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!”

Billy Graham

From Wednesday, February 21, 2018 (Note: I cannot link to a specific post on Dave’s blog. In fact, that’s why I extract them here, so there’s a permanent link.)

Finally, Billy Graham is now in heaven. What a great soul. Everything for him was wrapped up in the Gospel. Sin, he said, is our problem, and when that problem is solved, everything else comes with it. It takes no talent to locate God’s men and women. Their hearts are perfect toward Him. This doesn’t mean they’re sinless. But their hearts are set on pleasing God. There’s nothing between their soul and the Savior. Here are two quotes by Billy Graham I just absolutely love.

I don’t think I could have ever married anybody that would have been more helpful to my work and ministry than she has been.

I want to hear one person say something nice about me, when I face him. I want him to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Billy Graham bore the loss of his precious Ruthie with grace and nobleness. He aged well. His was not a Pollyanna life. But he met every trial with Christ. Everyone knew here was no ordinary man. Wherever he went, he left a trail of blessing. His “business” was to glorify God, and glorify Him he did. That’s what we’re here for as Christians. In body and in spirit, in sickness or health, by what we do and what we don’t do, by life or by death, our business is to glorify God, whatever it takes. When Graham spoke in Honolulu in 1965, I sang in the choir. I was 13 years old. “I love the music that you have out here,” he said. “The spirit of aloha seems to be in your music. It seems to be in your expression, in your smile. I’ve never been to a state or a place where everyone seems to have a certain amount of happiness.” Happy or not, Hawaiians were going to hear the Gospel preached to them. Graham called for his audience to submit in uncompromising, unquestioning obedience every day of their lives.

Like the apostle Paul, Billy Graham had something to forget — “things behind.” He had things to reach toward — “things before.” There was something to press toward — “the mark.” And there was something to work for — “the prize” — and he worked for it (Phil. 3:13). He was kept going by Jesus. He labored in the strength of Another. This strength is not just for preachers. He will keep us going as well. “My sinful self my only shame; my glory all the cross.” I’m sure Billy Graham sung that many times. He gloried in Christ’s cross. He had died with Him there. And today he saw Christ face to face. Even in his death, Billy Graham is drawing people to the Savior. He knew that along with privilege goes responsibility. Where much is given, much is required. The Christian looks unto Jesus for salvation and for every need. All other “looking up” is vain. When our loved ones die, God is still on His throne. Indeed, the passing of Billy Graham is but a prelude to an endless story that will unfold throughout eternity. Thanks be to God.

Giver of peace, we work daily at the job of practicing what Paul said to the Philippians: “I’ve learned in whatever state I’m in to be content” (Phil. 4:11). When Your saints die, that attitude helps us to accept what cannot be changed. O God the Spirit, fill our minds at this moment with the memory of a life well lived, of a man whose witness and service for You we recall with gratitude and humility. Lord, even if we’re old clay, we can still be reworked. What we pray is that we may remain faithful as long as we last. Loving Savior, for the genuine encouragement You offer us by the faithful servants of the past, we thank You. Now help us to run our race with perseverance, so that one day we too may join the community of saints. Amen.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

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.

Random Reflections

9:42 AM Hello fellow thoughtful bloggerites. Some random reflections before leaving for the great state of Maryland. I’ve been completely and totally swamped this week. My three days on campus felt like performing brain surgery for a straight 72 hours. And then it’s back to the airport today. I can hardly keep up with my schedule. But I’m good, thank the Lord. Someone asked me in class on Tuesday how I felt the day after my marathon. I told him the next day I hiked Snow Canyon and went horseback riding, then the following day I hiked Bryce, and then the following day I climbed to 11,000 feet at Cedar Breaks. I’m so grateful for the undeserved health and strength God seems to continue to give me in the face of the pressures and opportunities of life. Next weekend it’s the wedding in DC and then the following week we’re commemorating the 4th anniversary of Becky’s glorious homegoing, followed by the Richmond Marathon on Nov. 11. And I haven’t even mentioned the “real” news I’ve been reading all morning long, like who said what when? (“I didn’t say that,” “Yes, you did!”. “No, I didn’t, and I can prove it!”). Oh my. What’s even funnier is watching evangelicals stumbling over themselves trying to invite the ambiguity of politics into the kingdom realm. The sad truth is that while evangelicals are fighting over what Caesar should or not do, the church continues to spend at least 95 percent of its resources on ourselves. That’s not giving. That’s pooling. The problem isn’t merely that we don’t get it. The problem is that we don’t know that we don’t get it. It’s just possible that evangelicals will come to see that we’re the ones who are actually on trial in our culture. If we ever did that, we’d begin to confess our sins and guilt and really repent, step down from our places at the table, and begin washing feet. I tell you, I’m so proud of my students. They’re beginning to reassess everything in order to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom. Are we imitating Jesus and obeying God? Those are the two questions I’ll be posing tomorrow when I speak to this group of pastors. Those are the standards by which we should judge ourselves, and believe me, they are anything but “normal” nowadays. This is why I have resisted, and will continue to resist, the temptation to speak out directly on this blog about politics or argue about what our nation should or should not be doing. It’s not my calling to resolve political problems. Sincere followers of Jesus completely disagree on many of the core issues. And why shouldn’t they? There is no real “Christian” position on matters so complex and ambiguous. My focus is on … staying focused. A lot more could be said (and will be said in my book Godworld), but I hope my main point is clear: followers of Jesus have one concern — to be about everything Jesus was about. We need to join Him in rejecting sexism and misogyny, we can’t prefer one race over another (and thereby use that to justify treating non-whites as inferior), we have to be about the Gospel Commission as never before, etc. We have a job to do and that is to keep the kingdom holy. I’m increasingly convinced that we serve Jesus best when we truly to commit to Jesus’ command to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. In light of this, I see no reason to get involved in the culture wars (though I did at one time). Life is so very, very short. It’s so full of wonderful things, and it’s so full of opportunities for the kingdom. I want to grasp this moment in time and leverage it to the fullest if I possible can. I noticed in our passage from Philippians this week (Phil. 2:19-30) how often Paul submits his travels “to the Lord.” He writes “I hope in the Lord” to do this or that. Paul was submissive to the Lord for his travel plans. Whether it had to do with Timothy or Epaphroditus or his own travel itinerary, Paul’s theology taught him that God rules sovereignly, while his practice led him to accept — with any question whatsoever — what the Lord ordained for his life. This morning I asked the Lord to show me clearly where He is sending me next in the world. Thus far he’s confirmed two international hot spots and a third is in the works. Ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, at my age I’m still eager and willing to travel 12,000 miles if need be. I, for one, am very much looking forward to these trips. Right now I’m packing for Annapolis and am asking myself which of my writings I need to take for the conference book table. I can’t take all of them.

Will the pastors be interested in my Greek books? (I hope so.) Will they want a copy of Becky’s book for their wives? (They better!) Will any of them be interested in my non-Greek books like The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, or It’s All Greek to Me? Maybe I should take a copy of each? But then how would I be following the Lord’s instructions to “travel light”? (Wink.) Anyhoo, I’ll take what I can fit into one suitcase next to my clothes. By the way, if you’d like to see the power point we’ve put together for tomorrow, you can go here. You might especially enjoy the outlines of Philippians we’ve collected at the end. I used to call the theme of Philippians “Ecclesial unity in the cause of the Gospel.” I’ve since repented of such horrible verbiage. I much prefer something like “Working together as a team to love and serve others in the name of Jesus.” If a man like Bishop Wilson could pray for his tormentors in a prison camp in WW2 and then return afterwards to baptize some of them, how much more should I be able to love the enemies of the cross?

Well, I think that’s all for now. Let’s keep on walking in love, as Christ loved us, and keep on thinking and growing.

Dave

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!

Philippians 1:1

(August 19, 2017) 8:28 AM Here’s yet another takeaway from Phil. 1:1. (Yes, Dave’s beating a dead horse.)

Paul greets the church and then its leaders.

Please don’t overlook this, friends. Let’s be real. You and I would have greeted the pastor and then the people. Not so Paul.

Often doctrine elevates the “pastorate” as the highest calling in life. This isn’t true, because it omits Christian engineers and school teachers and housewives and janitors and every other “calling” in life you can think of. If non-pastors are second-class citizens in the kingdom, then you’ve just excluded millions from Gospel work. You know, the Gospel is proclaimed as clearly through a mother changing her baby’s diaper as through the labor of preparing and delivering a sermon. But, you say, there’s “the call.” Yes there is. And this call, in the New Testament, is not what you might think it is. In the New Testament, one’s calling encompasses far more than one’s vocation (or avocation for that matter). Just read Eph. 4:1 or 2 Thess. 1:11. We can all lived called lives, Gospel lives, in every imaginable context. This includes, of course, the calling to serve your church as a loving, caring, overseer/elder/pastor/shepherd — faithfully leading, teaching, admonishing, and loving the flock. (See John 10 for what a loving shepherd looks like.) That may involve a career/profession or it may not. We need you, pastors! But you may also serve the Lord as a teacher (as I try to do). Maybe this morning you punched a time clock. It really doesn’t matter that much. The manner in which I treat my students, the way in which I prepare and deliver my lectures, the dignity with which I regard my pupils, the courtesy I extend to them by answering their emails in a timely manner, the effort I put into developing them as teachers in their own right, the example I set before them as a Christ-minded man, the way I treat my faculty colleagues — this is the called life I am asked to pursue as a professional Greek teacher. This might not seem like much, but it is. Friend, live out your calling today. If you’re one of my dear students, please remember that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to begin serving King Jesus. To become a fulltime missionary you don’t have to wait until you deputize and deploy. A missional life most often shows up quietly in our work places and neighborhoods (even during 5K races). My dream for you is to be exactly who you were created to be by God. My dream is to see all of us in fulltime Christian ministry. My dream is for all God’s people (the “saints” of Phil. 1:1) to be smitten with Jesus, so much so that there’s nothing they’d rather do than serve Him like a selfless slave, as Paul and Timothy did. But at no point should you ever think of yourself as somehow less than “called” because you are not employed by a local church. We are all God’s servants, sheep and shepherds alike. Yours might seem like small work. In fact, you might not think it’s Christian service at all. Let God surprise you.

May God make us all worthy of our high calling today.

The Jesus Paradigm: A Book that will set you on a downward path