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Nomos in Romans 7 and 8

8:20 AM Last night I was having a discussion with someone about Paul’s use of the Greek word nomos in Romans 7 and Romans 8. On the one hand, the term refers to the capital L “Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. This is the Law that was “weakened” through the flesh and thus could not provide what God had to provide through the sending of His Son (Rom. 8:3). On the other hand, Paul can use the term to refer to a certain type of “power” or “principle” at work in the believer’s life, as in Rom. 8:2: “The power [nomos] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power [nomos] of sin that leads to death” (so the NLT). Paul seems to be employing here the law of contrasts, if we can call it that. The righteousness of God is for Paul a noun of action. It is His power in relation to men and women who do not do what is right and who violate the rights of others in self-righteous aggression, as we saw yesterday in Pakistan with the horrific slaughter of school children and their teachers. Humankind robs God of His rights by smacking Him down in their pride and religious hubris. God’s righteousness is the power to disturb our status quo, to shatter imprisoning conventions and traditions, and to break into new paths of freedom. Where this imputed righteousness through Christ is not able to do its work freely, God then uses the instruments of “law” (small “l”) — including threats and punishment — to achieve justice. Luther once referred to this latter law as God’s opus alienum, His “strange work.” As we saw in Peshawar yesterday, there is a deep perversion in man. Our aversion to the righteousness of God assumes the form of preventing the future of others by seeking to use them for our own present good and security. God uses the pressure of law to get us heading in the right direction, in the direction of justice. He uses the law to cause us to serve each other rather than abuse each other.

Thus God works under contrary signs — law and Gospel. He is secretly and hiddenly working “behind our backs” as it were, and even the greatest tyrants of history can be made to do His will. The law is universally present as a pressure to drive us to do what is right, to give others their due, but this law is not the statement of an eternal will but an instrument on the way to the goal of God’s universal rightness kingdom.

Today the Pakistanis — indeed the whole world — is asking, “How could God have allowed this to happen?” This question has a theological basis. When God declares His righteousness, it takes the shape of a searing and searching light. It reveals the demonic powers at loose in the world, gripping it to keep it the way it is. It points us to the unconditional righteousness and love that were mediated into the world only through Jesus Christ. The church exists as an eschatological community of hope for the world. It declares that a new world — Godworld — is coming into being through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. The church does not exist for itself. It exists as a sign of hope for the world for which Jesus died and rose again. Christians can neither separate themselves from this world nor merge with it. We cannot separate ourselves from the world because in one sense Godworld is already present in Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot merge with the world because then we would lose our distinctive calling as a light to the nations, as the new humanity foreshadowing the future universal kingdom of God. Any dimming or diminution of this eschatological consciousness results in the relaxation of our missionary existence in the world. The church exists as God’s eschatological mission for the world. When, therefore, the church becomes preoccupied with its own religious needs, when it becomes ecclesiocentric, it can no longer be authentically Christian.

The tragedy of our times is that the situation in the world is desperate (as we were reminded again yesterday) but the saints are not. If we were as desperate as the situation, something would happen. Times of emergency call for responses of urgency. A Laodicean complacency will accomplish nothing. So I urge us not to be alarmed at evil tidings, for our hearts are to be fixed on the Lord. But the times call for measures that are suited to the crisis. Just read Tit. 2:11-14. This is what we are here for. By life or by death, by what we do and by what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, our business is to glorify God by counting our lives as His and “losing what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.” The Lord has much to say to us in these trying times. In the hour of extremity I urge us to live Spirit-empowered lives that place the Gospel first. Getting out among the “issues” and dragging in Scripture to support this or that “cause” is something else altogether. Don’t create “issues.” We have one already. Christ is what matters, and everything else — even the world’s greatest tragedies — are to be judged in the light of Him.

 

Taking the Plunge

8:55 AM When I was a kid and learning how to dive from the high dive into the swimming pool, I would stand at the edge of the diving board petrified of what lay below me. Eventually I took a big breath and — I made the plunge. “Gee, this is fun!” I told myself as I clambered my way back up the diving board steps. But the real heroes of this story are my friends who stood on the pool deck and encouraged me to step out in faith.

I find that learning to trust God for change in our very traditional churches is like learning how to dive. The hardest part is simply letting go of our doubts and reservations and trusting God. Let’s say your church is currently having to decide between take a step of obedience to what the Scriptures clearly teach or else maintaining the traditional set-up. You may agonize over your uncertainties and insecurities, but the easiest way forward is simply to step out and take the plunge. God is there to support those who trust, not in their own security and certainty, but in His.

In this regard, I find it interesting that Paul mentions three groups of Christians in the Thessalonian church (see 1 Thess. 5:14). There were the “idlers,” the “fainthearted,” and the “weak.” Let’s look at the “idlers” for just a moment. The term Paul uses here often carries with it the notion of “not in order, not conforming to the established law or practice, being insubordinate.” Apparently these people were insisting on their own way and were “out of step” with Paul’s injunctions. Some perhaps were also lazy and were refusing to obey the command of Paul to “work with your own hands.” In any case, these good folk had to be dealt with, and dealt with directly.

Now please notice the verbs that Paul uses with reference to each of these groups:

  • The idlers are to be “admonished.”

  • The fainthearted are to be “encouraged.”

  • And the weak are to be “upheld.”

There is something very important going on here, and it is easy to miss. The verbs must match the nouns. In other words, we fail in our duties should we, say, admonish the fainthearted or uphold the idlers. People in rebellion against God are not to be coddled. They are to be admonished (noutheteo). This verb is a Pauline word, occurring 7 times in his writings. It always has a sense of correction, but the correction is always based on instruction. It can never be correction alone or instruction alone. And it is never to be done in a vindictive or judgmental spirit.

If you are a church elder, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There will always be people who will refuse to obey the Word, so steeped are they in tradition, or in sin, or in whatever. Sometimes these people have been in the church for years and years and believe they are above reproach — and correction. But the fact is that none of us is ever above correction in some area of our walk with Christ. We all act against the will of God in some form or another. But that is no excuse for passivity.

Another observation, and it too is vitally important. Please, please note that Paul is not telling the church leaders to “admonish the idlers.” A thousand times no! His exhortations in this verse have the whole church in view (“We appeal to you, brothers and sisters ….”). This means that, while our congregational leaders will obviously play a huge role in moving the church forward in obedience to God’s Word, the obligation to instruct and correct each other is ultimately the responsibility of the whole congregation. This means that I, who am not a local church elder, still have the privilege and responsibility of speaking up when I sense the Lord is leading me to offer instruction and correction, under the leadership of my elders of course. There is no evidence that Paul would have ever delegated this responsibility to the leaders alone.

Now think about your own local church. Many Christians find it hard to obey the simple teachings of the Scriptures. Moreover, they find it hard to accept advice, instruction, or correction from others. In such situations, Paul exhorts the members of the church to speak truth to one another and to do so in a patient and long-suffering manner. Let there be instruction! Let there be correction! Let’s move forward as congregations into those areas of obedience that are clearly taught in God’s Word. Our churches will be happier and healthier if we do so — together.

9781631990465

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

11:30 AM I see that yet another book on New Testament ecclesiology is about to be published. I’m all for that. Every tradition of the church needs to be tested by every new generation of Christians. Does this mean that your church, or mine, can go back to the beginning and start all over again, ab initio? Hardly. Truth always comes to us in vessels of clay. That’s why, regardless of what our convictions are on “how to do church the right way” (and I have some very strong convictions, as you know), the structures themselves will always be relative. Some will scrap the institutional church completely. (I did this back in the 60s when I was part of the Jesus Movement.) Others will seek renewal within their churches. (This is my current stance on the matter.) But the tabula rasa approach is, in my view, utterly unrealistic. Christians can never build a new church from scratch, no matter how hard they try and regardless of how many times they assert that they are following “the” New Testament pattern. Right structure does not always result in proper functioning. “Simple” churches can easily turn inward, relativizing the importance of the Great Commission. Worse, they can become lifted up with pride, belittling the institutionality of the church. I’m reminded of the old German saw, “Operation glänzend gelungen. Patient leider tot.” There is no reason why churches of the Reformation should not be open to the possibility of rethinking the wineskins that Jesus talked about so much. My own local church has made tremendous strides in recent years to adopt what we consider to be a more biblical form of church structure and practice. But that’s not the real issue. By their fruits we will know whether a congregation is practicing the Gospel. The crisis in world missions today is not due to faulty structures alone. Rather, what lies at the root of the trouble is confusion about our priorities.

The Lord has much to say to us today. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). Does my heart respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”? Does your heart respond like that? We Christians ought to be setting the world on fire. Alas, it’s so easy to go from fire to frost, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to pat ourselves on the back over our ecclesiology.

 

Thinking about the Local Church

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

4:06 PM Care to think about the church with me for a minute? My local church, like yours (probably), is constantly thinking about its ecclesiology. The main question — in my view, at least — is the degree to which our churches should be willing to adopt normative biblical principles and concepts that constitute the structure and life of the church. Questions include:

  • The level of involvement of the whole people of God in the life and witness of the church.

  • How leaders are to be chosen.

  • How “ordination” is understood and practiced.

  • The role of the “preacher” in the assembling of the church.

To people (like me) who deny a sacramental and sacerdotal priesthood, these questions are anything but theoretical. So here I offer a few random reflections. Feel free to respond on your blog.

1) The study of church history is absolutely vital if we are to return to biblical norms. For example, it was the Protestant Reformation that replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. The New Testament, of course, sees the center of the gathering of the body as neither an altar nor a pulpit but a table. The apostolic church gathered explicitly to “break bread” (the telic infinitive; see Acts 20:7), not to listen passively to a sermon.

2) Moreover, the apostolic church was both a charismatic and Spirit-filled diakonia. Whatever organization there may have been in the early church, it existed in order to promote the proper and orderly interactions between the spiritual gifts (exercised freely). Ekklesia was a body of which Christ alone was the Head and in which each member was a fulltime minister-priest. After the third century, however, the charismatic ministry began to disappear and there arose in its place a hierarchical and institutional church. The stage was thus set for the spectatorism so evident in our churches today.

3) The New Testament believers did not have an abstract concept of the church but one that was dynamic and concrete. They saw it as their mission to manifest Christ to the world by becoming His representatives and by participating in His transforming of people’s lives. Energized by His Spirit, there were aflame for Him, and when they gathered, the members worked “together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).

4) The church of the New Testament was nothing less than a partnership of grace in which every member had its function to fulfill, without jealousy or competition. Their gatherings were Christ-approved, Christ-centered, Christ-oriented, Christ-like, Christ-infused, Christ-exalting, and Christ-led. Remove Christ from the church and you might as well build a house on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27).

5) The Pastoral Epistles in particular need to be reevaluated. Neither Timothy nor Titus were pastors. They functioned as missionary-apostles and represented the church at large. Centuries later, the Anabaptists and other “radical” groups argued that the primitivism of the early church was normative in every age. The priesthood of believers was to be more than a dogma. They actually addressed each other as brothers and sisters. (Oh, how I wish we could do that today in our churches!). They insisted that Christ’s obedience to the Father should be exemplified in the life of every regenerate church member (Nachfolge-Christi).

6) Finally, ecclesiastical superstars didn’t exist. Pastors (i.e., shepherds) were also sheep. In fact, that was their primary identification. (Can you imagine if pastors today had secular jobs like everyone else and lived out in the world, as in New Testament times?)

So … where does my church, or yours, fit into all this? For starters, maybe we should reexamine our priorities when it comes to church finances. Any church building we construct must be purely functional in nature and should express a biblical understanding of the true nature of the church. Theologically, the church does not require a building. A church building has no more right to be called a “sanctuary” than a garage does. The body of Christ, the communion of believers, is the true tabernacle of God. Think and act this way today and you may well end up where the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century did — maligned or even persecuted. The need today is not to mimic the Anabaptists. The need is to renew our commitment to the New Testament Scriptures. Think of the followers of Zwingli in sixteenth-century Zurich. It was their allegiance to the New Testament (in Greek, by the way) that got them in so much trouble with their erstwhile teacher.

So the question is, “Is this pattern scriptural?” If not, a return to the New Testament may be the healthiest antidote to institutionalism.

P.S. I feel led to make an additional statement as a footnote. I know of many people who would never think of asking the church to help them pay for their summer vacation at Disneyworld or in Europe. Then why do so many of us automatically turn to the church to help pay (or even pay for entirely) the costs of our mission trips? I urge you to put aside money to that end, to even schedule your mission trip before you schedule your yearly vacation. If there’s any money left over, then you can enjoy Disneyworld or Paris. But please, plan ahead. Save if you can. Do not ask the church to do for you what you can (and perhaps ought to) do for yourself. Yes, it will take scrimping and saving. But the money is far better used in the Majority World than in paying for your airfare. I know not everyone can do this. But some can. Have you ever considered it?

 

Discontinuity Old Testament to New

10:28 AM Henry Neufeld has just posted two essays about the book of Hebrews and its instruction about the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). Someday I would love to have a public dialogue with Henry on this subject. Any way, I have for many years been a big fan of Henry’s and I deeply respect him as a churchman, language scholar, and publisher. I think by reading his essays I better understand where he stands. He cares deeply about the Old Covenant (as I do) and is absolutely correct in saying that we Christians must never denigrate the Hebrew Scriptures in any way, shape, or form. So where do we disagree?

Well, I tend to see more discontinuity between the Testaments than Henry does. My theology, if you will, is more along Anabaptist lines than Reformed on this subject. The Reformers were unwilling to make a radical break with the past. Their churches remained established and the parish system was maintained. By contrast, the Anabaptists understood the example of early Christianity and the teachings of the New Testament to be the binding norm for Christians of all ages. For example, the Anabaptists argued that since infant baptism could not be found in the New Testament, it could not be used in a movement trying to emulate the life of the early church. To them the rite was non-apostolic and therefore an insidious shame to genuine Christianity. However – and this is a vital point – the real issue in baptism was not simply a return to the New Testament pattern. Rather, it involved a promise to walk in newness of life, that is, to live according to the Word of God by refusing to let sin reign in the mortal body. In other words, the local church, entry into which was through baptism, was to be a community of saints. The Anabaptists argued that without such concern for morality and genuine repentance, a slipshod practice of spiritual laxity would inevitably result. For the Anabaptists, only the New Testament contained the explicit teaching of Christ and His apostles. The Old Testament was not rejected, of course. It was simply subjected to the doctrines found in the Gospels and the Epistles. According to Pilgram Marpeck, the Old Testament must be distinguished from the New Testament as the foundation must be distinguished from the house. John Kiwiet summarizes Marpeck’s hermeneutics as follows (I give both the original German along with my own English translation):

Der alte Bund war eine Zeit des Suchens und des Dürstens und erst der Neue Bund eine Zeit des Findens und Stillens. Die Verheissung an die Alten geht im Neuen Bund in Erfülling [sic]. Die Finsternis wird zu Licht und der Tod zu Leben. Es ist wie der Unterschied zwischen gestern und heute; das Alte ist vorbeigegangen, und das Neue ist gekommon.

The Old Covenant was a time of seeking and thirsting and only the New Covenant a time of finding and stillness. The promise to the ancients finds its fulfillment in the New Covenant. Darkness turns to light and death to life. It is like the difference between yesterday and today; the old has gone away, and the new has arrived.

Marpeck’s point is that revelation was progressive and partial before Christ. He felt that the Reformers had mistaken the foundation of the house for the house itself. Marpeck’s two-covenant theology was based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Hebrews, which taught that the highest court of appeal for all teaching concerning the church was the New Covenant. In short, he argued that the Scriptures must be interpreted Christologically.

Of course, I am not arguing that Henry fails to interpret the Bible Christologically. But I know some who do. This is one reason the Anabaptists looked with disfavor on professional pastors whose support came through tithes in the parish system. (Note: Henry has published a book by David Croteau that challenges the notion of tithing called Tithing After the Cross.) Unlike Old Testament Israel, their leaders were laymen, since Christ’s offering as High Priest was deemed to be exclusive. Their pastors, moreover, were chosen by the entire congregation according to the pattern established in the New Testament (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28). They were supported by voluntary offerings (though many indeed supported themselves). As for the place of meeting, lavish sanctuaries were no longer necessary since Christ had abolished the Old Testament priesthood. John Darby, one of the founders of the Brethren church, encouraged the construction of simple chapels or assemblies with architecture that emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Pulpits and platforms were avoided. A typical chapel was a square room with a table and chairs for the speakers. Darby insisted on sitting among the members during the service and standing among them when he spoke rather than from behind the table. (Henry will recall that I requested to do the same when I spoke at his Methodist church in Pensacola several years ago.) The Anabaptists denied the significance of church buildings since physical structures were irrelevant to God. The buildings themselves were emblems of mere formalism. Large stone structures could never replace the true church of Christ that is comprised of two or three living stones gathered in His Spirit. They felt that with the addition of large numbers of extravagant temples the church had compromised with worldly standards of success. The Anabaptists energetically condemned this “externalization” of the Body of Christ.

Finally – and here is where I’m quite positive Henry and I would agree (based on the books he has published, many of whom are authored by “nobodies” in the world’s eyes, like my wife) – in Anabaptism appeal was made to the plain man’s judgment, unspoiled by the university. Those who toiled with their hands (craftsmen) or who worked in the soil (peasants) were presumed to be more receptive and teachable than those who had been corrupted by the folly of worldly wisdom. Here a certain irony arises, of course, for among the radical thinkers of Anabaptism there were not a few university trained men whose knowledge of the Scriptures and of the original languages of the Bible were unsurpassed. I think of my fellow Basler Conrad Grebel, who studied at the Grossmünster in Zürich for six years before becoming one of the 81 students to register at the University of Basel in the winter semester of 1514. At Basel he lived in the bursa (college) that was under the direction of the city’s leading humanist scholar, Heinrich Loriti (Glarean). From Basel he traveled to Vienna to continue his studies, and from there to Paris. Perhaps the Anabaptists’ attitude toward scholarship was based to a degree upon their work ethic. Hard work was considered a virtue. The peasant who worked with his own hands in cooperation with God’s nature was thought to have keener insight than the scribe with his multitude of books. So the Anabaptists might argue: “How can those who know the Master miss His simple and straightforward words in Matthew 23 condemning the use of honorific titles?” To the Anabaptists, use of such titles seemed the very culmination of worldliness and power. Their message was simple: Let the Reformers cling to the old ideas of Christendom. We will seek a thoroughgoing restitution of the church as it had been before the rise of Constantine.

Again, I’m not sure that Henry and I are very far apart on this subject. Indeed, we share very similar visions of the kingdom of God. Where we might differ is in our ecclesiology. The sixteenth century Anabaptists challenged the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed establishments of their day. (Sorry, Henry, but the Methodists weren’t around quite yet.) Centuries later Barth and Brunner would question the church-state system from within. Why, then, should it surprise us today when Christians engage in responsible criticism of their own denominations? The goal of the Anabaptists, as has often been said, was to cut the tree back to the root and thus free the church of the suffocating growth of ecclesiastical tradition. That this goal is being revived in our day should be the cause of great rejoicing.

 

Are You Keeping Your Greek Fresh?

6:55 AM In our doctoral seminar yesterday we talked about the need for Greek in doing exegesis and for teaching/preaching. Of course, it’s much easier to claim one knows Greek than to be a Greek reader. That’s the problem I’ve found with many of my former students. With that in mind, try an experiment. See what happens when you turn to Mark 6:30-32 (which is fairly simple prose) and start translating the passage without any helps. It can lead to a rather sobering discovery. Like many of you, I love foreign languages, but we need to work hard to retain what we have acquired. In France I insist on speaking French (much to the chagrin of my auditors). I love speaking German in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (as well as in certain parts of Pennsylvania). I can order a burrito in Athens in Modern Greek. Of course, when I return to Hawaii, my birthplace, I find it easy to switch back into my mother tongue, Pidgin. I can also hold my own in England and Kentucky. (Lame joke.)

So what if you took three years of French in high school? The result? Can you even count to ten still? “Use it or lose it” is more than a cliché, friends. And that goes for Greek too.

(From Dave Black Online, November 5, 2014. Used by permission.)

 

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?