Category Archives: Bible Study

From Diagram to Message

(September 8, 2018) 6:25 AM Greek students, for what it’s worth, here’s my approach to doing Greek sentence diagramming within a paragraph. Note: It has nothing to do with English sentence diagramming!

Instead, my goal is to identify all main clauses and then identify any clauses that are syntactically subordinated to those main clauses. Here’s a simple example from 1 Thess. 1:2-5:

As you can see, there’s only one main finite verb in the entire paragraph: “We give thanks.” This verb is marked in blue. There are other finite verbs in the paragraph (marked in green), but they are not main verbs. The main verb “We give thanks” is then expanded in a series of participial clauses, three in fact:

See how this works? Easy cheesy! At this point, your teaching outline practically jumps off the page:

1) The When of Paul’s Thanksgiving.

2) The What of Paul’s Thanksgiving.

3) The Why of Paul’s Thanksgiving.

In other words …

1) Paul gives thanks when he prays personally for the Thessalonians.

2) Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians’ practical faith, sacrificial love, and unwavering hope.

3) Paul gives thanks because he knows that God has chosen them.

The next step is to produce a translation of the paragraph based on your own exegesis of the text.

The final step is to draw as many practical applications from the paragraph as you can. Here’s a sampling (for more you can go here):

  • Paul had no orphans. When he left the church in Thessalonica, he did not forget about them.
  • Paul wants his readers to know that he personally (note the middle voice of “mentioning”) prays for them.
  • Thanksgiving is not thanksgiving unless it is expressed.
  • “Faith without works is dead.”
  • True love always involve sacrifice.
  • We can endure suffering and persecution because we have placed our hope in Jesus and in His coming back to earth.
  • The church is a family (Paul calls these believers his “brothers and sisters”).
  • Teaching and preaching is more than “words.” It involves Holy Spirit power and full confidence in the efficacy of the Gospel.
  • “Examine my life,” says Paul. The selfless life he led backed up the Gospel he proclaimed.

Now that is true greatness.

Good day! (Said in my best Paul Harvey voice.)

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Meditating on the Opening Verses of Hebrews

Sunday, June 17, 2018

8:55 AM Good morning, guys, and Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. This morning I thought I’d continue blogging about the book of Hebrews, which is my favorite New Testament writing outside of the Gospels. This morning I’m meditating on the opening verses of the book. I used to spend a lot of time in the prologue of Hebrews when I was writing my journal article on the subject. What moved me greatly was to see the absolute beauty of the passage. At the time, I profited eminently from the work of Johannes Louw on discourse analysis, and so I called my essay “Hebrews 1:1-4: A Study in Discourse Analysis,” which appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal and can be accessed, free of charge, here. My study of this text was invaluable. It set a trajectory for me in my subsequent studies in Greek discourse analysis. In this opening paragraph of Hebrews, the exalted Christ is found, front and center. And the Greek of this text? It’s perhaps the most exalted Greek in the entire New Testament, which is what you’d expect when the theme of the book is “Christianity Is Christ.” I often tell my students to look for issues of style in a New Testament book every bit as much as matters of theology. The way something is said can enhance its effectiveness. Today I simply want to note the opening two adverbs of the letter. Here the author uses a figure of speech called alliteration in introducing how God spoke in the Old Testament — “in many parts and in many ways” (Greek: polumeros kai polutropos). Note the initial “p” sound. This was designed to make the audience attentive and receptive to the speaker’s message. God, he says, spoke in many parts and in many ways through His spokesmen the prophets. Here the words polumeros and polutropos have to do with the varied and manifold nature of Old Testament revelation. It helps, then, when studying the Old Testament, that we at least try and understand how all of these parts fit together. Likewise — and here’s the main point I’m trying to make this morning (cf. Heb. 8:1!), I believe we can apply these same two adverbs to the letter to the Hebrews. Has not our author (1) used a great variety of parts in order to communicate a single message, and (2) used any number of rhetorical devices (alliteration, assonance, anaphora, asyndeton, metonymy, hyperbole, etc.) in order to increase the impact and appeal of his message, the “hitting” and the “drawing” of his letter on his audience? What this means, at least to me, is that if we are to understand the book of Hebrews aright, we have to begin by understanding at least two things:

Its discourse structure (that is, how all the parts fit the whole), and

Its literary devices (that is, how the message is enhanced by the style of the writing).

What an achievement if we could even begin to understand these two components of meaning! For this reason, I’d like to call your attention to two essays of mine that might help us do just that. They are both accessible online, free of charge:

“The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews” available here, and

“Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” found here.

At one time, as you can see, Hebrews occupied a good deal of my study time. I do hope you will not find these essays to be “scholarship for the sake of scholarship.” I well recall in the 1980s having to come to grips with a serious academic issue. Would I write for the academy, or would I try to ensure that what I wrote (both my essays and books) would be of some use to the church at large? I have suffered from that schizophrenia ever since. But ultimately I decided that my writings would, hopefully, be useful to more than scholars. Hence my essays and books have tended to be, not less scholarly necessarily (at least I hope not!), but more geared for a broader reading audience. I’ve never had occasion to regret that decision.

Please read these essays if you can. I’m a little embarrassed to call attention to my own essays. Writing is, in fact, at best a supplement to what I do in the classroom. But since most of you can’t attend class with me, I suppose the next best thing is to put my thoughts into words. God has called me to write, and I have tried to obey that calling, but others will have to decide how effective I’ve been.

Below: Heb. 1:1-7 in p46.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission. Dave Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)

Key Hebrews Passages

Sunday, May 27, 2018

8:45 AM Hey guys, and welcome back to my little blog. I was up early this morning working on the syllabus for this fall’s exegesis of Hebrews class. It’s crazy to think that anyone can cover the entire 13-chapter epistle in one week, so I’ve forced myself (ugh) to select portions of the letter to focus on. What do you think of my choices?

1:1–4

2:1–4

3:1–6

4:1–11

5:11–6:12

7:1–28

8:1–13

9:11–15

10:19–25

11:1–7

12:1–3

13:1–6

I know that some of you who read my blog are runners and, like me, read the Bible for echoes of the sport. Some passages, such as 12:1-3, are obviously running-related, but others are less obviously so. Here I’m thinking of 2:1-4 or 3:1-6, for example. There are two principles at work in these passages. I’d call 2:1-4 “The Danger of Doing Nothing.” In other words, when you do nothing, something always happens. That’s a principle of life you can bank on. Just don’t mow the grass or change the oil in your car. As for the readers of Hebrews, they were in danger of slowly, imperceptibly drifting away from their moorings in Christ, much like a sailing vessel can drift away from a dock. During our lives as runners, we face a moment of truth every time we wake up in the morning. Running for life is a choice we have to make over and over again. Piece by piece, day after day, we are adding to the mosaic of ourselves as runners. Together, inspiration and perspiration carry us through. Every run we do can become a spontaneous celebration.

As for 3:1-6, my takeaway is another often-forgotten principle of life: You don’t have to make someone else look bad in order to make someone look good. You’ll recall that in this passage the author is comparing Moses and Christ. His goal is to show how vastly superior Christ is to Moses. Had I been given that assignment, I probably would have said, “That’s easy. No problem. All I have to do is show how Moses sinned and how Moses failed and then compare him to the sinless Christ.” But the author of Hebrews was much wiser than that. Rather than denigrate Moses in any way or attempt to “unhitch” himself from the Old Testament, he shows how Moses “was faithful in all of his household.” Moses, he says, was a super great leader, perhaps the greatest leader Israel ever knew. Then he goes on to say, almost in a stage whisper, “Pssst, and guess what? Jesus is even greater than Moses, and if He can be greater than Moses He must really be Something.” You see, the author isn’t contrasting Moses’ faithfulness with Christ’s faithfulness. Both were equally faithful. But there’s a catch: Moses was faithful as a son in the house. But Christ is faithful as the Son over the house. Thus the point of comparison has nothing to do with faithfulness but has everything to do with status. One of the reasons I love the running community so much is because it’s so affirming of every runner who makes an attempt to get out there and run — even those of us out of shape slobs who started out running at a caterpillar-like pace. The possible suddenly seems possible, and no one offers you more encouragement than people who have been running all their lives. “Trust me,” they tell you. “If I can do it, so can you. All you have to do is keep training, keep improving, and keep ignoring the naysayers.” You are living a life, my running friend, that only a short time ago would have been a complete fantasy.

Of course, in our Hebrews class, we’ll be covering these passages not in English but in Greek, and believe you me, the Greek of Hebrews can be a bit on the challenging side. But if I get the syllabus up in the next 3 weeks, that should give my students plenty of time to work ahead if they so desire. The course is by default (more than design) merely an entrée into this wonderful epistle. And in addition to exegeting specific texts, we’ll also be covering such macro-issues as authorship. Here’s what they’ll be reading on this subject.

  • Allen, David L. Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010.
  • Black, David Alan. The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Energion, 2013.
  • Guthrie, George. “The Case for Apollos as the Author of Hebrews,” Faith and Mission 18.2. (2001): 41-56.

Of course, when they read my little book, I don’t expect them to agree with me, though I hope they’ll get a glimpse of the remarkable joy of discovery I experienced as I began to study the church fathers for themselves.

 

Linguistics and Greek Pedagogy

(From Dave Black Online, Friday, February 23, 2018. Used by permission.)

9:46 AM I hope you saw our announcement about our linguistics conference, slated for April, 2019. 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. 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 “get it.” But none of us would claim that we have the last word when it comes to grammar or even pedagogy. In the midst of all this, I’m still mulling over the matter of verbal aspect. What in the world shall we call the three (or two) aspects? This morning I want to share a few comments in the hopes of nudging the conversation forward.

First, as I reread Joshua Covert’s 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?

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 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. Perhaps a classic example of this is what we encountered in our Greek 4 class on Tuesday night. Both of our commentaries (by Fee and Weima) expressed puzzlement over the fact that Paul used the adverb pantote (“always”) with an aorist infinitive. How in the world can something that’s “punctiliar” (both commentators used that word) be continual? 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 not to view the aorist as referring to a “punctiliar” 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), they are not obligated to follow linguistic science blindly.

Thirdly, I’m not sure we New Testament teachers are as far apart as the evidence may seem to point. I prefer “aoristic” instead of “punctiliar” because of the way the latter term has been abused by preachers and commentators. “Aoristic” works because its very 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.

Finally, let me say why I still prefer my terms. Think about how easy we make it for our students when we say that the imperfect tense has “imperfective” aspect, and that the perfect tense has “perfective” aspect, and that the aorist tense has “aoristic aspect.” 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, 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 pedagogical standpoint, to use “stative” for “perfective.” Anyways, I hope you’re enjoying this discussion as much as I am. I’ve held conferences at SEBTS to discuss the synoptic problemtextual criticism, the authorship of Hebrews, the ending of Mark, and the story of the adulteress, and I’m hoping that our gathering in 2019 will shed more light than heat on the topic of verbal aspect. As with so many other matters, “Let the discussion continue!”

On Vituperation and Careful Exegesis

7:34 AM Vituperation. Noun meaning abusive language, a sustained and bitter condemnation. Synonyms include invective, disparagement, vilification, scolding, condemnation, opprobrium, obloquy, castigation, attack, censure, vitriol, venom. From Latin vituperatio, from the past participle of vituperare, “disparage.” Examples include:

Four years later, in a contest marked by grotesque vituperation, Jefferson beat Adams.

Accordingly, Puerto Ricans experienced many of the same denigrating conditions familiar to African-Americans: housing segregation, inferior schools, job discrimination, media vituperation and everyday violence.

A more negative and ungodly human trait can scarcely be imagined. I once worked for a man in California who used abusive language constantly. It was a well-paying job so I overlooked his fault until one day he turned his opprobrium on me. The next day he had my resignation on his desk. (I’m ashamed it took me so long.) We humans tend to vilify others when we disagree with them. We revel in other people’s humiliation. Some of us vilify others by talking behind their backs. Others are happy to use abusive language in public. Nazi propaganda even published children’s books that vilified Jews. Last year Facebook and Twitter spent much of their time cataloguing Russia-backed ad spending on their sites to vilify certain presidential candidates in the 2016 election. Someone has said, “To bake a vilification cake, just add ignorance and stir.” All wrong recoils upon the vilifier. He or she finds ugliness attractive. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness.” If I were to call someone “very insecure,” “lightweight,” “totally unhinged,” “dishonest,” “totally biased,” “a total loser,” or “sick” in public, odds are that I’d only be describing myself.

People seem to vilify others more in politics than other fields of endeavor. John Ehrlichman, a key player in the Watergate scandal, once famously said:

The Nixon Campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Ehrlichman was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy and sent to prison.

The reason I’m bringing this up? In our passage for the week, 1 Thess. 2:13-16, Paul is said by some scholars to be using vituperation/invective. One commentator, for example, refers to Paul’s “attack on the Jewish people.” He says that Paul and other New Testament writers used “vituperation directed at the Jewish people as a tool in the struggle,” never dreaming “of the consequences of their statements on subsequent generations.” Well, I’m not buying it. As Willi Marxsen has shown, an anti-Semitic interpretation of 1 Thess. 2:13-16 can be held only when these verses are disconnected from their context (Einleitung in das Neue Testament, pp. 48ff.). I’ve already blogged about the punctuation at the end of verse 14. The difference is between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. So if you punctuate the text as is commonly done (“… the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus…”), I think you’re missing Paul’s point big time. A more accurate rendering, in my view, would be:

You suffered the same persecutions from the people of your own country as they did from those Jews who killed the Lord Jesus (ISV).

It’s clear that Paul’s words are directed at only those Jews who were hostile towards the Gospel and, indeed, his words aren’t aimed at Jewish opponents alone, insofar as the readers’ own countrymen (who were Gentiles) were attempting to thwart Paul’s evangelistic efforts. In class Tuesday night we’ll talk about this subject. We have to. A large part of exegesis comes down to observing carefully the details of a passage. It requires us to disabuse ourselves of our attachment to modern marks of punctuation (which for the most part are merely the contributions of editors). It all boils down to a close reading of the text, a willingness to consider the context, and an ability to read commentaries discerningly and even suspiciously.

Is vituperation a characteristic of the world’s most loving and selfless apostle? I think not. Such a character flaw is only descriptive of small people. Very small people.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Running My Race, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.)

Paul, Tenses, and Exegesis in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

8:58 AM This week in Greek 4 we’re going through 1 Thess. 2:13-16. What a fascinating passage!

What I find incredibly interesting about this paragraph is the way Paul switches from aorist tense participles to present tense participles.

I’ve seen this pattern elsewhere, except in reverse order. Here the switch is extremely important exegetically.

One of the continuing hotbeds of discussion in Pauline studies is whether or not this passage can be used to suggest that Paul was in some way anti-Semitic. I’ve striven hard to consider the evidence with evenhanded fairness, but I really don’t think there’s any way this text shows that Paul had an animus against his Jewish brethren. This debate is one of the most volatile in the church today and will merit in-depth discussion on Tuesday. I love the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians on apologetics and evangelism. I like the way students are being exposed to Paul’s philosophy of ministry. I especially love exploring with them the implications of the text for teaching and praxis. Any course in exegesis that fails to do this is doomed to irrelevance.

Penultimate Rendering of Philippians 1:27-30

(September 18, 2017) 9:56 AM So here’s my penultimate rendering of Phil. 1:27-30.

Now the only thing that really matters is that you make it your habit to live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Good News about Christ, so that, whether or not I’m able to go and see you in person or remain absent, I will be hearing that all of you, like soldiers on a battlefield, are standing shoulder to shoulder and working as one team to help people put their trust in the Good News. Don’t allow your enemies to terrify you in any way. Your boldness in the midst of opposition will be a clear sign to them that they will be destroyed and that you will be saved, because it’s God who gives you salvation. For God has granted you the privilege on behalf of Christ of not only believing in Him but also suffering for Him. Now it’s your turn to take part with me in the life-or-death battle I’m fighting — the same battle you saw me fighting in Philippi and, as you hear, the one I’m fighting now.

For a long time I struggled with what to do with Paul’s “striving together [Greek sunathlountes] in one soul for the faith of the Gospel.” Many commentators insisted that Paul was using an athletic metaphor here, one dealing especially with teamwork. But did the ancient Greeks have what we know as “team sports” similar to our basketball, volleyball, and football? Indeed they did. One such team sport was akin to our modern-day rugby. Another resembled field hockey. The Greeks loved sports. They felt that it distinguished them from non-Greeks.

Verbal aspect … civic, military, and athletic metaphors … objective genitives … all make for an interest paragraph, don’t you think? Please understand that Paul is not a military hawk, even though he uses military metaphors. We overcome evil not with evil but with good. We “love our enemies to death” says Fee, and he’s right. We are literally offering the “life-giving message” (2:16) to those who are dying.

Next up: Perhaps the greatest description of Christian unity in the New Testament (2:1-4).

Meditating on Philippians 1:1

(August 16, 2017) 3:38 PM What starts as a few light snow flakes soon becomes a blizzard. That’s how I feel whenever I read and meditate on a passage of Scripture. More and more I am hearing the Lord saying to His church, “Come back to original Christianity.” Friends, we’ve elevated how we do church to such a degree that it takes a professional — in many cases, a professional team — to pull it off. If we’re really going to change the world, the process has to become a whole lot simpler. Everyone has to become a servant.

This thought came to mind as I read Phil. 1:1 this morning. Just as a reminder: My habit is to turn to a passage and read it straight through. Then I go back and work through each clause word by word. After this, I spend time pondering, praying, and journaling. Writing my thoughts down helps focus my attention and allows me time to process. You don’t have to be a C. S. Lewis to do this either. (Thankfully.)

First off, here’s another way of rendering the opening verse of the letter. You’ll notice it differs a bit from the rendering I gave you yesterday. That’s perfectly acceptable. Rarely, if ever, is there only one way to render the Greek into English. The only translation I wouldn’t accept from my students is one that would be impossible in English. “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi ….” would not past muster if only because we would never begin a letter like that. That’s simply not “English.” We either have to write “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, write this letter to …” or something like this:

This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. It is for all God’s people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including those who oversee and serve.

You may have noticed that my “including those who oversee and serve” is ambiguous, and intentionally so. Paul may be referring to two groups of people here (overseers and servers) or, by employing a figure of speech called hendiadys (Greek for “one-through-two,” that is, one idea expressed through two words) he’s referring to a single group: overseers who serve. In New Testament times, an overseer was someone who “looked after” or “cared for” someone else. Another sense was that of “visiting” someone to check to see how they were doing. The term always carried with it an overtone of love and affection. My daughter, for example, acted like an overseer today when she brought me some homemade soup. This was an act of “overseeing” (episkope) on her part: “oversight that naturally goes on to provide the care and attention appropriate to the ‘personal visitation'” (Strong’s Concordance).

Here Paul seems to be using the term “overseers” more narrowly, that is, as a reference to church leaders, and indeed, “leaders” would also be an acceptable rendering. Who, then, are the servers? In one sense, all Christians alike are servers (diakonoi). In fact, from reading the book of Ephesians, we know that one of the main responsibilities of overseers is to “equip God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-12). The term “servers” itself takes its name from those in the secular world who were responsible for such functions as the distribution of food and gifts. When Paul uses the term here, he’s probably referring to people in the church who were especially gifted in ministering to the physical and material needs of the congregation or were involved in supervising such ministries.

When, then, of our old friend Mr. Hendiadys? I think he’s still in play here. The Greek allows it, and so does the context. We’ve already noted that Paul and Timothy are explicitly referred to as men who serve Christ Jesus. Likewise, overseers/leaders in the church don’t simply possess a status in the body of Christ. They are those who serve others by attending to their needs. They “care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:2, The Message).

So this was the text I meditated on this morning. In the silence, God spoke to me as clearly as if He were sitting next me. “Dave, are you a genuine servant of Christ Jesus? Is that what people know you for? Or do you just talk about performing the duties of a slave in the service of God and His people? Could you write, ‘Dave, a slave of Christ Jesus’?” We all need to become saints who serve. I do. You do. The church and the world desperately need this. The only person we can orient our life around is Jesus and His example of utter self-abnegation. Under His leadership, we are freed from self. We are free to recede into the group. We are free to serve others, no matter if it’s on a job site or if it’s in delivering soup to a sick and home-bound loved one. We are free to live with intention and purpose. To serve the Lord is our calling. It is our work. It is our vocation, all of us helping out in our preaching, our teaching, our labor, our play, in all the zillions of small ways our imperfect candles can shine. Let’s make a transition to the model of Christianity Paul is setting forth for us in Philippians. This is the heart message of the letter: allowing God to develop the selfless mind of Christ in us so that we can bear God’s image in our attitudes and actions both in the church and in the world.

This side of heaven there is nothing sweeter than communing with our Creator, whether in nature or in His word. Let’s become the careful listeners He seeks. Paul’s overriding concern in Philippians is the advance of the Gospel. Since this is the case, it seems obvious that we should read the letter — including its opening salutation — as explicitly paradigmatic. It’s all well and good to point out a “nominative absolute” or a “dative of address” or a “genitive of possession” here and there, but such observations simply don’t go far enough. In fact, I’d say that stopping there without considering the paradigmatic force of such constructions is to do a grave disservice to the Greek student since it implies that Greek exists for itself and not as a foundation for life-changing truth. What is being modeled in Philippians, even in the very first paragraph, is the need to live a “cruciform” life — a mind in keeping with the Gospel. “Don’t do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (2:3). By elevating Timothy’s name to the same level as his own, Paul is doing exactly that. And what united Paul and Timothy was nothing less than their mutual participation in the Gospel. This is what makes Paul’s admonition to Euodia and Syntyche in 4:2 all the more poignant. These women had at one time contended side by side with Paul in the cause of the Gospel, but now they needed to be entreated to agree with each other in the Lord. Paul seems to be saying that every one of us in the church needs to have the same mindset, despite our many differences. The propagation of the Gospel ever and always hangs on a unified church. But for this to happen we must sacrificially give ourselves for the sake of others, because this is what the Gospel is all about. To miss this central message in Phil. 1:1 is to miss the letter altogether and to miss the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. The Spirit never sows division and pride. The best, most joyful, and most genuine Christians I know are those who gladly serve others as slaves of Christ Jesus. Seeing this great truth being played out in the opening verse of Philippians makes the study of the Greek text all the more beautiful for me.

William Varner on Philippians 1:2

(August 18, 2017) 8:18 AM William Varner’s vlog on Phil. 1:2 has been posted. It’s an excellent overview of the Greek text. A few additional observations, for what they’re worth.

1) This greeting is more than mere phatic communication. “(By “phatic” I mean communication that seeks to reach out and engage someone. A handshake is such a gesture. It’s more than a polite social convention but indicates an attempt to “contact” another person in a warm and personal  fashion.) The greeting here in Phil 1:1 is like every other greeting in the Pauline letters in that it points to the blessings of grace and peace, not in a general sense, but as needed by the readers.

2) Grace is mentioned first. Thus at the very beginning of his letter, Paul subtly reminds the Philippian Christians that their life in Christ is a gift of God’s grace they’ve received through simple faith, not through obedience to the ceremonies of the Jewish law. This is key to understanding later portions of the letter in which Paul issues an invective against (apparently) Jewish Christians who promote circumcision and law-keeping among Gentile Christians (see 3:2 ff.).

3) Few seem to remark on the position of the “peace” blessing. Paul could have written “Grace and peace to you.” Instead, he wrote “Grace to you, and peace.” Here “peace” is set off in the Greek text, quite possibly for emphasis. There’s little question that the issue of disharmony is one of Paul’s major concerns in writing this brief letter. Peace is (at least) the cessation of hostilities (again, see 4:2, where Euodia and Syntyche are singled out). But peace involves much than that. If the background of Paul’s use of the word here is Hebraic in nature (shalom), as Will suggests, then the idea would also include concepts of wholeness, spiritual health, vitality, and well-being. As Paul will state in 2:12, “You are, as a congregation, in your relationships with one another, to live out the salvation [Gerald Hawthorne: spiritual health] Christ has brought you.” As Fee points out (p. 104), “This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community for the sake of the world.” Once again, the letter’s theme is evident: Harmonious relationships in the church for the sake of the Gospel. This implication of “peace” in 1:2 should not be overlooked.

4) Finally, as Will points out, this passage is loaded with theology, and, I might add, theology that foreshadows some of the main subthemes of the letter. A rich example is Paul’s use of “Lord” (kurios) to refer to Jesus. Without doubt, in a city like Philippi, which was a Roman colony where citizens took their civic duties very seriously indeed, the term “Lord” would have been a reminder for the believers there that their ultimate allegiance is not to Caesar (who loved to use the title kurios with reference to himself) but to another kurios, whose coming from heaven is now awaited with eager anticipation (3:20). It is to this Lord, who died the death of a common criminal but was raised from the dead, God gave the name that is above all names, the name of the Lord God Himself. One can scarcely miss the theological connotations.

How, then, are we to render verse 2? Wycliffe’s SSA (Semantic Structural Analysis) of Philippians suggests something like this (I’ve modified it a bit):

We pray that God, who is our Father, and Jesus Christ, who is our Lord, will continue to act graciously toward you and will, in addition, continue to cause you to have peace/be peaceful.

Let’s not forget, though, that “peace” seems to be set apart for special emphasis.

Gordon Fee on Philippians

(August 18, 2017) 10:58 AM Hey again, one and all. From my home to yours: Happy Friday! Let’s see…what’s first up. Well, still got Philippians on my brain. Ya gotta love Fee. On p. 44 of his IVP commentary on Philippians, he writes:

Those in roles of primary leadership too easily slip into a self-understanding which pays lip service to their being slaves/servants of Christ Jesus but prefer the more honorable sense of this term found in the Old Testament to the paradigm of either Christ (in 2:6-8) or of Paul (2:17).

Lip service? Yep! Then he adds this:

Not only so, but the emphasis on all of God’s holy people, together with their leaders, could use some regular dusting off so as to minimize the distance between clergy and people that too frequently exists in the church.

Ready to get out the old feather duster? Finally, note this:

All of us are in Christ Jesus, and all are in Christ Jesus in whatever “Philippi” God has placed us, since contemporary Western and westernized cultures are no more friends to grace than theirs was to these earliest believers.

Fee’s message is a powerful reminder that the plurality and the cooperation of pastors is desperately needed in our churches today. This stands in stark contrast to situations — all too common, I’m afraid —  where Christian leaders are in sole charge and are often highly individualistic. Last year I had the privilege of teaching in a church in Denver that does, I think, a very good job of modeling this pattern of leadership. They have a multiplicity of elders (some paid by the church, some not) who work as a team of equals to foster a Great Commission and Great Commandment mindset among their flock. Now, I realize that this is a very tender issue, to be handled with great care. But healthy leadership is a powerful indicator of spiritual life. It is astonishing that time after time in the New Testament the leaders are referred to in the plural, and it is just as astounding that Paul in Phil. 1:1 would use a term of horrific opprobrium to refer to himself and his faithful co-worker Timothy: slaves. Well did Jesus say, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That’s what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served — and then give His life away to redeem many people by ransom.”

Second, I’m getting really excited about the St. George (Utah) Marathon coming up in October. My ultimate goal, of course, is to finish the race. But I would really like to come in under 6 hours again. It’s an ambitious goal and I’m not sure if it’s attainable. Everything will have to go right. Still, I feel compelled to go for it. My flights are already booked into the St. George airport via Atlanta, and I’m staying in an Airbnb close by. My health is the big wildcard. I need to pull back a bit, I think, from my mileage and train more for quality than quantity. Interestingly, even though I’ve been sick this week I’ve still managed to put 45 miles on Map My Run app for the month of August. Most of my training henceforth will be focused on St. George. This will be my “A” race. Since I’ll be doing as much walking as running, I’ll need to train for both activities. Running puts demands mostly on your upper legs, whereas walking puts more demands on your calves and shins. Meanwhile, I’m still chillaxing here on the farm.

Finally, I recently found a website that I’d highly recommend. It’s called Best Commentaries and it ranks the best commentaries on every book of the Bible. I see that Grant Osborne has a new commentary on Philippians coming out. Eager to read it.

Lunch time!