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Night Comes Before Morning

From Dr David Alan Black’s personal blog today. (Title from admin.)

It was late last night and I was reading in bed when I suddenly felt overwhelmed, felt something rising deep within me and clawing its way to the surface, loud and painful. Once again God was challenging me, offering me another opportunity to trust Him viscerally. My mind went to the passage in Philippians we had studied this week in my Greek 3 class, the passage about a man named Epaphroditus. He had ministered to Paul in prison, had gotten desperately ill, but God had healed him miraculously, thus sparing Paul “sorrow upon sorrow.” All I can tell you is that, had Epaphroditus died, Paul would have been overwhelmed with grief, wave after wave of sorrow assaulting him mercilessly.

Well, God in His love and sovereignty allowed Becky to become desperately ill. For four and a half years we battled cancer together. But unlike Epaphroditus, her illness was unto death. It’s common for a major loss in life to trigger the memory of previous losses, and if those losses weren’t grieved over, the pain begins to pile up, it accumulates and is added to your current pain. The result is often emotional trauma. Paul’s honesty in Philippians is refreshing. “God had mercy on him, and not only on him, but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.” This verse is the counterpoint to all the verses in Philippians that speak about joy. To rejoice in the Lord does not mean that you deny the reality of your loss. When a person loses someone precious to them, you needn’t admonish them, “Don’t be sorrowful. Death is nothing but the entrance into eternal life, into the very presence of Jesus. We are to be content even when someone precious to us dies.” At some point during the process of recovery, you will hear those words from well-meaning friends. What they fail to realize is that when someone close to you dies, part of you also dies. You grieve not only for them but also for yourself. You are forever “without” that other person. You feel frustrated, hurt, helpless, and afraid. Sometimes you may even become angry or depressed. Neither emotion represents a lack of faith. They are simply responses to loss. Grief is that 30-feet wave I surfed at the Banzai Pipeline when I was a teenager. It moved over me and broke against me and there was nothing in the world I could do about it except yield to its force and let it carry me to a new place until it ran out of energy.

Last night, as I sat in my bed, overcome with emotion, I asked myself, What caused this sudden sorrow? What triggered it? And then it became clear to me. I had been checking the national weather map on my iPad, moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and as I moved into the deserts of Arizona my mind blew a gasket. Before me, staring at me unforgivably on the map, were the places Becky and I had vacationed with our family while we were living in California. Memories began to race through my mind — Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Winslow, Canyon de Chelly. I suddenly felt empty, depressed, sad, withdrawn. I felt like Lee at Chancellorsville: outmanned, outgunned, outsupplied. For a brief moment I forgot that I was not alone, that Jesus Himself, the Man of Sorrows, the one who was “acquainted with grief,” was sitting right next to me, holding my hand, understanding my loss, weeping and mourning with me like He did at the tomb of Lazarus, not trying to rush me through the sadness but letting it accomplish its perfect work, teaching me how to embrace my grief, and the steps to recovery. Raw and fragile, I receded into self pity.

And then it happened. I heard the ring on my iPad telling me an email had just arrived. This is what I read:

Dear Dave,

Just wanted you to know that I am especially praying for you this week. I have followed your blogs about Becky now for a year and have appreciated them so much. I don’t pretend to understand your journey but I have been going on one of my own since my dad died a year ago Oct 31. I know it doesn’t come close to the pain of losing a spouse but he was still my dad for 58 years and I have terribly missed his voice and words of encouragement. Your willingness to openly blog your pain and your healing process has helped me through mine this past year and I am truly grateful to God and to you for that. May the Lord comfort and encourage you through His Holy Spirit’s ministry over the coming days.

Love in Him,

Your brother in Christ.

The sky suddenly lightened. The wind subsided. The dust settled. The wave released me. God, who had seemed so distance, now felt so close that I thought I could touch Him. Tell me it isn’t so, I said to myself. How did this friend of mine, who lives 7,000 miles away on another continent, know that he needed to send me that email at that precise moment in time? This is not normal. It is inexplicable — unless you believe in a God who sees your vulnerability, sees that something has been ripped away from you, and yet still loves and cares for you. It’s as if He was saying to me, “Dave, your grief is okay. It is a statement that you loved someone very much.”

And what of this morning? The disruption, the confusion, the sorrow is still with me to a degree. I learned long ago that I can’t just hang up my pain like I hang up my shirt in my closet at the end of a work day. Grief is my constant companion, though sometimes it is more blatant, more in-your-face than at other times. Often, when I least expect it, the grief returns, sometimes like the crashing wave at Pipeline, sometimes like the oozing lava that is bearing down upon Pahoa on the Big Island today. I know that some of you feel the way I do about Becky’s loss. You share with me my pain, my grief. I have spoken with many of you. You have your own pain, too, some of you do. You lost a child or a parent this past year. There was a miscarriage or a stillbirth. That infant, though dead, still fills the bleachers of your mind. Loss is not natural, normal, predictable. I want you to know that I grieve for you too. Enter fully into your sorrow. Weep like I did last night. Go ahead and feel the pain of your loneliness (even though you are never really alone). Something absolutely life-changing has occurred in your life. Face it head-on, learn from it, let it do its work. Expect your feelings to intensify in the months ahead. And when deep within you those memories trigger the sights, sounds, and even smells of the past, when your pain overrides your ability to pray even, when all you can do is sit there and mutter over and over again, as I did last night, “Dear God, Lord Jesus,” remember that Christianity embraces both real tears and real hope. Max Lucado put it well (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, 105-106):

Tears.

Those tiny drops of humanity. Those round, wet balls of fluid that dribble from our eyes, creep down our cheeks, and splash on the floor of our hearts. They were there that day. They are always present at such times. They should be; that’s their job. They are miniature messengers; on call twenty-four hours a day to substitute for crippled words. They drip, drop and pour from the corner of our souls, carrying with them the deepest emotions we possess. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful to the darkest despair.

The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are most apt.

Love,

Dave

Ministry of All Believers

6:40 PM Today I was on a website in which the “office” of pastor was being extolled. The author insisted that the pastoral office is a special calling and separate from secular employment. He also asked “Who has the last word?” His answer: The pastor, along with other ordained men. (The congregation has no real say.)

What do you think?

At one time I might have agreed (to a degree). But today I see no rigid distinction between clergy and laity. In fact, I would aver that the New Testament teaches no such thing. According to the New Testament, the “ministry” belongs to all God’s people. In a sense, this is a point Henry Neufeld is making in his latest blog post. I won’t speak for Henry, but it appears that his definition of ministry is based more on the pillar of the priesthood of all believers than on any rigid office divinely ordained by “inviolable decree” (Calvin). This is why the church is the agent of God’s kingdom work. But it is more than that. It is the community of God’s people regardless of their denominational affiliations. As Henry notes, he and I can partner together even though one of us is a born-again Methodist and the other is a born-again Baptist. He is a Charismatic Christian, and I am not. But we both belong to the same messianic fellowship that functions as a charismatic body. John Howard Yoder (a fellow Basel grad) insists that in the New Testament there is not a hint of a hierarchal ladder whereby one Christian might progress upward from one office to the next.

If we come to the New Testament [he writes] with this “professional religionist” view of ministry, asking “What is said on this subject?” then we can add together some things which Paul said about himself as apostle, some things he wrote to Timothy and Titus about themselves, some other things he wrote to them about bishops and deacons, some things Acts reports about the leaders in Jerusalem and Antioch, salt the mixture with some reminiscences from the Old Testament, and come up with a quite impressive package as the “Biblical View of Ministry” (“The Fullness of Christ,” Concern, Feb. 1969).

But then he adds:

Let us take quite seriously the warning of 1 Cor. 12 against trying to establish a hierarchy of values among the varied gifts. This warning is the point of the passage: that there are many gifts is not the chapter’s message, for that is self evident, at least in Corinth. Paul’s concern is that it be recognized that all these many gifts have the same source, and that all are (each in its place) of the same value.

Obviously, then, in order to be a part of the community of Christ one does not have to see eye to eye on everything that has to do with local church polity. Henry’s Methodist congregation has a senior pastor and over him a bishop; my local Baptist congregation has a plurality of elders and deacons. But what matters most to both Henry and me (again, I hope I am not misrepresenting Henry) is that the primary concerns of any local church ought to be proclaiming the Gospel (both by life and by lip) and edifying the Christian community. The calling of the church, then, is to genuinely be the redeemed community of God in this world and then do the works of God by carrying on the works of Jesus Christ. As such, Henry and I are members of the same “church,” if you will, in that the priority of the community is important for each of us. Obviously, this does not mean I should try to persuade him to become a Baptist or to espouse my views on church polity. It does mean, however, that “I can edify myself only as I edify the community” (Barth). In fact, I would go a step further and suggest that the very heterogeneity on display when Henry and I cooperate in the work of the Gospel is a demonstration of the power of the very Gospel we are both seeking to proclaim and live. This unity-in-diversity is a hallmark of the community of the King and one I cherish deeply. So, I think, does Henry.

For more, you may wish to read these essays of mine:

Paul and Christian Unity: A Formal Analysis of Philippians 2:1-4

On the Style and Significance of John 17

The Pauline Love Command: Structure, Style, and Ethics in Romans 12:9-21

 

Verbal Aspect

Note: Again, a bit off topic, but I’m posting this material to provide a permanent link. Everything here is extracted from Dave Black Online. — HN

These extracts are posted sequentially from Dave’s blog, starting Saturday, October 11 and ending Monday, October 13.

1) In the first, “New Testament Greek Geek” Joshua Covert discusses the confusion engendered by something Rob Plummer said in one of his videos. Read Verbal Aspect and then tell me what I should do. I don’t want to be guilty of being out of sync with modern scholarship, but is there really a standard nomenclature to describe verbal aspect today? It’s all very complex. Maybe you’d like to share your thoughts at your website.

9:58 AM Good morning my intellectual internet amigos!

I hope you saw last’s night announcement about Rod Decker’s textbook. Yes, I’m actually promoting this book even though I’ve written my own beginning Greek grammar. And why not? I’ve always found it interesting to watch how different minds tackle the same problem. Someday, praise God, we’ll no longer have the need to study languages – any language. But in the meantime, we still have to put our collective nose to the old grindstone, and because each of us learns in different ways, we will probably end up using different textbooks. The one thing all of us teachers of Greek have in common is a love for the language and an irrepressible joy when we see our students finally “get it.” But none of us would claim that we have the last word when it comes to grammar or even pedagogy.

This morning I’m still mulling over the matter of verbal aspect. What in the world shall we call the three (or two) aspects? For what it’s worth, Id like to share a few brief comments with you in the hopes of nudging the conversation forward.

1) In the first place, as I read Joshua Covert’s excellent summary of recent approaches to the problem – and the wide variety of terms used to describe the aspects – I’m more convinced than ever that this is a real problem for Greek scholars and students alike, and it’s frankly beautiful to watch the discussion proceed. For our students’ sake (at the very least), we need to work towards some kind of agreement or standardization, don’t you think?

Note: Again, a bit off topic, but I’m posting this material to provide a permanent link. — HN

These extracts are posted sequentially from Dave’s blog, starting Saturday, October 11 and ending Monday, October 13.

1) In the first, “New Testament Greek Geek” Joshua Covert discusses the confusion engendered by something Rob Plummer said in one of his videos. Read Verbal Aspect and then tell me what I should do. I don’t want to be guilty of being out of sync with modern scholarship, but is there really a standard nomenclature to describe verbal aspect today? It’s all very complex. Maybe you’d like to share your thoughts at your website.

9:58 AM Good morning my intellectual internet amigos!

I hope you saw last’s night announcement about Rod Decker’s textbook. Yes, I’m actually promoting this book even though I’ve written my own beginning Greek grammar. And why not? I’ve always found it interesting to watch how different minds tackle the same problem. Someday, praise God, we’ll no longer have the need to study languages – any language. But in the meantime, we still have to put our collective nose to the old grindstone, and because each of us learns in different ways, we will probably end up using different textbooks. The one thing all of us teachers of Greek have in common is a love for the language and an irrepressible joy when we see our students finally “get it.” But none of us would claim that we have the last word when it comes to grammar or even pedagogy.

This morning I’m still mulling over the matter of verbal aspect. What in the world shall we call the three (or two) aspects? For what it’s worth, Id like to share a few brief comments with you in the hopes of nudging the conversation forward.

1) In the first place, as I read Joshua Covert’s excellent summary of recent approaches to the problem – and the wide variety of terms used to describe the aspects – I’m more convinced than ever that this is a real problem for Greek scholars and students alike, and it’s frankly beautiful to watch the discussion proceed. For our students’ sake (at the very least), we need to work towards some kind of agreement or standardization, don’t you think?

2) Secondly, I think the elephant in the room has yet to be discussed. It seems to me that a major part of the problem, if not the biggest challenge we face, is the fact that Greek teachers and linguists are often talking past each other. Each of us approaches the problem from a different set of perspectives. For the Greek teacher, for example, pedagogy is often paramount. Moreover, most of us have little or no formal training in the science of linguistics. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in what linguists are saying. We are. It’s just that we don’t always feel that we necessarily have to follow their explanations or terminology. I’ll give you one example from an email I received yesterday. The author wrote:

According to the online Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the perfect is stative:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/286368/Indo-European-languages/74555/Vowels#74556

The imperfective aspect, traditionally called “present,” was used for repeated actions and for ongoing processes or states—e.g., *stí-stH2-(e)- ‘stand up more than once, be in the process of standing up,’ *mn̥-yé- ‘ponder, think,’ *H1es- ‘be.’ The perfective aspect, traditionally called “aorist,” expressed a single, completed occurrence of an action or process—e.g., *steH2- ‘stand up, come to a stop,’ *men- ‘think of, bring to mind.’ The stative aspect, traditionally called “perfect,” described states of the subject—e.g., *ste-stóH2- ‘be in a standing position,’ *me-món- ‘have in mind.

Now think about this. According to Britannica, “The perfective aspect, traditionally called ‘aorist,’ expressed a single, completed occurrence of an action or process….” This will not do. Ever since Frank Stagg published his essay “The Abused Aorist” in JBL (followed up later by Charles Smith’s “Errant Aorist Interpreters” in GTJ), teachers have been cautioning their Greek students never to view the aorist as referring to a “single” action. Yet still today one hears statements, in both sermon and commentary, such as “The aorist here shows that Paul had in mind a once-for-all-action.” Much of this confusion stems (I believe) from A. T. Robertson’s use of “punctiliar” to describe the aorist tense. Of course, Robertson never meant us to understand a “once-for-all action,” yet the term “punctiliar” was easily misunderstood to mean that very thing. After all, something that is “punctiliar” has one single “Punkt” or “point,” doesn’t it? My point here (no pun meant) is simply this: While Greek scholars are obliged to learn as much as they can from linguists (and I, a non-linguist, have even published two books on the subject: Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, and Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation), they are not obligated to follow linguistic science blindly.

3) In the third place, I’m not sure we are as far apart as the evidence may seem to point. For example, the two most widely used beginning grammars in North America today (mine and Bill Mounce’s) have somewhat similar terminology, as Joshua noted in his post:

Mounce:

Completed (also called perfective)

Continuous (also called imperfective)

Punctiliar

Black:

Perfective

Imperfective

Aoristic

As I stated above, I prefer “aoristic” to “punctiliar” because of the way the latter term has been abused by preachers and commentators. “Aoristic” works because its meaning is “undefined.” In other words, by choosing aoristic aspect, an author is intentionally refraining from trying to describe how an action occurred. The action is a-oristos – “unlimited” or “undefined” in terms of its kind of action. This is precisely the point that was made by both Stagg and Smith in their journal articles.

4) Finally, let me just state why I still prefer my terminology. It comports with conventional usage by traditional New Testament grammarians. (Wow. I can’t believe I just made that statement. If there ever was a person who enjoys challenging conventional wisdom, it’s yours truly.) Think about how easy we make it for our students when we say that the imperfect tense has “imperfective” aspect, or that the perfect tense has “perfective” aspect, or that the aorist tense has “aoristic aspect.” Incidentally, K. L. McKay, in his A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, uses “aorist” as I do “aoristic” and labels the other aspects “imperfective” for present and imperfect and “perfective” for perfect, so I am not exactly alone in my nomenclature. (Profound thanks to my friend Craig for pointing this out to me.) Now don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to change my nomenclature if I can be convinced to do so. Indeed, Robert Picirilli, in a JETS essay that appeared in 2005, makes a suggestion I am almost happy with. Addressing the “issue of terminology,” he writes:

I think we must recognize that it is too late in the game, as A. T. Robertson said long ago, to change the names of the tenses or the word “tense” itself. It is hard enough to teach Greek students that “tense” does not meantime and “present” does not mean present; but we have learned to handle that. If aspect theory is to win wide recognition and usage, as I think it should, I believe we must develop a terminology that does not overlap with those names and is both appropriate in meaning and relatively easy for students to learn and use. I tentatively suggest, then, that “progressive” works better than “imperfective” and that “wholistic” works better than “perfective.” I have no suggestion as a replacement for “stative.” From this point on, then, I may speak of aspect or perspective, and of progressive perspective or imperfective aspect (for the present and imperfect tenses), of wholistic perspective or perfective aspect (for the aorist tense), and stative perspective or aspect (for the perfect and pluperfect tenses).

“Wholistic” may well work better than “aoristic,” and I’m open to using that language, though I still feel it’s too confusing, from a purely pedagogical standpoint, to use “stative” for “perfective.”

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying this gentlemanly debate as much as I am. I enjoy having my ideas challenged. Indeed, I’ve organized many conferences at SEBTS to discuss the synoptic problem, textual criticism, the ending of Mark, etc. and I’m wondering if it might be a good time to hold another gathering in which we could spar with each other over this matter and maybe, just maybe, come to see eye to eye. As in many other matters, on the issue of verbal aspect we have to say “Let the discussion continue!”

 

12:44 PM As always, I appreciate the insights of Henry Neufeld when it comes to the biblical languages. In a recent email exchange (dealing with verbal aspect this time), he wrote:

I have no trouble teaching verbal aspect from your grammar or Mounce’s. I always expand on this to the students and discuss the difference between the aspect and the time, and so forth, but I give them the simplified discussion as an anchor point. It’s similar, in my view, to learning the gloss of a word as vocabulary, when you know very well that the gloss doesn’t really tell you what that Greek word means any more than giving a synonym (always NEAR synonym of an English word is the same thing as providing a definition or a set of definitions. Verbal
aspect itself has a semantic range, i.e., it doesn’t work itself into
neat categories as we’d like it to. Instead, it is rough around the edges.

A few random reflections:

1) Standard terminology in any field is a desideratum. This is no less true of Greek grammar than it is of horticulture (in which I have dabbled a bit). However, at the beginning level of any subject, some oversimplification is unavoidable.

2) At the same time, the goal is comprehension and especially the ability to read Greek. Henry reminds us that there are sometimes more than one way to “get there.” An example might be teaching -omen and -ete instead of -men and -te as the primary active suffixes in the first and second person plural. In my view, only the latter approach is linguistically defensible. But what does it matter in the end?

3) At other times, there are “hills to die on.” We all have these I suppose, and for me I’d have to include the debate over time in the Greek verb system. As I’ve previously noted in this blog, I still believe that the Koine Greek verb system grammaticalizes time in the indicative mood — and I say this despite the noble attempts of several prominent Greek scholars to dissuade me. Why, I even call the prefixed epsilon the “past time morpheme”!

4) Thus, to paraphrase Henry, flexibility is needed at all times, and wherever there is significant debate, we must be willing to help our students negotiate the muddy waters.

5) I’ll let Henry have the last word, to which I say a heart “Amen!”

I agree with the way you do this [teach verbal aspect] in your text, though again I would say that a good teacher can expand on the text. If the teacher is stuck with the text, in my view, he has no business teaching. I’ve read a number of other grammars, so I can take elements that work for me and use them to help students. A teacher should be teaching well beyond the text. The text is what reading is for

 

2) Secondly, I think the elephant in the room has yet to be discussed. It seems to me that a major part of the problem, if not the biggest challenge we face, is the fact that Greek teachers and linguists are often talking past each other. Each of us approaches the problem from a different set of perspectives. For the Greek teacher, for example, pedagogy is often paramount. Moreover, most of us have little or no formal training in the science of linguistics. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in what linguists are saying. We are. It’s just that we don’t always feel that we necessarily have to follow their explanations or terminology. I’ll give you one example from an email I received yesterday. The author wrote:

According to the online Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the perfect is stative:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/286368/Indo-European-languages/74555/Vowels#74556

The imperfective aspect, traditionally called “present,” was used for repeated actions and for ongoing processes or states—e.g., *stí-stH2-(e)- ‘stand up more than once, be in the process of standing up,’ *mn̥-yé- ‘ponder, think,’ *H1es- ‘be.’ The perfective aspect, traditionally called “aorist,” expressed a single, completed occurrence of an action or process—e.g., *steH2- ‘stand up, come to a stop,’ *men- ‘think of, bring to mind.’ The stative aspect, traditionally called “perfect,” described states of the subject—e.g., *ste-stóH2- ‘be in a standing position,’ *me-món- ‘have in mind.

Now think about this. According to Britannica, “The perfective aspect, traditionally called ‘aorist,’ expressed a single, completed occurrence of an action or process….” This will not do. Ever since Frank Stagg published his essay “The Abused Aorist” in JBL (followed up later by Charles Smith’s “Errant Aorist Interpreters” in GTJ), teachers have been cautioning their Greek students never to view the aorist as referring to a “single” action. Yet still today one hears statements, in both sermon and commentary, such as “The aorist here shows that Paul had in mind a once-for-all-action.” Much of this confusion stems (I believe) from A. T. Robertson’s use of “punctiliar” to describe the aorist tense. Of course, Robertson never meant us to understand a “once-for-all action,” yet the term “punctiliar” was easily misunderstood to mean that very thing. After all, something that is “punctiliar” has one single “Punkt” or “point,” doesn’t it? My point here (no pun meant) is simply this: While Greek scholars are obliged to learn as much as they can from linguists (and I, a non-linguist, have even published two books on the subject: Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, and Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation), they are not obligated to follow linguistic science blindly.

3) In the third place, I’m not sure we are as far apart as the evidence may seem to point. For example, the two most widely used beginning grammars in North America today (mine and Bill Mounce’s) have somewhat similar terminology, as Joshua noted in his post:

Mounce:

Completed (also called perfective)

Continuous (also called imperfective)

Punctiliar

Black:

Perfective

Imperfective

Aoristic

As I stated above, I prefer “aoristic” to “punctiliar” because of the way the latter term has been abused by preachers and commentators. “Aoristic” works because its meaning is “undefined.” In other words, by choosing aoristic aspect, an author is intentionally refraining from trying to describe how an action occurred. The action is a-oristos – “unlimited” or “undefined” in terms of its kind of action. This is precisely the point that was made by both Stagg and Smith in their journal articles.

4) Finally, let me just state why I still prefer my terminology. It comports with conventional usage by traditional New Testament grammarians. (Wow. I can’t believe I just made that statement. If there ever was a person who enjoys challenging conventional wisdom, it’s yours truly.) Think about how easy we make it for our students when we say that the imperfect tense has “imperfective” aspect, or that the perfect tense has “perfective” aspect, or that the aorist tense has “aoristic aspect.” Incidentally, K. L. McKay, in his A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, uses “aorist” as I do “aoristic” and labels the other aspects “imperfective” for present and imperfect and “perfective” for perfect, so I am not exactly alone in my nomenclature. (Profound thanks to my friend Craig for pointing this out to me.) Now don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to change my nomenclature if I can be convinced to do so. Indeed, Robert Picirilli, in a JETS essay that appeared in 2005, makes a suggestion I am almost happy with. Addressing the “issue of terminology,” he writes:

I think we must recognize that it is too late in the game, as A. T. Robertson said long ago, to change the names of the tenses or the word “tense” itself. It is hard enough to teach Greek students that “tense” does not meantime and “present” does not mean present; but we have learned to handle that. If aspect theory is to win wide recognition and usage, as I think it should, I believe we must develop a terminology that does not overlap with those names and is both appropriate in meaning and relatively easy for students to learn and use. I tentatively suggest, then, that “progressive” works better than “imperfective” and that “wholistic” works better than “perfective.” I have no suggestion as a replacement for “stative.” From this point on, then, I may speak of aspect or perspective, and of progressive perspective or imperfective aspect (for the present and imperfect tenses), of wholistic perspective or perfective aspect (for the aorist tense), and stative perspective or aspect (for the perfect and pluperfect tenses).

“Wholistic” may well work better than “aoristic,” and I’m open to using that language, though I still feel it’s too confusing, from a purely pedagogical standpoint, to use “stative” for “perfective.”

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying this gentlemanly debate as much as I am. I enjoy having my ideas challenged. Indeed, I’ve organized many conferences at SEBTS to discuss the synoptic problem, textual criticism, the ending of Mark, etc. and I’m wondering if it might be a good time to hold another gathering in which we could spar with each other over this matter and maybe, just maybe, come to see eye to eye. As in many other matters, on the issue of verbal aspect we have to say “Let the discussion continue!”

 

12:44 PM As always, I appreciate the insights of Henry Neufeld when it comes to the biblical languages. In a recent email exchange (dealing with verbal aspect this time), he wrote:

I have no trouble teaching verbal aspect from your grammar or Mounce’s. I always expand on this to the students and discuss the difference between the aspect and the time, and so forth, but I give them the simplified discussion as an anchor point. It’s similar, in my view, to learning the gloss of a word as vocabulary, when you know very well that the gloss doesn’t really tell you what that Greek word means any more than giving a synonym (always NEAR synonym of an English word is the same thing as providing a definition or a set of definitions. Verbal
aspect itself has a semantic range, i.e., it doesn’t work itself into
neat categories as we’d like it to. Instead, it is rough around the edges.

A few random reflections:

1) Standard terminology in any field is a desideratum. This is no less true of Greek grammar than it is of horticulture (in which I have dabbled a bit). However, at the beginning level of any subject, some oversimplification is unavoidable.

2) At the same time, the goal is comprehension and especially the ability to read Greek. Henry reminds us that there are sometimes more than one way to “get there.” An example might be teaching -omen and -ete instead of -men and -te as the primary active suffixes in the first and second person plural. In my view, only the latter approach is linguistically defensible. But what does it matter in the end?

3) At other times, there are “hills to die on.” We all have these I suppose, and for me I’d have to include the debate over time in the Greek verb system. As I’ve previously noted in this blog, I still believe that the Koine Greek verb system grammaticalizes time in the indicative mood — and I say this despite the noble attempts of several prominent Greek scholars to dissuade me. Why, I even call the prefixed epsilon the “past time morpheme”!

4) Thus, to paraphrase Henry, flexibility is needed at all times, and wherever there is significant debate, we must be willing to help our students negotiate the muddy waters.

5) I’ll let Henry have the last word, to which I say a heart “Amen!”

I agree with the way you do this [teach verbal aspect] in your text, though again I would say that a good teacher can expand on the text. If the teacher is stuck with the text, in my view, he has no business teaching. I’ve read a number of other grammars, so I can take elements that work for me and use them to help students. A teacher should be teaching well beyond the text. The text is what reading is for

 

The Structure of 1 Thessalonians 1

Note: I am again indulging myself in reposting something a bit off-topic from Dave’s blog, because I’d like to reference it on mine. Hopefully this is helpful to others. — HN

10:50 AM The responses about the structure of 1 Thess. 1:1-10 have begun coming in. Here’s the most recent email (I’ve taken the liberty of transliterating the Greek):

… I think dividing the text in this manner completely ignores the structure of the passage. The main clause is in 1:2 (we give thanks), the three participles in 1:3 and 1:4 describe how Paul gives thanks and why, the hoti clause in 1:5 provides a reason for why Paul knows the Thessalonians are chosen by God. Though some divide at v. 6, I think that there is an elided hoti and that the statement “you became imitators of me” is a second reason for why Paul knows they are chosen by God. The rest of the section (through 1:10) provides more info about 1:6.

“Completely ignores” is pretty strong language. What do you think?

**** some posts omitted ****

 

10:18 AM In my essay in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology called The Literary Structure of 1-2 Thessalonians, I tried to show how 1 Thessalonians is comprised of several fairly clearly-defined thought units:

The Greek text of 1 Thessalonians consists of 18 paragraphs (thought units) that together merge to communicate Paul’s message. Read each paragraph and then assign a title to each (a paragraph title is a summary in your own words of the central idea in the paragraph). The paragraphs are: 1:1; 1:2-10;2:1-12; 2:13-16; 2:17-20; 3:1-5; 3:6-10;3:11-13; 4:1-2; 4:3-8; 4:9-12; 4:13-18; 5:1-11;5:12-22; 5:23-24; 5:25; 5:26-27; 5:28.

I say “fairly clearly-defined” because some may quibble about this or that paragraph division. For example, some prefer to see two paragraphs in 1:2-10 instead of a single unit: 1:2-5 and 1:6-10. But I think all would agree that 1:1 is set off from what follows as the letter’s opening salutation, and I think all would agree that the next thought unit is either 1:2-5 or else 1:2-10.

It was therefore a great surprise to me to read this morning that one of the latest commentators on 1 Thessalonians begins his forthcoming treatise with a discussion of 1:1-3 (see the sample here). I simply do not see how this is possible on the basis of Greek discourse analysis. Verse 4 begins with a subordinate clause (a participle in Greek) that is clearly attached to the head verb in verse 2. So again, while I suppose one could argue for a paragraph break between verse 5 and verse 6 (since verse 6 contains a finite verb), I am at a loss to explain how one could begin a new thought unit at verse 4. I suppose arguments may exist along these lines, but I am unaware of them. Perhaps the author could enlighten us?

To get the ball rolling, here’s how I understand “Wie der Text spielt” in 1:1-10:

The first chapter is comprised of two paragraphs and follows closely the standard letter writing convention used by Paul elsewhere: Greeting and Thanksgiving. The train of thought in these two paragraphs may be indicated as follows:

Opening Greeting 1:1.

The introduction gives the names of the writers and readers, and a salutation. The form is conventional but it has been Christianized (cf. the introduction to Romans [1:1-7], which has been richly “clothed” with doctrine; cf. also Gal 1:1-5). The introductions of the Thessalonian epistles are Paul’s briefest. Significant here is the absence of “apostle” to describe Paul. As in other letters Paul joins his helpers’ names to his own in the address. The church is then designated and greeted with the typical Pauline expression “grace and peace.”

Thanksgiving for the conversion and zeal of the Thessalonians 1:2-10.

In the Greek text, 1:2-10 is one long, awkwardly constructed sentence that is difficult to punctuate and that is loaded with adverbial phrases that are hard to place. If the paragraph is difficult it is also vitally important to the author’s argument. In the form of a prayer of thanksgiving, Paul brings together two themes: (1) the manner in which Paul and his colleagues shared their faith with the Thessalonians (vv. 2-5), and (2) the response of the Thessalonians to the missionaries’ preaching (vv. 6-9).

Because of this shift in emphasis, it may be useful to make a paragraph break at the end of v. 5. Secular Greek letters sometimes included in their introduction a prayer to some god, but not often a prayer of thanksgiving. Paul regularly does so (Galatians is an exception), but the theme of gratitude goes far beyond a mere introduction. Paul uses the thanksgiving (1:2-10) to relate the most important themes of the letter body that follows, though “thanksgiving” in our letter appears to be much longer (1:2-3:13) than in Paul’s other letters.

What is the specific content of this rich paragraph of thanksgiving? Hiebert divides it as follows: (a) Paul first sketches the character of the thanksgiving with various statements (v. 2) and then (b) elaborates three specific grounds for the thanksgiving (vv. 3-10). Paul’s thankful spirit for the Thessalonians is prompted by their Christian virtues (v. 3), their divine election (vv. 4-7), and the reports of others concerning the church in Thessalonica (vv. 8-10). According to Hiebert, “this elaboration of their grounds for thanksgiving forms an adequate background for the remainder of the epistle.”

Best’s overall analysis of 1:2-10, however, seems to unite the thoughts of the paragraph better. His explanation may be summarized as follows: (a) Paul thanks God for the way in which the Thessalonian converts have expressed their faith (v. 3) and (b) for its ultimate ground in God’s choice of them as Christians (v. 4). This choice was (c) made clear in the successful ministry by Paul to Thessalonica (v. 5) and (d) in their response to the gospel, despite tribulation (v. 6). They (e) became an example to others (v. 7) and (f) a spur to evangelical activity (v. 8) by their complete acceptance of the faith, whose content is (g) expressed in a creedal form (vv. 9-10). This last statement concerning a “creedal form” indicates a common opinion among NT scholars that Paul in 1:9-10 is quoting a pre-Pauline statement of the church’s faith.

Your thoughts? Care to blog about it?

Choosing a Doctoral Program

Note: I know this is off the normal topic for this site, but I wanted to get it into a post that can be linked to, as I think it’s very valuable. — HN

8:55 AM Few topics are more interesting to me than pedagogy. Yesterday, as you know, I interviewed a prospective doctoral student who is interested in possibly studying under my tutelage at SEBTS. One of the main matters we pondered together was the question of seminary versus university. I forgot to mention to him a book by Nijay K. Gupta called Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond. It’s reviewed here. The reviewer makes this interesting comment:

Chapter 1 (“Choosing a Doctoral Program”) deals with the very initial stages of pursuing a PhD degree. Here Gupta delineates six factors that he thinks students should consider before choosing a program (theological orientation, prestige/difficulty, money, time, location, and library), though to this list I would like to add another factor: cohort-size.

Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, but my take is slightly different. Let’s walk through these 6 factors one by one:

1) Theological orientation. I did not attend the University of Basel for my doctorate because of its theological orientation. I chose Basel because it was a truly “liberal” institution. That is, they were truly open-minded even to the point of gladly accepting conservative American evangelicals from non-descript seminaries (like Talbot) into their program, as long as these students could produce a quality piece of scholarship. This version of “liberalism” is, I’m afraid, sorely lacking in many North American universities, or at least it was when I was contemplating my doctorate in the late 1970s. Conservatives often found it difficult to enter these programs and, if they did, ended up having to write their dissertation on a “safe” topic. I found the atmosphere in Basel a refreshing departure from this attitude.

basel kjkjljljljljl

2) Prestige/difficulty. In the 1980s, Basel was still one of THE places to study for a doctorate in theology because of its outstanding world-class faculty. As for difficulty? Studying there was challenging, not least because you were studying in German and because their foreign language standards were extremely high (one was simply expected to have a knowledge of, say, French, Latin, and Dutch). Choose a doctoral program that will stretch you both as a person and as a scholar. You will be better off for it.

3) Money. Becky and I were living in Southern California at the time where the cost of living was outrageous. And here we were about to live in a country whose cost of living was about four times higher and where neither us could work during our sojourn there. How were we able to cut it financially? Well, I like to put it this way: “The Lord miraculously provided.” And He did. Becky worked two jobs and I worked three prior to our departure for Basel in 1980. You say, “What was miraculous about that?” When you think about it, isn’t the ability to work just as much a miraculous provision of the Lord as if He had plunked down in our bank account several thousands of dollars? My point it this: If God wants you to study in Cambridge, don’t worry about the finances. He can and will provide. Trust Him.

4) Time. It took me three years to complete my doctoral studies at Basel, which was about average.

5) Location (location, location)! Yes, yes, yes! As I told my prospective student yesterday, “Studying abroad will give you two educations for the price of one.” In addition, if you can study in a foreign language (such as German or French), you will be forced out of your comfort zone big time. “Ich bin hierher gekommon, um Land und Leute besser kennenzulernen,” was my usual response when the Swiss asked me why I wanted to live in their country. And I meant it. Becky and I both thoroughly enjoyed becoming familiar with Switzerland and its people and customs. Try it. You might like it as much as we did.

basel hty43839393900303

6) Library. Well, this was a no-brainer. The University Library in Basel boasted several million volumes. In addition, the Theologisches Seminar at Nadelberg 10 had its own theological library, unlimited access to which was provided to doctoral students. Moreover, if I didn’t find what I was looking for in Basel, it was a short train ride to Freiburg or Tübingen to use their outstanding libraries.

7) Here I’m going to add a seventh desideratum if I may: Mentor/major professor/Doctor Father. This is what made Basel a bit more attractive to me than Tübingen (where I had also been accepted). Bo Reicke was the doyen of New Testament studies in his day and, to me, embodied the perfect complement between humanitas and pietas.

reicke

I lived in his home the first month I was in Basel and was granted access to his personal library during the entire course of my studies under his tutelage. It never occurred to me to study anywhere else, so happy was I on the shores of the Rhine in this ancient city of refuge for unconventional thinkers like Erasmus and Calvin.

So … do consider a European doctorate. This goal has been successfully pursued by countless North Americans. One of my former Th.M. students is currently completing his Ph.D. in New Testament in Munich. Another one of my former doctoral students is currently working on a second doctorate (in Spanish) at the Complutensian University in Madrid.

It can be done!

 

Money and Missions

8:06 AM Money and mission trips can be a sensitive topic.

Most of us find conversations about Christian finances difficult, as did Paul. What on earth are we supposed to do when a close relative of ours asks us to support their summer mission trip? We, like Paul, must be in vital touch with the Lord. We must be prayerfully open to sensing His leading towards the individual He wants us to help. I am certain that I have missed many opportunities because I have been too distracted by my own agenda. But it is essential if we are to help other people that we follow the Lord’s leading. One approach that has occurred to me is this: When a loved one asks me to support their summer mission trip, I can say: “I’m happy to help you, but you must match every dollar I give you from your own savings.” When I give, I want to see that there is at least some effort by the recipient, if he or she is able, to add to the kitty out of their own savings and thrift. Serving Jesus is costly. Paul knew this very well. During the day he preached; during the night he plied his trade. The truth of the matter is that Paul, united with Christ, was able to face life confidently, irrespective of the aid of others. He was “untroubled by the vicissitudes of life” (Hawthorne). He lacked nothing. And this is true partly because he was willing to support himself.

Read Paul’s “Thankless Thanks” in Phil. 4:10-20.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

 

On Christian Faith and Politics

9:54 AMLast night I re-read Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The book reveals how the some of the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. “This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel. I could not agree more. In his book Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape advise his young cousin on how to derail a Christian:

Let him begin by treating patriotism … as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…. [O]nce he’s made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

That’s my take exactly on the issue, on where I stand vis-à-vis the politics of God. While I deeply respect my friends who seek to “take America back,” I really do wish they were aiming at a different bull’s-eye. As I wrote to a friend yesterday in response to their email:

I wonder why we in the church focus so much of our attention on gay marriage when it is so easy to overlook the sins that so easily beset us, such as gluttony and divorce. Did you see the link I put on my blog the other day about Baptists being the worst when it comes to obesity? It’s pretty scary stuff, but you should read it if you have a chance.

http://blog.randallthahn.com/2012/06/05/research-is-in-baptists-are-fat/

The report goes on to state that clergy are the worst offenders. And they are teaching us about self-control? And then there is the fact that many of our Baptist deacons are in their second or even third marriages. Jesus had a lot more to say about the sin of adultery (getting remarried when your first spouse is still alive) than He did about homosexuality. Perhaps we should make divorce illegal? It’s certainly more prevalent. It’s certainly ungodly in most cases (there is one exception — persistent, unrepentant sexual infidelity). I’m not saying you’re being inconsistent. But I do see some congregations jumping on the marriage amendment bandwagon whose own members are living in clear sin (adultery, gluttony).

At any rate, fight the good fight. But to be honest with you, I don’t think it will get you anywhere in the long term as our culture moves in an ever increasing secular direction. Jesus predicted as much concerning the end times. Above all, let’s look to our own households of faith. Jesus teaches us to consider our own sins as worse than others (Matt. 7:1-3). That’s where I think we sometimes fall down and open ourselves up to the charge of hypocrisy.

I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. So in my opinion there is neither “Christian” liberalism nor “Christian” conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, and there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons. Our homeland has its fixed location in heaven (Phil. 3:20)!

My feelings about politics didn’t change overnight. In fact, my mouth sometimes feels like it’s filled with cotton balls whenever I talk with others about the subject. But at least now I’m talking. So is David Kuo and others. “Evangelism provides a supernatural remedy for the needs of the world,” wrote Faris Whitesell. I believe it’s time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism. Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.

 

What Kind of Church?

8:22 AM Mornin’, yall! Let’s return for a moment to the picture I posted the other day of this Catholic “community” in North Dallas.

St. Rita Catholic community

Is that how you would describe your “church”? Peter Savage once wrote a fascinating essay called “The Church and Evangelism.” It appeared in The New Face of Evangelism, a book that was edited by C. René. Savage suggested four models of the church that are in operation today in North America. Here they are:

1) The lecture hall. This is the church where people go primarily to listen to sermons. I’d say that in many traditional Baptist churches, this model most definitely applies. The pastor is even called the “preacher,” the service “the preaching service.” I myself have always been attracted to meetings like this, especially where there is excellent Bible teaching. You know, you go in with an empty notebook and come out with a full one. You know, the kind of church where the pastor says “Now the fifth thing I want you to know about this Greek verb is ….” Yep. Suits me to a T.

2) The theater. This is the church people attend because of the drama of the service, the great music, as well as a good sermon. And have you noticed — even the architecture in our churches encourages this view of the church? As in a secular concert hall or theater, you have programs and ushers, cushy chairs (instead of hard pews), and you expect to be royally entertained for about hour. Participation on your part? It doesn’t exit, except perhaps to applaud.

3) The corporation. This is the highly-programmed church. For every need there is a provision. When our children are growing up, this is the kind of church we often are attracted to. We gotta make sure there is a good children’s ministry and a good youth group and lots of exciting events to attend.

4) The social club. The focus here is not so much on the word or on entertainment or on programs but on social works. Food drives. Car washes. Community service.

Savage then goes on to discuss the church as the New Testament seems to depict it: as a community of obedient followers of the Lord Jesus. The emphasis is on sacrificial living rather than on knowing the truth about the Gospel. The note of genuine community is primary. Hierarchical titles that tend to create distinctions among the brethren are discouraged (the elders are known by their first names). Have we ever seen churches like this? Yes, indeed. They were called the Anabaptists. Here’s what they stood for:

  • serving instead of ruling

  • breaking down walls instead of isolationism

  • biblical authority instead of ecclesiastical tradition

  • brotherhood instead of hierarchy

  • the towel instead of the sword

  • the headship of Christ instead of that of any pastor

  • the way of peace instead of “just war”

  • the church as a living organism instead of as a human institution

  • the reign of God instead of a political kingdom

  • the catholicity of the true church instead of sectarianism

  • the power of suffering instead of the cult of power

  • the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book of scholars

  • loyalty to their heavenly citizenship instead of loyalty to the principalities and powers

  • Spirit-orientation instead of forced structures of church life

  • being a “light to the nations” instead of a Christian enclave

  • suffering instead of inflicting suffering

  • knowing Christ instead of merely knowing about Him

  • faith that works (in both senses) instead of dead orthodoxy

  • effectual grace as a living reality instead of as a theological dogma,

  • every-member ministry instead of clergyism

  • baptism into Christ instead of baptism into a denomination

  • a unity that is lived instead of a unity that is merely extolled

  • welcoming the despised and marginalized instead of ignoring them

  • a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge

  • individual conscience instead of theological conformity

  • volunteerism instead of professionalism

  • and allegiance to Christ instead of allegiance to the state

Significantly, in this kind of a community, Christ’s followers are all seen as brothers and sisters, each with a vitally important contribution to make to the whole. Church is now characterized by direct relationships, by reciprocity, by obedience to the Gospel, by deep fellowship, by mutual assistance, by participation by all of its members. The church no longer exists for itself but for others. Its kingdom call is reconciliation of people to Christ through the Gospel. Church growth for growth’s sake is now seen as a form of missional mutilation. There is a reawaked awareness of the value of spiritual gifts. It is a community created and animated by the Spirit. It is, moreover, a missionary community. The gathering exists only for the going. There is a keen sense of responsibility for evangelization and church planting in other nations. Mercy ministries also have their place.

Folks, we live in a techno-age, that’s for sure. Even yours truly just got an iPhone! In this kind of a society, the church can easily morph into nothing more than a smoothly-running machine with a veneer of power. Of course, there is a biblical alternative. I think the Anabaptists nailed it. For them, church was a radically biblical, caring community of believers totally sold out to Jesus and His reign.

Wow.

What a church.

What a community.

 

On Loss, Grief, Hope, and Joy

This post is from site editor/publisher, Henry Neufeld, owner of Energion Publications.

As you may have observed, most posts on this site come from Dave Black Online. You may wonder why we have a site that produces largely copied material (with permission, of course). The reason is simple. Dave Black’s blog doesn’t allow linking to specific posts, and so material posted here gets a permanent link. It’s also divided up by topic. You’ll find posts here that relate to Dave’s book, The Jesus Paradigm. I read Dave’s blog regularly, and as I find material that I believe would interest readers of this site, I cross-post it here.

But recently Dave has posted quite a number of things that relate to the home-going of his wife, Becky Lynn Black. He has provided an abundance of personal testimony about this experience that I think is helpful to Christians. After the death of my son James, I found that many, many Christians struggled with the idea of grief and didn’t know how to relate the four little words I put in the title (and a few others). Dave’s personal testimony is tremendously helpful.

I simply don’t have time to post everything here. I’d suggest heading over to Dave’s blog and check out at least the last few weeks. I think you will be blessed.

Are American Christians Persecuted?

8:16 AM I have been talking with a dear friend who is about to move to the Middle East as a tentmaking missionary. For anyone contemplating this type of ministry, Jonathan Merritt’s post In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted is a must read. The title is absolutely true. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Xmas.” (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels?,  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?., and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Used by permission.)