Asyndeton

Monday, February 22, 2021

7:20 AM Asyndeton. Gives me a Charlie Horse between the ears every time.

When an author fails to use a conjunction, how are we to understand his or her logic? Does the sentence in question go with what comes before it? After it? Or is it meant to be a stand-alone concept?

I was pondering this roadside hazard while reading Philippians last night. Here is Phil. 4:4-7. Paul’s injunctions stab the ears:

  • Always be full of joy in the Lord!
  • Again I will say it, Rejoice!
  • Let everyone see how bighearted you are!
  • The Lord is near!
  • Don’t worry about anything!
  • Instead, pray about everything! Tell God what you need and don’t forget to thank him for his answers!
  • Then you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will set a guard over your thoughts and hearts as you trust in Christ Jesus. 

Notice the words in green: The Lord is near! Why the reminder of the Lord’s presence? And why here? I think the answer might have something to do with the word I translated “bighearted.” The word can be used to describe a temperament that is even-keeled and well-tempered. A bighearted person doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He or she accepts the hand they’ve been dealt. They don’t insist on their own way. They are willing to meet others halfway. They are fair, self-controlled, gentle, and steady. When others freak out, they remain calm. Their whole demeanor says, “God is in control.”

How can you and I be like that? The Lord is near! When we are tempted to press the panic button, the Lord is right there facing the problem with us. And, since we are never far from his presence, why be anxious? We can take our concerns to him in prayer any time of the day or night. He is as near as the air we breath. Christ offers a haven for the storm-tossed vessel. Even in the midst of trouble, even there, yes, especially there, God is our refuge and our strength. I am going to try and remember that this week when I’m faced with anxieties and struggles, both within myself and with others.

Honestly evaluate your life. How do you respond to stress and hassles? Begin working with God to make his “Peace Plan” more evident in you.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.

Romans 12 and Living the Life in Christ

Sunday, February 21, 2021

7:22 AM I love teaching. I just do. When I began my teaching career in 1976, I made it a top priority to mediate the findings of New Testament scholarship in a simple and untechnical fashion. This remains true today. In our next session in NT 2, I am eager to lead the class in a discussion of how Paul uses rhetorical devices to increase the hitting and drawing — the impact and appeal — of his message. One thing he delights in doing is using poetry and songs.

Another thing he does is to make certain words or phrases begin alike and end alike.

He does this to indicate unity and transition of thought in a document in which there was no capitalization, indentation, punctuation, or even spaces between words. One of these passages is the one we’re focusing on in NT 2 as we study the book of Romans — the “Cathedral of Christianity.” Here’s the assignment due that day:

Read Romans in its entirety. Romans 12-15 contains a host of valuable exhortations for everyday Christian conduct. What does Rom. 12:9-21 in particular have to say about the Christian way of life?

This is what it means to live life “in Christ.” It is a life whose primary principle is selfless love which is the fulfilling of the Law. This is the way the “renewed” Christian walks, with the hope of glory at the journey’s end.

Read and meditate on Paul’s words today. They are truly amazing:

When you show love people, don’t just pretend to love them. Your love must be completely sincere.

You should abhor what is evil.

You should hold on tightly to what is good.

Since you all belong to the same family, you should love one another affectionately.

You should take delight in honoring one another above yourselves.

You should never be lazy but always work hard.

You should be passionate about everything you do.

You should serve the Lord obediently.

When you realize how confident your hope in God is, you should be joyful.

When you experience trouble, you should endure it patiently.

When you pray, you should always expect God to answer you.

When God’s people are in need, you should always be ready to help them.

When strangers need a place to stay overnight, you should welcome them into your home.

When people persecute you and cause you to suffer, ask God to bless them. Yes, ask God to bless them. Don’t ask him to make something bad happen to them.

When people are joyful, you ought to be joyful with them.

When people are weeping, you ought to weep with them.

You should always live in harmony with one another.

You should never think you’re more important than other people. Instead, you should be willing to associate with ordinary people. Stop thinking you’re smarter than others.

When someone does something evil to you, you should not try to pay them back with more evil.

You should always be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

You should do everything possible on your part to live peaceably with everybody.

My dearest friends, when people mistreat you, you should never take revenge. Instead, leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scripture says, “I will take revenge. I will pay them back.” This is what the Lord says.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. If they’re thirsty, give them something to drink. By acting toward them in this surprising way, you will make them burn with shame and maybe even help them change their attitudes and actions.”

Don’t be overcome by evil. Instead, overcome evil by doing good.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Main Message of Galatians

Monday, February 15

6:22 AM The main takeaway I got from reading Galatians over the weekend? It’s much easier to be saved than to act saved. It takes very little effort to sound spiritual. But being spiritual? That’s another story. And just what does a saved person sound like? Well, there’s Tommy Theologian — you know, the guy who’s always talking about Calvinism and expository preaching and historic premillennialism and agape love. Being saved is all about what you know. John Stott used to call people like this “tadpoles” — all head and very little body. Then there’s Pat Popular, with his “Praise Gawd” outbursts and holy “Amens!” In Galatians 5-6, Paul offers us a better definition of “saved.” He is adamant that Christians show their faith by good (and not evil) living. His list of vices in 5:19-21 is hardly arbitrary. You can see this in my translation:

The opposite is also true: Paul’s nine-fold “fruit of the Spirit” goes from descriptions of the mind to human relationships to principles that guide one’s conduct. The word “love” controls it all. At some point, we need to unplug from today’s propaganda machine that bombards us with the three-letter word “Get!” It is the nature of God to give rather than get. And born-again Christians share that nature. But is the life Paul is describing really possible? He seemed to think so. That’s what grace is all about. We have received the opposite of what we deserved. Now it’s our turn to pass that grace on to others. We do this through love.

What is love? Read 1 Cor. 13. Or Rom. 12:9-21. Or Gal. 5:22-23. Then try writing a few practical applications of your own. For example, you might say, “Love is the kindness my son showed me when I needed my tractor fixed.” Or, “Love is the kindness I showed when I brought him and his family lunch the other day.” Love is ______. You fill in the blank. On a day-to-day basis, I’m more struck by the little deeds I see in others than their intellectual prowess or their spiritual boisterousness. When I look in the mirror each morning, I think, “Lord, you actually love this person.” Indeed he does. He’s got big dreams for me. For you as well. And he can spot a cover-up a mile away.

P.S. You may have noticed in my rendering of Gal. 5:19-21 the couplet “envious and murderous.” The word “murderous” isn’t found in some Greek manuscripts. I’ve argued for its originality here.

This, to me, is a clear-cut case of an accidental omission due to a mistake of the eye. Alas, the Alexandrian Priority position is so entrenched in New Testament studies today that scarcely any attention is paid to the longer reading. My friend Keith Elliott used to call this “The hypnotic effect of Aleph and B.” I’m glad to know I’m not the only one concerned about that. I guess that’s why I write books and compose essays and produce power points on the subject of textual criticism. The only way to know for sure whether or not “murderous” is original to examine the evidence for yourself.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Commentary on Galatians

Sunday, February 14

6:50 AM I’ve always enjoyed reading the Word Biblical Commentaries. Sure, some volumes are better than others, but Richard Longenecker on Galatians is one of the best. Longenecker, who turns 91 in July, is probably best known for his commentary on Romans in the Eerdmans NIGTC series. But his Galatians commentary is its equal in every way.

In reading a commentary, I always start with the author’s preface. It usually tells you everything you need to know about the book you hold in your hands — the author’s approach, why he felt he was justified in writing it and adding to the already bloated publication scene, his presuppositions, etc. Since we are in Galatians this week in NT 2, I thought I’d reread Longenecker’s preface to his Galatians commentary. What shocked me was how he and I think alike in so many ways.

First, he says he is “always concerned with the history of interpretation — that is, with how a subject has been treated in the past ….”

Second, he wants “to know as much as possible about the circumstances behind the writing and the purposes for which its author wrote.”

Third, he approaches the letter “asking about its literary structures….”

Fourth, he is “concerned with the meaning of words in a text, both as to how particular expressions were used in the day and as to how a given author shaped those expressions for his own purposes.”

Fifth, he is concerned with “the identification and tracing of similar themes and parallel ways of looking at things in roughly cognate bodies of literature with the hope of spawning fresh interpretive insights.

Sixth, he is interested in “the development of thought in the apostolic period and beyond.”

Finally, he considers “the relevance of the NT for Christian faith and life today.”

All I can say is, “Ditto.”

First, I am addicted to what in Europe is called Dogmengeschichte — the history of doctrine. In fact, in Basel there’s an entire department devoted to this subdiscipline. Last week in my NT 1 class, during our discussion of the Synoptic Problem, I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the historical origins of the Markan Priority Hypothesis, my point being that no theory arises in a historical vacuum. Indeed, when one understands the origins of that hypothesis, I believe a case can be made that, from the very beginning, it was a false start, as I try to point out in my book Why Four Gospels?

Second, with Longenecker, I like to approach every New Testament writing as an occasional document — not just the epistles, but the Gospels as well. I assert that the Gospel According to Matthew is a manifesto asserting the right of the Jewish Christian church to exist alongside of and apart from Judaism. It likely originated in Palestine within 10 years of the resurrection and was necessitated by the calumnies being proffered by the Jewish opponents of Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, is a manifesto asserting the right of the Gentile Christian church to exist alongside of and as complete equals to the Jewish Christian church. Hence Matthew is the Gospel of Acts 1-12, while Luke is the Gospel of Acts 13-28. Of course, my historical reconstruction may be totally off. You’ll have to read the fathers for yourself to judge that.

Third, what isn’t there to love about the literary structure of the book you’re studying? Longenecker sees a twofold division in Galatians: a Rebuke Section and a Request Section. My own outline differs from that a bit. But without at least discussing the structure of a writing (its forest, if you will), there’s really no point in looking at the trees and the tiny saps.

Fourth, I find no little pleasure in doing lexical analysis in texts and asking how the author employs those lexemes to accomplish his goal in writing. A good example is the lexeme pherĊ in Heb. 6:1, a nautical metaphor that seems to have been missed by a good number of commentators (David Allen being a notable exception in the NAC series).

Fifth, parallels have always enchanted me. In fact, when we’re studying Galatians, it will be helpful to ask how Paul has pursued the same or similar themes elsewhere in his writings (Romans, for example). When I did my orals in Basel, one of my assigned topics was Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I prepared diligently. During the exam, however, nothing was asked about Philippians specifically. Instead, a question might have gone something like this: “In Phil. 1:19, Paul speaks of suffering as the rule, not the exception, of Christian living. Where else in his letters does he develop the same theme?” My Ph.D. students know that I’ll occasionally do the same thing with them.

Sixth, apostolic history forms the basis for several of my writings, including my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, where I take a close look at apostolic history to see what a New Testament church looks like.

Finally, if you take God seriously, you have to take the life lessons of the New Testament documents seriously as well. The New Testament wasn’t given for our information but for our transformation. Exasperating as it can be, applying the text is a must. The only hitch is that you must cock an ear to the Bible and, above the humdrum of life, listen for the gentle whisper calling your name.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)