you and let His love break through your pain. He is a great Savior and Lord and a wonderful Friend.

This is the same message I had to preach to myself this morning. "Rejoice in the Lord always. He is still at work. He is at work weaning you from this world to the next."

So, yes, I love my porches. Still, it is hard to explain how some days this farm can feel so much like home, and some days it seems the farthest thing from Home.

Monday, November 22

6:34 PM Bob Hayton reviews Which None Can Shut: Remarkable True Stories of God’s Miraculous Work in the Muslim World. I liked this statement of Bob's:

I couldn’t put this book down. And when I did, I was moved to pray more intently for the continued advance of the Gospel in Muslim lands. I fear that many Christians in America are more focused on the encroaches of Sharia law and Muslim suicide bombings than they are on the need these people have for Jesus Christ and the Gospel of God’s grace. May this book serve to elicit prayer rather than prejudice from God’s people.

Prayer rather than prejudice. No one could say it better.

6:16 PM This week my beginning Greek students are writing their second take-home exam of the semester. I look upon Greek as a garden in which there are many pleasant groves. I have tried to "humanize" Greek grammar and have vowed to make the subject no more difficulty than it has to be. I feel ashamed to admit that I lasted only 3 weeks in my beginning Greek class at Biola before dropping. As the Romans said, initium dimidium facti -- the beginning is half the deed. But it is only half. When we complete chapter 13 at the end of the semester we will have covered exactly one half of our textbook. If students fail to reach the finish line, I will be partly to blame.

Do well, O ye my students! I'm praying for you.

1:55 PM Just bought tickets for Becky and Lizzy to attend the Nutcracker at the Carolina Ballet. B and I saw this performance several years ago and it is a dazzler.

1:15 PM Here's another reason why I dislike PowerPoint and almost never use it in teaching. A key quote:

The presentations that work are not the ones with the most data or the most elaborate charts and graphs; the winners are those with the most compelling and convincing narratives.


12:05 PM Allan Bevere, my co-editor of the Areopagus Series, shares his heart about attending this year's SBL meeting.

10:12 AM On the original motivation for Matthew:

As soon as the first wave of converts had been baptized and their instruction organized by the Twelve, the apostles’ thoughts turned to the practical question of how to unify and consolidate their teaching about Jesus. The apostles realized that they somehow needed to promulgate those passages of the Holy Scriptures from “Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27) that Jesus had explained to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. It also became clear to them that their main apologetic task was to demonstrate to the Jewish authorities that Jesus had literally fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah. These considerations were the original motivation for the composition of the Gospel of Matthew.

From Why Four Gospels?

9:58 AM Derek Leman raises an interesting question about the mountain in the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, if you've ever been to the Holy Land you've stood atop the famous "Mount of the Beatitudes." But could the Greek imply something quite different from the traditional conception of a certain mountain? Could the article be used here, say, as the equivalent of the English idiom "I'm going to the beach today" or "I'm going to the mountains this weekend"? In neither of these cases do we have a particular location in mind. The article is used generically. Perhaps all that is meant here is "He went up on a hillside and began teaching them...." The Greek, I think, permits such a rendering.

What do you think?

9:35 AM Openings:

8:34 AM The other day I ran across something Greg Laurie wrote in his book Every Day with Jesus (p. 259):

Ephesians 5:18 says, "Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit." The original Greek text makes it clear this applies to all believers: to men as well as women, to the young as well as the old. Everyone needs to be filled with the Spirit.

If there is something in the Greek text that indicates this, I must be blind to it. I guess it's no problem for pastors to refer to the "original Greek" when the Greek has absolutely nothing to do with the point they're trying to make. A hundred books on Greek, some written by me, cannot preclude eisegesis. Obviously, at this point I have no intention of revising the advice I give to all my Greek students: Do not use Greek from the pulpit. However, the cynic or skeptic in me tells me it's all for naught.

Meanwhile, since no one has invented a literary contraceptive (and authors are always pregnant), it's back to writing.

8:21 AM We're preparing for a busy week. Tuesday we have an appointment with Becky's radiologist at UNC, then on Thursday we're eating Thanksgiving Dinner at her brother's home in Cary, NC. This will be a mini-family reunion of sorts. Her brother Ben will be there, as well as her sister Barbara along with their spouses. Mom and Dad Lapsley will be flying in from Dallas to complete the dinner party. It feels like a lifetime since we've been together in one place. My cup overflows just thinking about it. If you remember, the Lapsleys were missionaries to Ethiopia from 1954-1964. I thought of them when I was having my devotions this morning from Mark 10:29: "Anyone who leaves home or brother or sister or mother or father or child or field for me and for the Gospel will receive much more in the present world -- a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields, and persecutions as well." That has certainly been the case with mom and dad, and I thank God for them. On Wednesday we'll get Becky's blood drawn in anticipation of next Monday's chemo treatment, and then on Friday everyone will come here to the farm for Ethiopian fare. Amor est vitae essentia!

Sunday, November 21

5:48 PM I am really liking writing the final chapter to Paul, Apostle of Weakness. It reminds me so much of our happy student days in Basel so long ago, when I first worked on this book. As I proceeded in my research and writing my interest in Pauline theology grew and grew. I, who had not the slightest preparation -- in heritage, schooling, or character -- for understanding biblical theology, which I thought was the boring purview of esoterics -- I discovered a thousand bright facets on those jewels of Pauline thought. I, the absolute neophyte, found undiscovered gems in that pile of stones, and gradually my antipathy toward biblical theology ebbed away until now I mentor doctoral students in the subject. Yes, we enjoyed those exuberant days of living in Europe.

I began to love Paul for his sense of beauty as much as for his ideas, and so it remains today. I cannot approach his epistles without being drawn in by the countless rhetorical flourishes I find in them -- epistles that are sealed and beribboned with love and painstaking labor. I readily admit that I am a glutton -- for I have tasted deeply of Paul and yet crave more and more of the delicious morsels of truth he tosses to the dogs under the table. He says so beautifully the thoughts I'm often thinking. His letters are pieces of technical brilliance transformed into pure delight. What a man -- this apostle who takes criticism in good spirits and carries to excess his praise of others -- this servant of God who said, "My one and only ambition in life has always been to proclaim the Good News in places where Christ has not been heard of, so as not to build on the foundation laid by someone else" -- what a man, this missionary of missionaries and theologian of theologians!

Oh God, please make me like Paul!  

4:02 PM We had a great time at Bethel Hill this morning. What a zany, crazy, wonderful family we have. Chris Jacobs, who is teaching through the book of Nehemiah in our Sunday School class, reminded me of the importance of prayer whenever we face spiritual warfare. (More on that in a moment.) Then pastor Jason showed off his newborn son during the church-wide gathering at 11:00 am. Tiny babies are very precious and Kasen is way too cute for his own good. He slept until the very end of the service when, in no uncertain terms, he cried out, "That's it, Daddy. You've talked long enough." I enjoy listening to my pastor teach. Today he was in Acts 19. I jotted down gobs of notes, but here are two interest things that struck me from that text.

1) In Acts 19:4, Christians are referred as people of "the Way." The term refers to the Christian movement. Luke, I notice, uses it often in Acts (9:2; 18:25-26; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Jason's point was to call out those who practice "easy-believism," and there are many of us who are guilty of this in Baptist circles. Genuine saving faith always involves a change in our lifestyles. That's why I don't like to call it "Christianity" as much as "Christianality" -- a term I define in this essay. No, I am not denying the forensic, juridical, or judicial side of justification. On the contrary. I am elevating that doctrine to its proper place when I insist, as do the Scriptures, that good works are the necessary fruit of our salvation.

2) I had to smile when I read, again, about the famous "school house of Tyrannus" (Acts 19:9). I say "smile" first of all because of the teacher's name (in English we'd say "Tyrant" -- what a great name for a school teacher!) and second because the Greek term for "school house" has been hotly debated. Louw and Nida (in their Greek-English lexicon) say "it's better to use a translation such as 'lecture hall' rather than 'school,' since one does not wish to give the impression of the typical classroom situation characteristic of present-day schools." So there you have it -- Paul was a "lecturer"! I doubt it. Especially when you consider the term Luke uses to describe what Paul did daily for two years in Ephesus, dialegomai, which implies more of a dialogical approach to teaching rather than hours of lecturing.

So much to reflect on....

Afterwards I took Becky to one of her favorite restaurants in South Boston for lunch then it was home again home again.

But back to prayer for a minute. I am amazed at how difficult it is for me to be honest with God sometimes. Especially in the quiet moments when there is pain and when I think I am facing a "hopeless" situation. I still have not learned the discipline of thankful prayer (Phil. 4:6). Intimacy with Jesus is something I seek but so rarely find. My world offers me too many cheap substitutes. But no intimacy, no passion. Without first listening, speaking becomes rote and mundane. Thank God I have special friends in my life who know my weaknesses and who nudge me forward. This includes a very special Priscilla and Aquila (you know who you are) as well as a Philemon ("I have derived much joy and comfort from your love," Philem. 1:7) and an Onesiphorus ("for he often refreshed me," 2 Tim. 1:16). I especially like this passage in Acts 28:15: "When the brothers and sisters there heard about us, they came ... to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage." God encouraged Paul through a cadre of fellow believers -- much like the special encouragement I feel every time I meet with the brethren at The Hill. Paul's friends were a resource upon which he obviously depended. Sometimes my encouragers are dead people. I find the biographies of Spirit-filled Christians to be rich in counsel and guidance. I recall being impressed at how James Fraser, missionary to China, would often weep while praying. (See his biography, Behind the Ranges.) Most of us are taught that being a "man" means not crying, not admitting your heart is breaking, not acknowledging it when you hurt. We learn a lie -- that hurts should never be admitted, that weeping is a sign of weakness. Of course, my greatest Encourager of all is the Man of Sorrows Himself, who has a most sympathetic ear. Occasionally I just need to bare my soul to Him, sometimes (like yesterday) through my tears. It's okay, He tells me. I understand you perfectly.

And that is enough.

8:22 AM Blogging quote of the day:

... blogging helps to put a personal face on biblical scholarship by allowing scholars to speak with an informal public voice different from the voice of academic publication. Even the most academic of academic blogs is a much more personal expression of the author's thoughts than any academic peer-review publication.

Yes, yes, yes! Personalize your scholarship, folks! Including your feet of clay lol!

8:05 AM I have often asked myself this question: What is a disciple of Jesus? I think you'll agree with Geoff's answer. Simple and very much to the point!

7:52 AM If you're an SBL-tracker, you've got to read Ken Schenck's pass-in-review of the latest sessions: SBL Day One (2010). My favorite snippets:

Wow, look at all these books!

Most of these books are pointless.

Not another commentary series!

Popular doesn't correlate to truth at all -- it might even work the other way around.

The budding scholars are grasping at straws to present something worthwhile so that they can get a job. Half or more are about to face a rude awakening: Everyone is glad to take your money and to give you a degree. No one is waiting to give you a job.

Truth for its own sake is perfectly legitimate, but in most seminary and college settings should only take up a small percentage of learning time.  At SBL, the vast majority of stuff falls in the category of "truth for its own sake."

All I can say is: Amen and Ouch!

7:38 AM Good morning, bloggers and bloggerettes!

The sixteenth century Pilgram Marpeck was a layperson's theologian. He took complicated doctrines and explained them in a simple manner. One of his most important contributions to the Anabaptist movement in southern Germany was his approach to the distinctions between the Old and New Testaments. Although he held all of Scripture to be equally the Word of God, he made a distinction between the purpose of the Old Testament and the purpose of the New. In Marpeck's eye, the fundamental error of the Magisterial Reformers was their willingness to make the Old Testament normative for the church.

It seems that a modern day Marpeck is calling us to beware of taking Old Testament practices and assuming they are normative for the modern church (read Back to the Old Testament?). In fact, for him theology is nothing more than the exegesis of the Scriptures. I think this is good news for the Body of Christ. May all of our theology be steeped in the Bible rather than in our manmade traditions, and may we become ever more vocal and vigorous in submitting our own lives and practices to its clear teachings.


Saturday, November 20

7:04 PM After the news of the new pat down regulations at TSA, will anyone enjoy flying again? Only a heartless egoist would fail to sympathize with those subjected to the now infamous "freedom frisk." I dislike flying immensely. Far from resembling the graceful flight of a bird, you are cramped into an uncomfortable box with narrow seats and viewless windows. Sailing is much more enjoyable, as is train travel. I adore trains. To travel by train is to see the world, to see life as it is lived out in towns and valleys and cities and mountain passes. My favorite train rides were from Cochin to Mumbai, Pusan to Seoul, and Bucharest to Budapest (my compartment is shown here).

I find myself not having the slightest hesitation to insist upon human dignity when facing a TSA employee. On a train, you're left alone.

6:41 PM Caleb has done it again. After a delicious supper of liver and onions, he decided to bake cinnamon rolls.

Eatin' is some serious business 'round here!

1:56 PM Odds and ends:

1) Thinking in Christ has published a positive review of Why Four Gospels? Reviews like this mislead one into thinking that he or she has laid the golden egg. (The adjective soon disappears.)

2) Danny Akin's ETS paper proves that there can be no Great Commission Resurgence without a Great Change. You can access the paper here. It's a profoundly important essay.

3) I've begun reading Burke Davis's They Called Him Stonewall, a gift from Lizzy. It is a thrilling story -- in many ways a heroic one. Mr. Davis tells it with an élan that is commendable. Yet I find a lingering sadness in the memory of the great soldier.

4) Caleb has been badgering me into teaching him a new cord on the ukulele every day. Badgering is the wrong word. He is so cute and so deserving that teaching him is an absolute joy. Don Ho, you better watch out!

5) I let my sutures get partially infected. Bacitracin, please do your thing.

6) I was asked this week why I've published with Energion, a relatively small and new publisher. Why shouldn't I enjoy the prestigious imprints of the most highly regarded publishers in America? My answer was, I like Henry Neufeld. All who have come to know him have learned to trust and honor him. His business is first and foremost a ministry, and he pushes his books with a youthful initiative and energy that can't always be expected of an established firm. We'll see who benefits whom more....

1:06 PM Today Matt and the boys have been digging French drains for our new down spouts.

They're having more fun than reading a Sarah Palin memoir.

Wish I could join them but I've got writing to do lol!

12:24 PM Thus far N. T. Wright, who just spoke at the annual ETS meeting, seems to be sipping the adulation of the blogosphere. Here's one example. I should say the accolades are, for the most part, well deserved. Wright has stirred up the pot, and I like stirred-up pots. Moreover, he writes to be understood by everyday people. He is, in that sense, a popularizer. Of course, popularization often means skimping on scholarship, or sparing the reader of potholes in the road. Wright is not a popularizer in that sense. My heart goes out to the man, so disliked by so many, so respondent to the practical side of the Christian faith, fighting battles that might have broken the spirit of a  lesser man. In my book Godworld I am toying with the idea of devoting a chapter to the scholar ("What's Right -- and Wrong -- with Wright"). But right now I've got to finish Paul, Apostle of Weakness.

In the meantime I'll be trying to keep abreast of the fallout from this year's ETS and SBL meetings in Atlanta, especially the debates being offered this year. Debates settle nothing, but they are highly entertaining.

8:28 AM Most people know that my views about New Testament textual criticism have been greatly influenced by my former colleague in the Greek Department at Biola University, Prof. Harry Sturz. Sturz's dissertation (Th.D. Grace Theological Seminary) was published as The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism.

It is masterful work. It was written by a scholar for scholars. And it's a reminder of just how unpredictable scholarship can be at times. Just when the coaches thought they had their players set up for an off-tackle thrust, someone seizes the ball and carries it on a wide sweep around end. This is precisely what happened when Harry Sturz published his book.

In textual criticism, one enters a discipline that is as much art as it is science, so that what is all too clear to one scholar may be opaque to another. My friend Dan Wallace -- who, incidentally, also took Harry Sturz's textual criticism class at Biola -- has explained how he left the Sturzian fold and returned to the camp of the Critical Text -- much to the joy, I surmise, of the coaching staff.

I have never changed my mind.

Harry Sturz had no personal axe to grind. He neither hoped for nor expected any professional advantages form his work on the Byzantine text. He had been a student of E. C. Colwell when the latter was still teaching at Claremont Graduate School in Southern California. Like Colwell, Sturz always presented his views in a scholarly yet humble way. His work was not a revelation from Mount Sinai but the considered judgment of an intelligent, hardworking scholar.

Much to his credit, Sturz had the temerity to challenge the status quo and to take up the cudgels of the primary data in search of the truth. His views were (and still are) diametrically opposed to the conception behind the Byzantine Priority view and the Critical Text view alike. With the grim determination of a spawning salmon, he swam up the stream of scholarship. His total sincerity shows through every page of his work. His reputation at Biola was such as to compel respect and attention by all. His conclusion -- that the Byzantine text is not edited or secondary in the Westcott-Hort sense -- gushed forth from the fountains of his conviction.

I consider The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism to be extremely fair with the evidence, and whenever I teach textual criticism I always require it to be read alongside other standard works in the field. Sturz's perspective is, I believe, absolutely essential to a correct estimation of the problem. This is all the more important in our day, which is characterized by a burgeoning ambivalence toward all things text-critical. It is the duty of every student of the New Testament to dig up the skeleton of truth, even if only a dozen people in the world care about it.

Harry Sturz was a gentleman to his fingertips. He would never have thought of imposing his ideas upon his students, who held him in awe. He was a beaver for work despite his age. Unlike so many scholars of his day (and ours), he refused to resort to the ark of group-think, scampering up its gang plank whenever his views were challenged.

Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism is a magnificent tour de force. In my opinion, it seriously weakens the arguments of both those who elevate the Byzantine text to a position of unquestioned primacy and those who seek to relegate it to the academic rubbish heap. All in all, it pulls the rug from under a great deal of what passes for scholarship today. It is a dangerous book for a young scholar to read, unless one enjoys coolheaded, impersonal logic. It is a coda to an investigative symphony, and for the symphony I am most grateful, even though it remains unfinished.

(This entry is cross-posted here.)

Friday, November 19

8:20 PM Fun evening with the Rondeaus and Glasses. Matthea's carrot cake was divine. I should know: I have a "Master of Divinity" ( = all things divine).

Oh, another thing Baptists don't do? Dance.

Make that: dance well.

Time to cozy up with a book and a fire.

8:03 PM Nice post on adolescence.

1:40 PM This morning we had Becky's blood drawn in South Boston. It hardly seems possible that it was 16 months ago that she had her surgery and exactly 12 months ago this week that she was taking her third chemo treatment at UNC. To say that these past 16 months have been intense would be an understatement. To say they have been easy would be a downright lie. Baptists aren't supposed to believe in spiritual warfare. But it exists. And it's another reason why I love to read the Gospels. They show me that real demons constantly harassed Jesus, especially when they realized He could fight back (by quoting Scripture and commanding them to go away). The Gospels allow me to see that discouragement is not always psychological in nature. No, I don't think we should indiscriminately charge the Devil with all of our problems. We must be careful to assume our share of the responsibility. But extreme spiritual warfare does exist. And when we face it, I think we must focus on the cross. At Calvary, Satan tried to destroy Jesus. But that's when the decisive blow against the devil and his forces was delivered. When Jesus said, "It is finished," He meant it. The devil's stranglehold on us has been broken. The Lord has bruised the serpent's head. God defanged Satan at the cross. I'd give anything to have a before and after picture showing Satan's face when he discovered that Jesus had won the victory at Golgotha. Being so deeply involved in kingdom work, Becky and I realize how hugely demanding ministry is. We constantly realize the potential impact of sin to ruin relationships. The challenge is to trust when there is no apparent change or relief. I know in my own life, the greatest joy and the greatest pain comes in working with the hurting. Discouragement tries to demolish hope, but the Lord reminds us that the battle is already won. His Spirit works courage in us.

I am so so thankful today for the Gospels. They help me to assess my own life wisely and biblically. As I go through the day, I am encouraged:

Stop and look around you. Realize that you are one of the privileged in the world who can say they are living their dream. Don't lose sight of the fact that "It is finished." Jesus and you are in this together. And because you're in this together, you can come before His throne and pour out your heart. Enjoy the peace and serenity that He provides. Be anxious for nothing. Christus Victor is still at work in your life.  

7:56 AM Nick Norelli has posted an excellent review of The Reformation Study Bible.

7:40 AM I'm sure my students will enjoy reading Scot McKnight's The Jesus Creed next semester. This is the first time I will have required Scot's tome as a textbook. I am not in agreement with Scot about every area of biblical interpretation. But what he says in The Jesus Creed is biblically sound. The point he makes -- and the point I make in The Jesus Paradigm -- is that the whole purpose of the church can be summarized in that one word: love. That is what Jesus was all about. That is what the Gospels are all about. That is what the New Testament is all about. And that is what the Great Commission is all about. John says, "If you have this world's goods and see your brother or sister in need, and shut up your bowels of compassion, how can God's love dwell in you?" Loving is caring. Caring is sharing. And both caring and sharing is what missions is all about.

When we come to this realization, we begin to alter our lifestyle. We learn to seek first the kingdom of God and to trust Him to use us to further the Gospel. We make a deliberate decision to let God have total control of our lives. Suddenly we no longer care so much about attending conferences or buying books or listening to So-and-So's sermon. We give up our vain pursuits. We get personally involved in missions. We go. And if we can't go, we send. Better yet, we come alongside the church in Asia or Africa and ask, "How can we help you?" For example, reaching the half million villages of India sounds like an impossibility until we realize that if just one out of every 92 evangelicals in America sponsored an indigenous evangelist it would be enough to support 500,000 fulltime missionaries who already know the language and culture. Love, as Scot shows in his book, should rule among Christians, but one of the saddest things I see today is that many of us fail to understand what love is. The Great Commission demands that we work together with every other Jesus-follower in building the kingdom. This means that every effort, organization, program, project, pursuit, and building is to be evaluated in terms of how they contribute to the ultimate mission of the church. Tragically, more than 95 percent of the total church budget in the U.S. is spent at home to maintain the status quo rather than to reach the nations. The Jesus of the Gospels is calling every one of His followers to break away from his or her culture and live for Him wholeheartedly. How in the world can we have churches that make monthly mortgage payments of $100,000 and still claim they don't have anything for missions? We have shamefully hoarded our resources. We are not loving as He loved.

The fact is, many of us are substituting information and knowledge for practical obedience. And this includes us seminarians. Of all the academic organizations in the world, the ETS should schedule at its annual meetings all-day prayer sessions for the lost. How can we, as "biblical" scholars who claim to love Jesus with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, gather to discuss the Scriptures without considering the claims of Jesus Christ on our lives? How tragic. Education means absolutely nothing to God. We can hold doctorates from the most prestigious universities in the world and still be absolutely useless to the Lord. That's why it's so important to study the Gospels. The Jesus-style is the servant-style. He seeks doers, not hearers or discussers. How I'd love to see Tom Schreiner and Tom Wright, after debating the NPP, spend a few days together in Addis Ababa serving in an orphanage (or even working in an inner city mission in Atlanta). What a message that would send about justification!

Missions is not just for "the other guy." You can become a world Christian, and so can I. So must I -- all the more so since I claim to be a biblical Christian. Think about it. One can know the Gospels and not give one's best in the cause of Christ. But in God's inverted kingdom, greatness is defined by our willingness to serve. Blind to social distinctions and educational attainments, we live as children of God, holding forth the Word of life to all who will listen. That's why I love this Jesus of the Gospels. In one stroke He demolishes my hankering after status. "You are not to be called 'doctor,' for you have one teacher, and you are all students," He says. This doesn't mean that we ignore controversies. I once debated Scot at an annual SBL meeting over the synoptic problem, and I have published my concerns about his unwavering support for the emerging church. (See Scot McKnight on the Emerging Church.) The genius of the Gospel is that it contains within it the seed of reformation. But ultimately, the kingdom entails a new set of values, and the highest value of all is loving God and loving others -- the "Jesus Creed."

So the key question in our Mark class will not be, "Was Mark our earliest Gospel?" The key questions will be:

  • How can Gospel values begin to shape our cultural practices irrespective of what country we live in?

  • What tables does Jesus want to overturn in our homes, our churches, and our denominations?

  • How can mission work move beyond do-gooder paternalism?

  • How can we get past our pious slogans and glamorous magazine covers?

  • How can we claim to reject pompous power and still retain our honorific titles?

  • Above all, how can we welcome His reign in our corporate lives each day?

Mammon clings to us like barnacles on a boat, but Jesus said we cannot love God and wealth. If the Gospel of Mark teaches anything it is that the kingdom requires a singularity of focus and energy. It requires fulltime devotion to Jesus.

I don't know about you, but I need that reminder daily.

Thursday, November 18

3:18 PM Just finished my farm projects for the day.

1) I dug up this wild rose bush and replanted it in 5 sections around the farm. Bec's mom originally planted it in their Burji home over 50 years ago. Now we will have a remembrance of those happy times.

2) One place we thought would be appropriate for the Burji rose bush was at our entrance gate.

3) Becky also asked me to discontinue her tomato plants in the raised garden beds. That's right -- no more garden fresh tomatoes again until next summer.

4) Potholes, potholes, potholes. Time to fill them in!

5) Finally, here's our resident hat thief. And glove thief. And you-name-it thief. Nothing is safe from Alpha, the Barbarian.

Right now Bec and I are getting spruced up to go out to dinner with some dear friends. Mexico Viejo, here we come!

8:50 AM Yesterday I listed the books I'm requiring for my Greek 4 class next semester (Exegesis of Mark). I'm praying about adding Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q.

I think it is a helpful contribution to the status quaestionis. It may help to underscore the multifaceted character of Gospel studies today. Besides, I like dissenters. The tide of dissent from the academic opinions in which many of us were indoctrinated has reached a level where it can't be ignored. At least on points of chronology and sequence, Goodacre's work deserves a place in the standard Einleitungen.

One huge reservation: The price is truly exorbitant. Can I really justify asking students to pay $40.00 for a 240-page book? I may have to put the book on reserve instead and have students read it in the library.

8:05 AM Good read: Four Reasons You Should Resist the New TSA Security Procedures (and How You Can).

7:36 AM It's been some 11 weeks since Bob Cole and I began team teaching our LXX class. A realistic assessment of the result of the course is difficult. I can only speak for myself. I am coming away from the course with new perspectives and viewpoints -- and many new questions. Some of my previously held assumptions about Old Testament textual criticism have been strengthened. Others have been considerably weakened. It is very clear to me that it would be misleading to speak of any general consensus that is emerging from the class. My guess is that two weeks from now -- or two months or two years from now -- the impact of the course will be more in evidence for every participant than it is now.

Yesterday Bob was absent. (He's at ETS.) In his absence I felt a keen awareness of my own limitations to address certain details of the Hebrew text. The best I could do was to suggest possible ways of dealing with it. Again, one of the great values of a course like this is the possibility of the cross-fertilization of ideas. Much, it seems, is still up for grabs in Old Testament textual criticism. Perhaps in the next few years new methods of approaching the present evidence may make certainly possible. We will see: Veritas filia temporis. For myself, I hope one day I'll get the hang of this and get it right.

One of the spin-offs of the class is a new respect for the translators of the LXX. They were faced with an inordinately difficult task. We, too, struggle with their renderings today. This struggle can best, and perhaps only, be carried on in an interdisciplinary context. There is much that New Testament scholars can learn from specialists in the Old Testament. Furthermore, even critics of the Old Testament are learning that their views need to be constantly tested in the light of new insights and new methods.

And so the course continues -- a place where, hopefully, profitable dialogue may happen. I sense a readiness of the part of all of us, teacher and student alike, to see the whole matter from a new perspective. Education is ultimately inquiry, and what is happening in our class is perhaps the best kind of education one can experience.

7:22 AM As I worked on my book Why Four Gospels? I was continually reminded of how many practical lessons Jesus left us with concerning how to live the Christian life. All of human history hinges on Christ. And that's why the Gospels are so important. They are written and designed to help us see Jesus. "That which we have seen and heard, we declare to you," wrote John the apostle. Jesus wants us to enjoy the unbelievable privilege of talking with Him daily, of asking Him to guide us through the turbulent waters of life, and expecting Him to take us firmly in His arms. We call Him Jesus of Nazareth, but we could also call Him Jesus of Wake Forest or Jesus of New York City. He is "God with us." The Gospels paint an awesome picture of all that God has done for us through Jesus. As I study these ancient documents, I never want to forget this fact.

Wednesday, November 17

8:33 PM Energion Publications announces a new academic book line. For obvious reasons, I couldn't be more excited.

8:10 PM Here's a great quote from Allan Bevere: 

Christmas is not your birthday. It is not mine. But judging from the way we observe the holiday each year, one would think otherwise.

Read Whatever Happened to the Thanksgiving Season?

7:38 PM Speaking of school, I want to thank Yamin Park for his gracious invitation to dine with him and his sweet family last night in student housing. Yamin also did an excellent job of leading the discussion of Ruth 4:1-12 in our LXX class today. We dug deeply into both the Greek and Hebrew. Delightful!

7:22 PM I've just finished writing the syllabus for my Greek 4 class that meets next semester. One issue we'll discuss is the synoptic problem. I'll admit that there isn't sufficient evidence to prove Matthean priority beyond the shadow of a doubt. Nor will the scholarly community be willing to dispense with "Q" any time soon, despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Goodacre. Nevertheless, I believe -- and am quite ready to try and prove -- that the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis presented in my book Why Four Gospels? presents a more credible example of the relationships among the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that do any of the other "solutions" to the synoptic problem.

Many have commended my work in recent days because they feel it is no more complex than absolutely necessary -- thus applying Ockham's razor. I agree with this assessment, to a degree. A simpler explanation is not inherently a better one. I would argue, however, that we should not appeal to unknown sources or hypothecated documents unless we have been unable to understand the relationships between Matthew, Mark, and Luke without them. This does not mean that the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis now becomes more probable. Perhaps I have missed something in my analysis of the raw data. It is therefore necessary for students of the synoptic problem to give attention to concrete problems inherent in any view of synoptic relationships.

This we shall do next semester as we exegete the Gospel according to Mark in Greek. I rather suspect that when and if our view of the synoptic problem becomes accepted, it will be because students have examined the evidence for themselves. My proposal is that we analyze the Gospels just as we would any other ancient document. It seems to me to be the eminently intelligent thing to do. We do ourselves a disservice if we take umbrage at the challenges posed to us by history. As a teacher, then, it is my aim to get my students deep into the text itself. Thus, I am basically optimistic about the class, in which I hope to tackle the full range of research problems in contemporary Gospel studies while at the same time seeking to open a new way of understanding the Christian Gospels in the earliest period of church history.

I hope many of you SEBTS students will consider joining us in this quest. Of course, our ultimate goal is to better assess the historical figure who lies behind the four characterizations in the Gospels and His relevance for us today. Thus books like Scot McKnight's The Jesus Creed and my own The Jesus Paradigm find their place among the works that we will want to read for the class. The time is ripe for a fresh assessment of the data, with a goal of strengthening the Body of Christ for the work of disciple-making worldwide.

For your information I publish here a portion of the syllabus I just posted to the seminary website. This is subject to change, of course, prior to the beginning of the class.

Required Textbooks
Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (D. Beck and D. A. Black, eds.; Baker).
Why Four Gospels? (D. A. Black; Energion).
Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (D. A. Black, ed.; B & H).
The Gospel of Mark: New International Commentary on the Greek Testament (R. T. France; Eerdmans).
The Jesus Paradigm (D. A. Black; Energion).
The Jesus Creed (S. McKnight; Zondervan).
The following work is required for this class.
  1. An interpretive translation (i.e. paraphrase) of the book of Mark based on the Greek text. Please bring your completed translations and parsing to class, along with any interpretive and exegetical notes gained from reading your commentary and other exegetical and homiletical resources. In preparing your translations you may use any helps available to you, but your final translation must be your own. A translation schedule will be made available on the first day of class.
  2. Class presentations. Each student will lead (at least once, depending on class size) the class discussion over a section from Mark. Please send to the class (via email) at least two days prior to your session an overview of your presentation.
  3. A final exam covering translation and parsing from anywhere in the book of Mark, without the use of helps.

Monday, November 15

8:11 PM Thanks to Becky Lynn, I just enjoyed my first glass of eggnog this winter. There is no comparable beverage on this planet.

7:58 PM Biola, where I studied and then taught from 1971-1998, announces an opening in their Honors Program. Don't worry too much about relocating to Southern California. Other than the fires, floods, riots, earthquakes, and smog, it ain't a bad place to live.

7:40 PM Oh, this is way too funny! Stop by and you may win the big prize for yourself!

7:28 PM Right now I'm facing a situation that requires gobs of spiritual wisdom to deal with. I keep telling myself, Don't snatch things out of God's hands, Dave. Instead, I've been praying:

Thank you, God, for allowing this trial to come into my life right now. I know you are doing a splendid job of managing my life, and this is but one more element in your perfection/maturity program for me. Through it you will help me to become a little more like Jesus. Show me what I should do, and help me to be patient until you do.

If you're facing a similar trial, I urge you to try this solution!

6:55 PM This week will be a very busy one on campus. I'm meeting with a prospective Ph.D. student, mentoring current ones, writing exams, submitting textbook orders for the spring semester, grading term papers, teaching 4 classes, sending a ms. to a publisher, and typing up the final chapter to Paul, Apostle of Weakness. In the midst of it all I need to find times for more deep prayer. You can't spontaneously produce quality. It happens only through an intimate love relationship with God through Jesus.

6:43 PM Over dinner tonight B mentioned this BBC news story about the airlift of 8,000 Falashas from Ethiopia to Israel. That can't be possible, I thought to myself. I believed that all the Jews had been relocated to Israel years ago. But it's no joke. And no laughing matter. Lord, please have mercy on them all.

6:40 PM Great news! Maurice Robinson is out of surgery and recovering nicely in the CCU at Wake Med. Let's not stop interceding for him now!

4:08 PM Taking my bride out to dinner. She loves the salads at Ruby Tuesdays.

4:05 PM The College of the Ozarks announces an opening in Biblical Studies.

4:02 PM My, how idiosyncratic I feel sometimes. I'm glad it's okay to be different. I'm glad that Jesus calls me by name. I'm glad that He knows me inside and out, just like a good shepherd knows his sheep. I'm as different from you (or from any other human being for that matter) as night is from day. We're all different, and the exciting thing is that God knows that and treats us according to our own temperaments and personalities.

Sometimes all we need is a little look at the animal world to understand this. My dogs Sheba and Dayda couldn't be more different. Sheba is a natural leader and a fearless hunter, but she knows her limitations and always checks in with me before going anywhere. Dayda, on the other hand, must be part dodo bird -- she acts before she thinks and would run off in an eye blink if I turned my back on her. Jesus had John the Son of Thunder and Peter the Impulsive, and I have my Sheba and Dayda.

Jesus not only knows my name ("Dave Black" --  let's see, a Sheba or a Dayda?); he also knows my needs. When I doubt His promises He understands. He knows my frailties and my idiosyncrasies as a human being. He always has my best interests in mind, even when the path seems so unclear. When I'm sad and discouraged I don't have to do a back flip to get His attention. All I have to do is go to Him and receive all the help I need for whatever problem I'm facing.

It's moments like these, when I face the limitations of my own personality and temperament, that I look around in wonder at the extravagant love Jesus has for me. He says, I know my sheep. What a fantastic promise. It's a little word of encouragement that lasts for a long, long time.

For eternity even.

1:16 PM On the last 12 verses of Mark:

How, then, does one explain how the last twelve verses (Mark 16:9–20), which describe the resurrection, were added to the Gospel? Some manuscripts record these verses, while others either omit them altogether or give a much shorter ending. The most plausible explanation is that after Mark had satisfied the immediate demand of those who wanted copies of the five discourses, which ended at Mark 16:8, the matter rested there until after the martyrdom of Peter and Mark’s decision to go off to establish the church of Alexandria (67–69). As an act of piety to the memory of Peter, Mark then decided to publish an edition of the text that included the necessary sequel to the passion and death of Jesus.

From Why Four Gospels?

12:52 PM I ain't got it. Hermann Binder, in his essay "Die angebliche Krankheit des Paulus" (TZ 32), argues that Paul's weakness referred to in Gal. 4:13 cannot be purely physical because "in the language Paul, astheneia never means 'illness' but always 'weakness,' 'powerlessness.'" In short, Binder expresses the "fact" that Paul never uses astheneia or its cognates to refer to a physical condition and concludes from this that therefore Paul cannot have bodily infirmity in mind in Gal 4:13. Binder's argument at this point is a pure petitio principii. His conclusion is not surprising since it was also his premise! Just read 2 Tim. 4:20 (Trophimus) or 1 Tim. 5:23 (Timothy) or Phil 2:26-27 (Epaphroditus) and you will see that the word group can indeed refer to a physical sickness of some sort.

On to my next essay....

11:45 AM Today I'm trying to bring up to date about 26 years of Pauline scholarship on the subject of weakness. I hope this new section of Paul, Apostle of Weakness will meet a need in the academic community and beyond. I'm feeling downright mopey right now so I might not get very far. I find writing both fascinating and frustrating, much like public speaking.

Is there an emoticon for what I'm feeling?

11:17 AM Many students go on to seminary only to find that's where their missionary vision ends. The goal becomes "serve God and live a fulfilled Christian life." This is one of the greatest deceptions of our time. God is calling us to live our lives totally and radically for Him and His kingdom, regardless of our educational attainments. Seminary student, are you willing to do that?

9:50 AM My esteemed colleague Maurice Robinson is having quadruple bypass surgery today. Your prayers are appreciated.

9:25 AM Potpourri:

1) Becky tells stories about the persecuted church:

2) Our youth highlighted the suffering taking place in other nations. The slide says, "Heavenly Rainbow, Age 11, North Korea."


3) My buddy Woody Jacobs. He told me, "Dave, I enjoy telling my brothers 'I love you.'"

4) Nate, Jess, and Nolan stopped by last night for a visit.

5) What a charmer -- that Nolan.

6) Mr. Blue Eyes in all his glory.

7) I'm giving Caleb ukulele lessons on my old Kamaka uke, which I was given when I was his age.

8) Today he learned the G7 cord. His repertory now consists of C, F, and G7. Just think of all the songs he can now play, including "Pearly Shells."

9:15 AM Yesterday Becky did a fantastic job of calling our attention to the plight of the world's persecuted. (I also taught from Phil. 1:27-30. I wasn't sure I was able to get my point across, but I tried. Both faith and suffering are gifts of God.) Today I keep thinking about all the adventures that B and I have spent together in Africa. All the suffering we've witnessed. All the poverty we've shared. All the persecution we've seen -- and been the target of. It's funny, really, that we here in North America should make such a big deal about "Persecution Sunday" when much of the rest of the world is having Persecution Monday today and will have Persecution Tuesday tomorrow. It's a measure of just how easy life is here. So easy that we have to focus on others' trials. Yesterday's meeting seems a little bittersweet today. I realize how quickly I can grow accustomed to my American lifestyle. It's at moments like this that I wonder what world I belong to. I see the wealth and prosperity of my own culture, and then I travel (in my mind's eye) across the world and see the troubled waters stirred up by the enemies of Christianity. And to make things more complicated, you're faced with the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will ever be able to take your Ethiopian bride back to the place of her childhood. Nevertheless, yesterday was a good, good day. Bethel Hill, thank you for allowing Becky and me to share the truth about suffering and persecution with you. We can't wait to get back to "Utopia" and share the work and the danger again.

Sometimes I feel like serving Jesus is like eating a big bowl of ice cream. I'd like a bigger bowl, please.

Saturday, November 13

6:16 PM It's going to be a very long time before I forget today. What's an Ethiopia team reunion like? Imagine a group of Iraq War vets sitting around in someone's living room in the States. There are chatting amiably. Their feelings come out naturally. They are beginning to "process" their experiences. Together.

A Band of Brothers.

It hit me today. That's exactly what we are.

A Band of Brothers.

Our common experience has forged an unbreakable bond between us. In a word, we are vets of a gigantic spiritual battle that is raging all over Ethiopia. And if you've never been there -- if you've never felt what we've felt or seen what we've seen or done what we've done -- you will never be able to understand us. It's just impossible. All this translates into the fact that the bonds of missionary service are so tight that, well, it's just about impossible to explain it in words.

A Band of Brothers.

For some of us, this means happy memories. Our deployment wasn't too bad. Nothing very traumatic. Except maybe watching the walking wounded. For others, however, there's a heavy price that has been paid. Either way, we're open and honest with each other. Our hearts ache for Ethiopia. We cry out to God on behalf of our family there. We're ready to kick it into high gear and get back to the war zone. It's a job we find incredibly invigorating and enervating, all at the same time. Our hearts sing because Jesus has counted us -- unworthy us! -- to be His servants in Africa!

I love being a missionary to Ethiopia. It's the most wonderful, most exasperating, most difficult, most exhilarating job in all the world. There are no exceptions. Mission work is riding a roller coaster with all of its surprises and sudden jolts. It's terrific and terrifying. Sometimes it's so fast that I want to cry "Whiplash!"

I also love my teammates. All these knights in shining armor. All these normal brothers and sisters who live humdrum lives (as I do) and then place it all on the line for Jesus. My thanks to each team member who came today. My love to each who couldn't make it. You were missed. To everyone who attended: Thanks for letting me pour out my heart to you. I knew you would understand. And thanks for sharing with me your thoughts and dreams too. Feel free to do that at any time. After all, we are a band of brothers.

Semper Fi!

5:12 PM Oh, how wise, this Clement of Alexandria!

This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. It is older than Eve. It is the token of the superior nature….It is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.

7:55 AM Ethiopians are caught between two cultures -- the disappearing one of their forefathers and the rapidly emerging world of today based on Western "values." I imagine this struggle will make for interesting conversation today during our Ethiopia team reunion. Actually, we Christians in North America are also caught between two cultures -- one that makes education, birth, status, health, and success primary, and one that requires that we share our lives with others and thus lay the foundations of Gospel witness and work. Oh, what a high view of the lost we must have and we must teach! It must be second only to our affection for the Savior Himself!

Below: Dr. Rick greets a new patient at our makeshift health clinic in Gujiland last summer.

For the Gujis, having a medical doctor in their midst was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Oh, wait a minute: there is no sliced bread in Gujiland!

7:35 AM Over at the Alpha and Omega Blog, Jamin Hubner's essay on "Q" is well worth your time. His conclusions?

Q is entirely unfounded. If such a source existed that the two gospels depended on, we would expect to see at least one manuscript, or one reference to it in early church tradition (there are 5,700+ manuscripts of the NT, 2,360+ of which are gospels). But there simply are none; there is no hard evidence whatsoever that Q even existed.


But then we read this:

It's possible Mark was written last out of the three. But that's highly unlikely - why would a compilation of accounts be the smallest account? Why would it exclude the majority of Jesus' teaching? Why then does Matthew and Luke agree less than Mark agrees with Luke and Matthew? Why does Mark have a more awkward and primitive style? etc.

I've tried to answer these questions in Why Four Gospels? Any blogger who would like a free review copy can contact the publisher at

Friday, November 12

7:44 PM Here's a great interview with a wonderful fellow and one of my all-time favorite bloggers.

7:35 PM Had Chinese stir fry for supper tonight. Caleb and Isaac cooked it. I helped. Sort of. It was great. Afterwards Becky and I snuck out to the front porch and had some key lime pie together, talking about the day's events. Then Liz brought us some hot tea. Right now Bec's making potato salad for tomorrow's reunion. I'm reading a book about the Pearl Harbor attack. The Rondeaus are watching an episode of Little House on the Prairie.

Family. Love. Peace. Joy. Jesus.

2:09 PM Before I forget: Energion Publications has announced the forthcoming release of a new book on the missionary theology of John Piper. I have read the manuscript and am eager for the book to be in print. I'm also glad to see yet another of our SEBTS grads publishing his research.

Now it's nap time!

1:38 PM Becky and Lizzy (I love diminutives!) have gone off to South Boston for lunch and shopping. I'm going off to bed for a short nap. I think I deserve it. Got tons done today but how much more awaits to be accomplished. Make me Thy fuel, Thou Flame of God!

1:32 PM Thanks to Rod Decker I now have another essential web resource bookmarked.

12:40 PM The surgeon just called me with the news. "Extremely benign" were his words. Yes, I am rejoicing. Yes, I'm relieved. And yes, I'm grateful for your prayers. Very grateful. The bottom line: God is still changing me into His image, and He's still got a lot of work to do. It's going to involve mountaintops (like today) as well as valleys. No matter what -- we've got to keep moving forward.

When I was a child in Hawaii I dreamt of going places and seeing things. I'm going to see the Great Pyramids. I'm going to touch the pillars of the Parthenon. I'm going to walk sedately on the Great Wall of China. I'm going to visit Buddhist temples in Korea. I'm going to visit the British Museum and the Eiffel Tower and the Gutenberg Museum and Vatican City and the Swiss Alps and India and Persepolis and the Euphrates River. I'm going to do all that and a thousand things more.

So here I am today, having done all those things and thinking, None of this can compare to feeling one small ray of light penetrate the darkness of a soul.

I forget sometimes just how simple life is. You get up in the morning, and you go to bed at night. In between, you watch God work miracle after miracle after miracle. The kind of a miracle I experienced today when He whispered to me through the phone, "Extremely benign." Or when He allowed me to look in the eyes of my wife and see grace and love. Or when He spoke to me through your kind email.

Yes, miracle after miracle....

10:48 AM We're still getting tomatoes from our garden. Unbelievable.

10:45 AM I suspect that the silly "pay-for-your-projector" controversy at SBL will blow over as soon as another hideous injustice comes to light. I think God understands this quirk of human nature, our proclivity to focus on the dark in the face of all the light. The real purpose of attending annual meetings, as everyone knows, is (1) to network and make new friends and (2) to buy books. Otherwise, SBL is hardly an anarchist utopia. The better papers will inevitably be published (either in print or online), but it's the opportunity to meet your potential doctoral advisor or a colleague from another institution that would be the real attraction for me if I were a younger attendee. When I was much younger I took this advice, with some good results, and William Farmer was only one of several scientific saints who honored me with his friendship as a result. I was still charmed by that word "dream," oblivious to the fact that a dream is only what we have fashioned in our wishful fantasies. I rashly took on a larger commitment than I should have by agreeing to review numerous books, but I defended my rashness by pointing out to myself that I desperately needed the shrift. Today, whenever I am able to attend an annual meeting, I am awed by the joviality of freshly-minted Ph.D.s and amused at the simplicity of these young world-shakers. I am not saying that one shouldn't attend any of the paper sessions. Some presenters at ETS and SBL may have originality; one or two may have genius. In my early days my friends and I would sometimes duel over the question, "Who are the 5 greatest New Testament scholars in attendance?" We were just like any other young scholars, drunk with life. My favorite scholars weren't always the famous ones. I sought out those who used hammer phrases, who could concentrate an idea like a blow on the head. I also enjoyed scholars who kept me au courant with modern trends in the field.

In any case, I wish all the SBL attendees well this year, whether or not they are able adapt to the projector policy. I'm sorry I'll have to miss your company.

9:10 AM For the past few weeks my mind has been deeply afflicted by questions as I've worked on my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk.

  • In what way was Jesus political?

  • What kind of kingdom did Jesus establish through His life, death, and resurrection?

  • How did He relate to the political movements of His day? (There were four of them: the political establishment = the Sadducees; the religious establishment = the Pharisees; the isolationists = the Essenes; and the revolutionaries = the Zealots.)

  • Is the concept of peace central or only peripheral to His teaching?

I will spend a chapter exploring the proprietary of flying the nation's flag in our church buildings, seeking to answer the question: How does placing the Stars and Stripes in our churches contribute to the edification of the Body? If it is not a symbol of Christianity, what is its purpose? What does it say about the separation of church and state? And do we not tamper with the truth that the church is above nation and race by flying it? Inevitably questions about just war theory are also being raised. Are Christian pacifists correct when they say, in effect, that self-interest prevents us from being able to declare when a war is just?

Questions, questions, questions. George MacDonald wrote:

Into this troubled world Jesus was born.

They all were looking for a king

To slay their foes and lift them high.

Thou camest, a little baby thing

That made a woman cry.

So if the only reason I'm writing this book is so that I can work through these issues on my own, I think that's enough. It's enough because even if I never publish another book I know this Little Baby Thing who is Lord and King and Ruler and whom I am willing to serve in His Great Cause, until death if necessary.

8:22 AM Well, I've finished revising all 5 chapters of Paul, Apostle of Weakness. The flurry of activity is over. I think it's time I stopped and asked, What is the purpose of all of this? What am I trying to accomplish? Is all of this necessary? I've noticed that when people face medical challenges they tend to pause and rethink their priorities. They reevaluate their lives. Right now I sense the Lord is telling me exactly the same thing that Paul said to Timothy: "The hard-working farmer must be the first to partake of the crops" (2 Tim. 2:6).

Slow down, Dave, and take time to feed yourself. Weakness is not just a theological subject to be studied and written about. You need to take in before you give out ("give out" in both senses).

There's a time to work and a time to rest. Right now it's time for you to draw strength from Him. Put Him first. Give Him the preeminence.

And then all these things will be added unto you.

Thursday, November 11

4:38 PM Greek students, here's some real wit and wisdom from Moises Silva. Nobody says it better.

4:27 PM Just back from a walk to the mailbox. Got this Saturday on my mind. You gotta really love our Ethiopia teammates.

Many had never been out of the state before let alone out of the country. For some of them, living on the edge meant jaywalking. Not anymore. I sometimes forget just how frightening Africa can be to newcomers. But God has a way of yanking us out of our comfortable homes and putting us into impossible situations so that we would gather our courage and step out in faith. And it's true. When you try something that's so big only God can do it, you quickly discover what living by faith is all about.

You ought to try it.

1:16 PM Back to revising Paul, Apostle of Weakness. I'm enjoying this.

1:05 PM Greek tongue twister?

12:55 PM New job openings:

12:48 PM On the circulation of Mark in the early church:

It is thus clear that Peter was personally responsible for the text of our Gospel of Mark and that it was composed not only after Matthew and Luke, but also with their aid. However, despite its being highly prized by the church as the personal reminiscences of Peter, it did not enjoy universal circulation because it was not intended to supersede either Matthew or Luke. Indeed, it is rarely quoted by the early fathers, and the first commentary on it dates from only the fifth century. Its process of composition was quite unlike that of Matthew or Luke, and Peter had no intention of making it into a third Gospel.

From Why Four Gospels?

12:42 PM Two quotes about politics from The Jesus Paradigm:

The evangelical subculture, which prizes conformity above all else, doesn’t suffer rebels gladly, and it is especially intolerant of anyone with the temerity to challenge the shibboleths of the Religious Right.

Randall Balmer 

One is either a good German or a good Christian. It is impossible to be both at the same time.

Adolph Hitler

12:23 PM I'm sorry to admit it, but Bradford Hall is fast becoming a glutton's paradise. Waffles this morning, pork over rice last night for supper, and just now I ate a wonderful casserole. I can hardly express the gratitude I feel toward all the chefs we have here. I shouldn't be saying this, but I am very fast eater and thus a really bad example for the boys. I can vie in eating prowess with anyone at the table. Occasionally the boys can score over me in the dessert department, but otherwise we are neck and neck. At any rate, meal time is never dull or boring here at the farm. I think eating must be one of my spiritual gifts.

8:28 AM Only 2 days until our Ethiopia team reunion here at the farm. I could not be more excited. When Jim Elliott reached the Auca Indians he wrote in his diary: "My joy is full. Oh how blind it would have been to reject the leading of these days. How it has changed the course of life for me and added such a host of joys!"

I think every team member could say exactly the same thing.

8:14 AM Calling all my Hebrews students! For an overview of the papers on Hebrews at this year's SBL meeting, go here. The discussion about "Irenaeus and Hebrews" should be especially interesting.

7:47 AM Mark as the interpres of Peter:

Indeed, it is the modern critics, blinded by their conviction of the priority of Mark, who have failed to accept the obvious message of the patristic evidence. That is why they have misunderstood the significance of the texts that always describe the disciple Mark as the go-between or agent of Peter and never as the author; yet the critics ignore this and make him out to be a writer who remembers what Peter said and not simply the agent for the recording of Peter’s lectures.

From Why Four Gospels?

7:26 AM It's been 7 years since everything changed.

I had been hearing about missionaries all of my life. And now I'm the GIF, the Guy In Africa, that eccentric person who can't feel comfortable among opulence any more, who stays up half the night thinking about a sick child in Alaba or a suffering woman in Burji or a persecuted evangelist in Gondar. I don't ever want to lose this feeling, this marveling at the world, this attraction to a country called Black-Faced (Ethiopia) filled with outcasts and dying people and babies suffering from malaria and women needing fistula surgery, this nation of 80 million people worshiping their trees or their saints or their false gods. I never want to forget how incredibly small you feel when you're trying to bring medical supplies through customs or watching the heart-wrenching poverty or scooping up a half-naked infant or standing next to the graves of missionaries from past generations who went out to the field and never came back home (or was it ever "home" for them again?). Can you imagine what would happen if Christians in America were to grasp the principle of sharing what they have to meet the needs of the Gospel around the world? Can you imagine what the impact would be if we stopped spending 95 percent of our church budgets on ourselves? Can you imagine the change it would make if we lived a lifestyle that matched our responsibility to a lost and dying world? Seven years ago my lifestyle was up from grabs. Every thought and every action was tested by the simple teachings of Scripture. I decided, along with Becky, that I would lay up no treasure for myself on this earth. Suddenly I was free -- free from my bondage to material things, free to allow God to use me -- a nobody -- to be His hands and feet and arms in Africa.

Seven years ago.

How I wish it were longer.  

Wednesday, November 10

6:57 PM Mark as an enabling document:  

Matthew is the fundamental Gospel and the most important, but each was written and published in response to a particular need of the church in a particular historical situation. The real significance of Mark lies in Peter’s guarantee that Luke was fit to be read beside Matthew in the churches of both Peter and Paul. Mark is therefore to be viewed as the bridge between Matthew and Luke, that is, as a document enabling Luke’s Gospel to be used freely in all the churches to which the authority of Peter, the chief eyewitness, extended; and it stands as a recognition of the equality of the Gentiles in all the churches.

From Why Four Gospels?

1:30 PM Just wrote an essay in light of Veterans Sunday and Persecution Sunday (both are coming up this weekend). It's called The Persecuted Church: An Obstreperous Flower.

12:02 PM A few fun farm fotos:

1) Micah hard at work in the library of Bradford Hall.

2) My project du jour.

3) Changes galore.

4) An unsolicited promo for Clarkesville Painting Co., which is doing a superb job on our roof.

Time for lunch!

11:50 AM In medical news, we are now hoping to send Ayelech to Addis Ababa for a mammogram before having her treated in Soddu. This is a highly complicated task, so pray for us, will you, as we arrange the logistics. The more who pray the merrier. I want Ayelech to know she is being loved on by her family on this side of Planet Earth.

(And, in other medical news, I am still doing splendidly well. I am in awe at how quickly the human body heals itself. Needless to say, I am looking forward to hearing the results of the tests being run on that small part of Dave Black that was removed on Monday. In reality, there is nothing I can do about it, least of all worry. My mind keeps wandering to Aslan in "The Last Battle." Further up and further on. No matter how far you go in the Christian life you can never exhaust the love of the one who conquered sin and death.)

9:51 AM If you're planning on getting a dog be sure NOT to get a Sheltie. They are thieves. They'll steal your heart in a minute. Shelties are the most beautiful, affectionate, and obedient (sometimes) dogs in the world. Don't say I didn't warn you.

8:33 AM I've finished editing Ultimate Allegiance. Now it's on to my revision of Paul, Apostle of Weakness, Lord willing.

8:31 AM Throughout Scripture we see that God uses men and women who were utterly dependent upon Him. God reveals His glory and power through the weak things of the world. Elijah was very human, yet he raised the dead. Students, walk in His power today. Live prayerfully, as Jesus did. Voluntarily go out of your way to accept assignments that involve suffering. Remember: The only real truth is truth that is lived out.

8:22 AM Why four and only four Gospels?

We may thus sum up the relationships between the Gospels as follows:

  • Matthew was composed to meet the urgent needs of the primitive church of Jerusalem (the church set up by Peter and the original apostles), which needed a manifesto defending its integrity and its right to exist in the earliest days.

  • Luke was written at the request of Paul to meet the urgent need of his churches to have their own manifesto to prove their full equality with Jewish Christians.

  • Mark was the result of the collaboration of Peter and Paul to make sure that the spiritual and doctrinal unity of the universal church was not impaired as a result of the appearance of Luke beside Matthew in the churches of both.

  • And John made it clear that the primary objective of Jesus throughout his public ministry was the winning over of the spiritual authorities in Jerusalem.

From Why Four Gospels?

8:12 AM Just ran across this interesting conversation about where to get a Ph.D. in theology. My alma mater is discussed (in passing). Note: One commentator is absolutely correct in saying that language requirements are higher on the continent than probably anywhere else. When I studied in Basel it was simply assumed that one had a good working knowledge of Greek , Hebrew, Latin, German, French, and other languages as well. In my dissertation I quoted Dutch authors in Dutch and Spanish authors in Spanish. And why not? This is the doctoral level, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 9

7:04 PM Becky surprised us with key lime pine tonight in honor of my surgery. Delicious. Key lime pie will be in heaven. Guaranteed.

7:00 PM On the assumptions of Markan priority:

In short, the Markan priority hypothesis is based on a number of dubious assumptions, for example, that things are not as the fathers perceived them; that Matthew and Luke are, despite appearances, secondary to Mark; and that the hypothetical source Q was a vitally important document in the first fifty years after the resurrection but was lost through shocking carelessness.

From Why Four Gospels?

6:28 PM Got this email:

This morning I have talked to Tilahun by phone. All of them are doing very well. Aberesh is also doing very well. She is recovered. Now every thing is normal.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

5:22 PM It was too beautiful to stay indoors today. So the doggies took me on a nice short walk -- between naps of course :)


5:12 PM Two good reads:

1) Alan Knox: Did She Really Mean That?

2) Thomas Hudgins: At 12 Years Old.

And yes, there is a common thread.

1:57 PM Becky and I are a tag team. I take a nap, then she takes a nap, then I take a nap....

10:10 AM My publisher just sent me a link to this review. Meanwhile, my body just said Get back to bed. Your obedient servant ...

9:55 AM I love UNC Hospital. From the admitting personnel (who laughed at my little suitcase calling it my "money bag") to the nurses (who smiled when I told them I was here on a hot date with my chemo-taking wife) to the lab tech (who got a kick out the story I told about the time in California when a hospital almost hired me as a lab tech because I tad taken a course in marine biology) to the surgical nurses and doctors (who, behind their professional veneer, are just regular Joes like the rest of us). Teamwork and flexibility were the words of the hour. Having been denied food all day, when asked what my pain level was I told the surprised admitting nurse a "10" -- "if this includes hunger pain." I went into surgery at about 4:00 pm and left the recovery room about 3 and a half hours later. The tumor in my groin came out quickly and cleanly. Right now it sits in the pathology department where, I am told, things can operate rather slowly. The surgeons seemed pleased with how well everything went, which makes me very pleased with how well everything went. I think it was my dear recovery room nurse who had the greatest challenge. As I groggily came up out of my anesthesia-included sleep I developed a bad case of the hiccoughs. (Go figure: I never have the hiccoughs.) Take deep breathes, she commanded, while all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. Smile, I told myself, and put the dear woman at ease. When I finally recovered from the anesthesia (and the hiccoughs) all was smooth sailing. I was fed small teaspoonfuls of apple sauce and given some Ginger Ale to drink. Never did food or drink taste better. I had to pass on the steak and baked potato but they weren't offered. During my pre-op phase, Becky went out and bought me a "Donut" to sit on during the long drive home. I had to laugh to myself as we drove to the farm: Here you are sitting on a Donut and wearing an article of clothing under your trousers that you haven't worn since high school gym class.

So how I do feel today? Other than discomfort at the incision site and a bit of a headache, well and good. God showed up yesterday in a mighty big way, not only in Spirit but in the visage of my wife and all those who attended to me so cheerfully and carefully. God is way too good to me, I thought to myself throughout the day, realizing that not every man can say he enjoyed a hot date at the hospital with his wife and still feel wonderfully blessed.

Monday, November 8

8:08 AM Sometimes I wish I had never read the Gospels. How simple and easy life would be if I had never been brought to realize some of the requirements of discipleship as Jesus brings them to life. How easy it would be to take life for granted and to live for myself. But having been reading the Gospels -- really reading them -- I am not the same person. What a contrast to the soft-minded pulp we humans produce in our efforts to say something profound about Jesus. I sometimes think that serious cogitation is utterly alien to the academic guild. Worse than our errors of scholarship is our wanton ignorance of history. Jesus gladly exposes the shortcomings of our Western academic culture, our false utopias of every kind, be they political or ecclesiastical. He tells us that there is no longer any excuse for us to live mediocre lives without a sense of purpose. He has a place for every one of us in this great task of world evangelization. The awful truth is, Jesus bids us come and die. Unless we come to this place of total commitment, we can never understand the Gospels. O, we can write our books about Jesus, about the "historical quest," about this or that pseudo-problem that we have invented in order to get a promotion. We have time to study anthropology and sociology and theology but we have no time for prayer. And the answer to every prayer is nothing more than this: God, in all His power, is with us to make up for all of our human limitations. We have so much else to depend on today. Few of us move out in total reliance upon the Lord. No wonder we're victims of every new "fad" that comes out. No wonder we depend on our pseudo-theology. O, how I want to see the flow of the Holy Spirit in our seminaries. How I want our churches to be free from our bondage to our materialistic playthings. The real tragedy is that I am not immune to the temptation to seek power and position and honor from men. But thanks be to God -- the Gospels are there! They are there to call me away from the mess I've made of my life, from my lukewarm, plastic, half-hearted Christianity.

O God, help each of us this day, whether or not we are facing surgery or chemotherapy, whether or not we have little or much, whether or not we are young or old, to evaluate our lives in the light of eternity, to surrender our ambitions and plans, to weep once more and feel the love of Jesus for the lost, to put the kingdom of God first, to move in the flow of the Spirit again, to exercise the mind of Christ, to trust our Father to provide for our needs. Help us come and die. Help us find true life. In the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

7:55 AM Right now Matt is cooking the most delicious crêpes I have ever seen or smelled. That rascal. Doesn't he know I have been NPO since midnight? Torture, pure torture!

7:50 AM Another positive review.

7:43 AM Great news! This just in from Ethiopia:

Today I have talked to Tilahun. He is doing very well. He told me Nathan is doing very well. Aberesh is also getting better.

How gracious is our God. My thanks to all who are praying. Please don't stop now.

Sunday, November 7

12:48 PM On historicity:

Unlike the fantastic hypotheses thought up by exponents of Markan priority, which cannot be directly refuted because they are all located in the blank tunnel period, the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis respects and accepts the real life situation of the universal church in the years 30–67 and agrees with the known history of the apostolic churches at all key points.

From Why Four Gospels?

11:42 AM This morning I've been sitting beside a warm fire in my library pouring over the final page proofs of the latest book in our Areopagus series, Bob Cornwall's Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer.

I have long felt that our usual method of reading the Disciples' Prayer needed a corrective; and this book is it. The authors of our little series represent a larger tension in the academic world: Luther versus Erasmus, revolution versus reform, a brave new approach versus the patching up of an old garment. Cornwall's book will delight and surprise you, I think. When I first read it I thought back to a Denkmal in Worms, Germany, and its famous plaque: "Hier stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders." I hope many small group Bible studies will find the book interesting and profitable.

10:41 AM On dispensing with "Q":

One problem that arises is that of the existence of Q. We cannot confront this issue here, for the complexity of such a task would be significant enough to warrant a book of its own. However, as we have seen, the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis permits us to dispose with Q as a gospels source; and, indeed, all such hypothecated documents (including M and L) become unnecessary when we bear in mind the statement of Clement of Alexandria that those Gospels containing genealogies came first.

From Why Four Gospels?

9:50 AM It seems odd to be sitting here at home while B has gone off to church at Bethel Hill. But I'm feeling washed out and my stomach has been upset for 2 days now. Nothing major, but I don't have my normal strength and there's no sense in pushing myself when I'm having my tumor removed tomorrow. At this moment I have no ambition to do anything but write. But two things first:

1) I am oceans away from Ethiopia but I feel very much the agony of our friends there who are suffering from malaria. These now include Tilahun, Aberesh, and Baby Nathan -- yes, our Baby Nathan.

I'm not exactly sure how they're doing. I've only received a second-hand report. But in Alaba, malaria is serious business. It's often fatal. I'm not saying this to be dramatic. It's just reality. And I know what they must be feeling. First of all there's the incredible pain. Then the awful chills and fever. And finally the uncertainty. I'm especially concerned for Aberesh who's already lost who knows how many babies. Living in Alaba is like being in a war zone. It becomes natural to expect death. It is an everyday happening. You simply cannot envisage a time when there would not be malaria or typhoid of typhus any more. How can anyone go on in the face of all that?

It's not the first time I've prayed for Aberesh and it won't be the last. This is where faith comes in. Faith in a God who is always loving and always in control. Faith that allows me to imagine a world being redeemed by a Savior who know what it's like to suffer. Faith that hopes and never gives up. I know I'm being selfish, but right now I'm praying for Baby Nathan to be completely healed from his malaria. I want to see him grow old and hobble on his cane like other shemagalis and sit on his stool and tell stories to his grandchildren. Maybe even stories of those two white-faced foreigners who used to visit Alaba many years ago.

I'm ready to storm heaven on behalf of that boy and his parents.

2) Our Student Day was wonderful. Lots of good fellowship and, most importantly, plenty of good conversation focused on things of eternal value. In case you're interested I post here a few photos.

Saturday, November 6

8:22 AM I'm eager to get to know my students a bit better today. I especially want to know if they think their seminary education is worth the effort. I enjoyed Talbot but found it dull. I had some good teachers, but most of them employed the "You sit still while I instill" method of teaching. I can get this in one fourth the time by reading the textbook I thought to myself. The one thing I really missed was independent thinking. I don't know whether it was stupidity or inability on my part but I was always eager to learn new ideas. I had one professor I especially enjoyed. He was highly emotional, remarkably unfair in his grading policy, very temperamental -- and we all were devoted to him. He had been a missionary to China before being booted out by the Reds. It seems to me that good teaching always awakens some response in the students. Mere information is useless -- less than useless. It gives you nothing more than you had before. I recall thinking to myself, You may one day be a teacher yourself. Will you be a good one? I think a wild hope was springing up in me. It was indeed a happy time.

My former missionary professor impacted me profoundly. In fact, I almost decided to do my doctorate under Peter Beyerhaus at Tübingen. We hit it off quite well. I was thinking about writing a dissertation on the history of Christian missions in the Hawaiian Archipelago. We thought this was a fitting topic for someone who was hatched and reared on Oahu. Of course, the Lord eventually sent me to Basel to study New Testament. I remember my stay there always as being one of the happiest experiences I have ever known.

So what are my students thinking? Are they being challenged to think biblically? Are they enjoying their studies? Or are they bemoaning the effort?

Friday, November 5

1:05 PM The University of Maryland announces an opening in Biblical Studies.

12:51 PM So how do you like our new red roof?

12:42 PM It hit me today, while praying for Ethiopia. What footprint will Becky and I leave there? We've been working and planning and organizing the ministry there for many years now. So what's next?

Here's one thing. This Sunday Becky and I are sending a woman from Koro village in Burjiland to the hospital in Soddu. Her name is Ayelech. Ayelech first came to see Becky in November of 2008 complaining of a lump in her left breast. At times she would bleed from her nipple. Once her 4-year old son accidentally hit her in that breast and she fainted, so strong was the pain. Becky gave her some funds to travel to Soddu hospital way back then. Her lump needed a biopsy. Ayelech tried to go to Soddu several times but each time the Gujis began fighting the Burjis. In a word, Ayelech was afraid to travel. You'd be too if all your life you feared the warlike Gujis who seem to delight in taking the lives of Burjis. All of this would have been insignificant if her lump had gone away but, of course, it hasn't. It's incredible -- the faith these simple Burji villagers have. Ayelech figured that if God closes a door He always opens a window. The window, in her mind, was a miraculous healing. Well, this has not occurred. So it's time to try again to send her to Soddu. Ethiopia is such an odd kaleidoscope of cultures and peoples. You never know what will happen and when. The Guji warfare could flare up again at any moment. So I feel a sense of urgency in getting Ayelech on her way. Bec and I will sponsor her and her husband and one other man to make the trip. They will be driven there in our clinic vehicle.

In the middle of all of this I am struck by something I feel I should really thank God for. I praise Him that there is a good Christian hospital in Soddu. I thank Him that our clinic has an ambulance. I praise Him that He is deeply concerned, not only with the grand scheme of salvation, but with the most intimate details of our lives and work and health and families. Somewhere in the middle of all of this God is saying to me: I've got both you and Ayelech in my hands. All I have to do is stop worrying and trust Him.

I can't even being to tell you how much I love Ayelech. I'll be praying night and day for her until I find out the results of her biopsy. Funny, I think to myself, what if we both have our biopsy on the same day? It would be just like God to do that. Becky thinks she'll probably need a radical mastectomy. God knows.

Meanwhile, I try to resign myself to the reality that I'll never be able to explain adequately what the people of Ethiopia mean to me.

I leave you with a couple of pix of Koro village in the highlands of Burji.



9:40 AM Out of curiosity I decided I'd hop over to the new NIV and see what it did with John 21:5. I was surprised to see the following:

He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"

Oddly, there is no footnote indicating that the Greek has "children" instead of the NIV's "friends."

Odd indeed. Of course, Greek words have several different meanings, and between two languages the sets of meaning never completely correspond. But in no case does the range of meaning of Greek paidia seem to encompass the idea of "friends" (which in Greek would, of course, be philoi).

So what is going on here? Perhaps the translators want to avoid making Jesus use pejorative or insulting language. We do this in English when we substitute "government" for "regime" (the latter being pejorative). Or perhaps the issue is one of language etiquette. At the bottom of our language etiquette scale in English we find sequences like the following, spoken in an unmistakably contemptuous tone:

Hey there, kid (boy, punk) – what do you think you're doing?

And so the issue of appropriateness is raised. But could Jesus have meant to use language that was, say, a little edgy? On the one hand, He hardly ever uses "children" to address His disciples. And on the other, it seems clear that He wanted to get their attention – and apparently He succeeded. Or is "children" a term of endearment (as suggested by BDAG)? In the end we may never know why Jesus chose paidia over philoi. Don Carson suggests (in his John commentary) that paidia may mean nothing more than "lads" (following British usage). He translates the expression, “Lads, haven’t you caught anything?” In the ISV we have "Children, you don't have any fish do you?" – an attempt to bring out the force of the Greek adverb me, which implies a negative answer. Either way, I hardly see how one can avoid the pejoration (or sarcasm, or attention-getting language, or endearing term) that Jesus intended here. A simple note in the NIV (Lit. children) would have sufficed. But as it stands now, the NIV (old and new editions) is clearly wrong.

What do you think about the new NIV? You can read it here.

9:34 AM Job openings:

9:24 AM I enjoyed reading Arthur Sido's essay called Serving by observing? The question he raises is a crucial one: How can members of our churches best serve the Lord and others on Sunday morning? He writes:

Paul describes the church gathering in 1 Corinthians 14 as a meeting where all the brothers are participating, where each has something tangible to bring, where we edify one another and not through the "one and all the others" tradition. The participatory model from Scripture is not how the church typically meets now and it hasn't done so for over 1000 years except in rare divergences, divergences that often were met with persecution.

Surely this is healthier than sitting and soaking. Arthur's essay takes seriously the lay perspective (actually, he does not hold to a clergy-laity division) and the need for all believers to be actively involved in the arenas of church life, including during the so-called "worship service." This is a bold theological move and one I certainly applaud. In my own church I sense there is a great deal of freedom for the Spirit to direct non-professionals to participate in the assembly. I am not saying that we shouldn't sit still and pay careful attention to the one who is teaching. But Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians 14: every believer has a ministry, and everyone is to participate and give to others what God has given him or her. The same principle is stated in Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as you see the day approaching." Here the purpose of gathering together as the body of Christ is made crystal clear: mutual ministry. The emphasis is not on where we so often put it ("go to church!") but rather on the truth that each of us should minister to the others when we come together as a group. I welcome the insightful work that Arthur is doing in challenging the current paradigm of church life. So remember: Your gift may seem small, but as part of the manifold grace of God is has tremendous value to the Body.

One more thing: If the sermon is not to be central, what or who is?

9:12 AM Speaking of writing, I've been looking for a good commentary on Matthew to use in my Greek exegesis classes. I'm afraid I have to disagree with one writer's glowing assessment of Grant Osborne's new Matthew commentary in the Zondervan series. An example is Matt. 5:22, where no mention is made whosoever of a textual variant that affects both translation and interpretation in a major way. Is Jesus forbidding all anger or only anger "without a cause"? You'd never know there was a problem unless you went elsewhere. Osborne's commentary is thinner here (and elsewhere) than I thought it would be. Pastors need to know just what Jesus is teaching here about anger. The disputed adverb eike makes all the difference in the world for one's interpretation – and application – of the text. So why no discussion? In his preface Grant writes that "…one goal in this commentary series is to summarize briefly the current state of scholarship on key issues; thus on debated passages, I usually list scholars on the various sides of the point." He adds, "…I summarize the sides as simply and practically as possible so that the pastor can decide which of the possibilities to choose on the issue." In one of my Novum Testamentum articles I discussed the variant in Matt. 5:22 in great detail but nothing is made of it here. I would at least like to have seen the variant mentioned. I must also note my disappointment with Grant’s treatment of the synoptic problem, which merits only a brief response even though one's "solution" to it colors one's entire perspective. For example, Grant writes, "If Matthew were first, it is hard to conceive of Mark omitting so much material from Jesus, especially discourses like the Sermon on the Mount or the Church Discourse of ch. 18 or the parables in the Olivet Discourse (ch. 13)." As if Farmer's Two-Gospel Hypothesis or my own Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis had nothing to say in reply to this argument! Grant, of course, repeats an argument that has been made since the time of B. F. Streeter (The Four Gospels, p. 158): "Only a lunatic would leave out Matthew's account of the Infancy, the Sermon on the Mount, and practically all the parables, in order to get room for purely verbal expansion of what was retained." The fatal flaw with this argument, in fact, "is precisely the baseless assumption that Mark (or Peter) intended to write a Gospel like the other two" (Why Four Gospels? p. 36). Our side of the argument has not been presented. If you are going to state "There are stronger arguments for Markan priority," then I should think you had better give at least a few of the "strong" arguments for the other side. I am no Gospels scholar, but I would like to see the perspective of non-Markan priorists given a fair shake. On further rumination, perhaps I should not be surprised at any of this. The academic guild has long since acquiesced to Markan priority. But if I am going to require that my students read a major exegetical commentary based on the Greek text, it will have to be one that deals with the foremost controversies in a balanced sort of way.

8:55 AM I am re-reading Yoder's fantastic The Politics of Jesus. What a marvelous book. He is a great writer and a great theologian. Much better stuff than the moth-eaten labors of pseudo-scholars. I want to learn to write like that. His theology raises my spirits. Such a book, if students would only read it, has the potential of getting the church to rethink her fallen ways. In the meantime I am reviewing works that authors or publishers have sent me for my appraisal. One of them, dealing with the missionary theology of John Piper, is quite well done. The rest are same-old same-old books about hermeneutics or New Testament introduction or biblical Greek, etc. I have to laugh at myself for just writing that sentence. I've written a few books like that myself! So I shed a tear, and move on to other works.

8:43 AM Tomorrow is STUDENT DAY at Rosewood Farm! Looking forward to welcoming my students to my home-sweet-home. If you haven't signed up it's not too late. A simple email will do. If you need directions, let us know. Or you can Google Map it at 2691 White House Road, Nelson, VA 24580. See you soon!

8:40 AM As Monday's surgery approaches, my inner feelings clamor for concealment, but here they are. I am confronting a problem many thousands of people face every year in America. It is wrong and unjust for me to feel that God is picking on me. The Christian life is not premised on the assumption that we can avoid the physically onerous. Believers in Jesus have choices forced on them just as anyone else does. My attitude is my choice. Oh how I pray that I will be cheerful (as I ought to be) and winsome (as I want to be) wherever I go and with whomever I speak! Thankfully, for me the question is How should I pray to God? rather than Does God exist? I feel that C. S. Lewis got to the latter place in his life. I sense that he was near despair, that he desired nothing more than to lie down among the dying leaves of fall and let himself rot into the earth. I want to be especially careful how I talk about this to others. Vicious relativism is not an option. I must take courage from the apostle Paul's example and clearly say that the problem with our society is its sinful presumption that man is born to be happy, when all of us clearly have to die sometime. In my teaching I call students to exhibit confidence in the Lordship of Christ as the truth of our existence. What the Bible reveals to us is not a morality but a reality – a living Person to whom we respond and with whom we walk each and every day of our lives. No Bible verse, no matter how true, can substitute for the life-giving power of that Person. Without Him – and even with Him at times – life is haunted with mystery and frightened by understanding. Never to my dying day will I forget that moment when I was 8 years old that I met this wonderful Savior, when I "accepted" Jesus, though I will probably always regret that I did not learn sooner that He threatens society by creating a new kind of community that leads to a radically new kind of life. This Jesus comes to me in my weakness, is all tenderness and understanding and encouragement. I am released from my fears and doubts, and then He sends me right back into the fray of life to be subject again to the temptations of envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, self-pity, lust – in short, the temptation to refuse to "accept" Jesus again and again as my Savior from sin and Lord of my life.

Dear Jesus, in accepting my weakness and infirmities, I am accepting you. I am struck by the improbability, indeed the seeming impossibility, of ever serving you with all of my heart. The prophet's precept reminds me that it is not by might nor by power but by your Spirit that I overcome. So thank you for saving me despite my sin and for using me despite my weakness. May everything that transpires next week and in all of my weeks bring you joy and glory. Amen.

8:23 AM At the Shepherds Seminary last night I spoke on the origins of the four Gospels. And what a great time we had.

Believe it or not, I am always uncomfortable in crowds. I am not and never will be a good conversationalist. I have to be alone before I can really think. I can write it better than I can say it. On the other hand, people are so kind to me that I feel so undeserving of the honor of being a public speaker. Surely they can find someone else to talk to them? However, everywhere I go I find students who are willing to rethink the issues, and I could jump to high heaven as a result. Someone once quipped, "If you can't drive a train you can always be a wheel-greaser." So off I went to the STS, grease gun in hand.

I was thrilled to meet in Doug Bookman a professor who is open to reconsidering the synoptic problem. I am meeting more and more scholars like him in evangelical circles.

I think the consensus starting breaking down years ago. I well recall an event that made publishing history in 1987. Mann's Anchor Bible commentary on Mark was revolutionary in that a major publisher allowed the appearance of a work that argued that the author of Mark made use of the earlier Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Of course, Mann was accused of turning the clock back. For indeed, there is nothing new at all in his solution to synoptic relationships. Matthean priority was the leading view among university trained scholars until the nineteenth century. Even today this view has its supporters. William Farmer dispensed with "Q" and advocated a Two Gospel Hypothesis, as did David Peabody, George Wesley Buchanan, David Dungan, and Lamar Cope. Others dispense with "Q" but still hold to Markan priority. As everyone knows, paradigm shifts often come dramatically. They require a patient reexamination of the raw data over a considerable course of time. I hold no illusions that my lecture will change anyone's mind. I hope the debate and discussion will continue and that students of the Gospels will feel free to rearrange some of the best of their theological presuppositions. It turns out, in fact, that there are perfectly sound scientific reasons for Mark's procedure in following the Matthean and Lukan accounts. Clearly it is time for advocates of Markan priority to give renewed consideration to the testimony of the earliest church fathers. "Q" is certainly wobbling, at least among students. Then there is the argument based on Mark's "course style" – which I responded to years ago in an essay in Filologia Neotestamentaria. That is, if we picture Mark as recording the words of Peter verbatim and viva voce, there will no problem in seeing the diction of Mark’s Gospel as less refined or literary than that of Matthew and Luke. So the internal evidence needs to be examined rigorously. But not, in my view, at the expense of the external evidence.

So I hope my little talk last night will enrich and encourage the ongoing debate. To everyone who came out to hear this obscurantist, a heartfelt "thank you."

8:12 AM Good morning bloggers. I've got some great news to report. Becky's CT scan showed NO additional growth in her tumors. This means we will continue the Adriamycin treatments. This is a special blessing from our great God and a real answer to prayer. So, next Monday, while I'm having my surgery, Becky will be next door having her chemo. Another hot date!

Monday, November 1

8:17 PM Highlight of the day: Becky and I drinking our Coke-flavored contrast together before our CT scans. How's that for a hot date?

6:04 PM This is my favorite time of the day. Dusk, and the farm is at peace. The day draws to a close. The contrails fan out high above us, and beyond them is the abode of my God. He orchestrated this day wonderfully. B had her CT-scan, and I was able to get all of my pre-ops done -- in one day no less (meeting with the surgeon, EKG, blood work, chest X-Ray, CT-scan). Surgery is scheduled for next Monday at UNC, followed by a biopsy. Words are inadequate to describe the peace I feel despite my tiredness. There is no such thing as chance with God. Everything God permits is guaranteed by His nature. I hasten to add that I felt your prayers, and I'm most grateful.

We should have the results of Bec's scan Wednesday or possibly Thursday. I am eager to hear the report. I'll keep you posted.



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