Category Archives: Discussion

Ministry of All Believers

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

What do you think?

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

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

But then he adds:

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

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

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

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

On the Style and Significance of John 17

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

 

Verbal Aspect

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

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

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

9:58 AM Good morning my intellectual internet amigos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

9:58 AM Good morning my intellectual internet amigos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mounce:

Completed (also called perfective)

Continuous (also called imperfective)

Punctiliar

Black:

Perfective

Imperfective

Aoristic

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A few random reflections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mounce:

Completed (also called perfective)

Continuous (also called imperfective)

Punctiliar

Black:

Perfective

Imperfective

Aoristic

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A few random reflections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Structure of 1 Thessalonians 1

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

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

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

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

**** some posts omitted ****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Greeting 1:1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts? Care to blog about it?

Choosing a Doctoral Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It can be done!

 

On Christian Faith and Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When a Loved One Goes Home

7:10 AM The Celebration Service yesterday on campus affected me deeply. I took away several things:

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1) I am infinitely more fragile and helpless than even I think I am sometimes. As I watched the video of Becky’s life, I was a basket case. I longed to see her again in this life, to have her slip into my arms for a few minutes in one last embrace. But that was denied. My lover was dead. And I grieved.

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Harmony in the Church

11:16 AM Commenting on harmony in the church, Howard Marshall (New Testament Theology, p. 347) writes:

Such harmony could arise in two ways. One possibility is that there is considerable toleration of different points of view, so that people do not fight over differences of opinion on nonessential matters. The other possibility is that people are united because they are in agreement about how they should think and act.

Our generation will not get back on track until it hears this message loud and clear. Let’s say, for example, that you are in a traditional Baptist church and have a desire (which you share with your pastor and others) that the church move forward toward what all of you consider to be a more biblical ecclesiology, in this case a plurality of elders (“elder-led congregationalism”). This desire, if pursued, is likely to lead to divisions in the church if carried out selfishly – that is, if you fail to consider the other person’s needs rather than just your own. So, although you are convinced that having multiple elders is a healthier and more biblical pattern for the church than a single pastor, you are not interested in fighting to get your way. In seeking to introduce change to our churches, there can never be any irritation or ridicule toward someone with whom we might disagree. We must banish from our mindset once and for all both censoriousness and contempt.

At the same time, it is still possible (and, I think, both desirable and needful) that every congregation consider carefully what the Scriptures teach “about how they should think and act” (as Marshall puts it). I think this is what Paul means by “having the same mind” in Phil. 2:2. He is referring to a disposition of like-mindedness whereby we bring to the table an attitude of unity, cooperation, amity, and harmony. This is a far cry from putting our brains in park or neutral. And it is certainly no excuse for sloppy thinking. There must be agreement in the congregation that the Word of God comes first, and that whatever course of action is decided upon must be dictated by conviction and not simply by convention. We would all do well to remember that it is our duty to have biblical convictions, and that it is our equal duty to allow others to have theirs. But I’m talking about convictions, not blind allegiance to tradition.

So, what do you think?

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

What It Means to Give Glory to God

8:20 AM Good morning, thoughtful bloggers and bloggerettes.

I know I’ve been blogging a lot lately. Please don’t get tired of all this posting, especially not the posts coming at you from my heart. Unless I’m badly mistaken, you ponder many of the same questions I do. This morning, for example, I was really trying to wrap my head around the Christian’s purpose in life. We often say, “Why, it’s to glorify God, of course!” I have no problem with those words. But are we willing to pray, “Lord, glorify Yourself through me“? The reason I say this is because God sometimes has some strange ways of bringing glory to Himself. Lazarus’s sickness was for the glory of God (John 11:4). Peter’s death was to be a means by which he would glorify God (John 21:19). Much discussion, I believe, has confused rather than clarified this matter of glorifying God. It is possible to glorify God more by death than by life, in sickness than in health, during those twisted, terrifying periods of life when everything seems dark, even in those drab and normal days when nothing is “happening.” It is easily possible to so idealize “glorifying God” that we come dangerously close to denuding the expression of any meaning. Look at your life. By the world’s standards, it may or not be successful, but that’s really irrelevant. Satan is a great imitator, and he has a false gospel, a false discipleship, and a false sanctification. Especially vulnerable are those who get caught up in following some famous Bible teacher’s pet theories and religious vagaries, never settling and abiding in the Truth themselves. It is of first importance that the Christian learn to glorify God no matter what happens to him or her, whatever it takes, whatever it means, even if it means being dropped to the bottom of the ladder, even if it means stooping to drudgery or bending low in unappreciated service to others.

Saving grace is always serving grace, and if we are not serving we had better check our theology. If we do not learn how to bring the glory above down into the misery below and come from the clouds to the barrios, then we do not really understand what it means to glorify God in sickness and in health, in life and in death, by what we do and what we forego, in body and in spirit, theologically and practically. As the Master, so the servant. No one can die and rise with Christ and live comfortably in a world like this. He bids us come and die. The early Christians wore scars but we want accolades. Do you have any wounds to prove that you have been in the battle? Or is “glorifying God” a mere slogan? True Christian activity should be the outflow and expression of our intimacy with God. Genuine discipleship will cost us everything we have. It cost John Bunyan his pulpit and John the Baptist his head. It may cost you your family. As we talked about yesterday, people call themselves “Christians” who are not Christian. The noun has yet to become an adjective. Our actions do not match our motives. We need to become Christian Christians.

I’m excited (and a bit anxious) about how all of this is going to turn out in my life. God, true to form, is shaking things up. Which is why I’ll keep writing, keep sharing with you my struggles and aspirations and frustrations and victories. Because you are part of His work in my life through your prayers and emails, part of this awesome journey we call life. And that, my friends, is good enough reason to keep blogging.

God richly bless you,

Dave

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

What is the Church? A List

5:05 AM At the risk of repeating myself …

  • I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.

  • I am convinced of the normalcy of tent-making leadership.

  • I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.

  • I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.

  • I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient. Efficient in doing almost everything other than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership.

  • I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.

  • I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.

  • I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.

  • I am convinced that the church is a multi-generational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.

  • I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.

  • I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.

  • I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.

  • I am convinced that Paul’s letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands (a candidate for ordination) in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.

  • I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.

  • I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.

  • I am convinced that since all believers are “joints” in the body, ministry is every believer’s task.

  • I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God’s people for works of service both in the church and in the world.

  • I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.

  • I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.

  • I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry.

  • I am convinced that everyone needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.

Think about it.

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

Are Americans Persecuted

10:35 AM Jonathan Merritt’s latest post is called In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Xmas.” (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)

Case in point: In Ethiopia, Tesfai’s 8-year old daughter was decapitated and her headless body was thrown down the village well, simply because her family was Christian. Yet Tesfai has never complained. He truly loves his enemies.

Jonathan puts it so well:

Let’s be clear: protecting religious freedom is a serious concern, and believers should speak up whenever they feel the free practice of any faith—not just their own—is threatened. But what is happening in America is not “persecution.” Using such a label is an insult to the faithful languishing in other parts of the world where persecution actually exists—places like the Middle East.

The true scandal of the North American church is that, while we are getting stuffed with the Gospel over and over again, most of the rest of the world is waiting to get a single bite. Folks, we need to ask ourselves seriously why God has blessed America so richly. The answer seems clear to me: So that we might share our rich material and spiritual resources with others. That’s a worthy goal to strive for, don’t you think?

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