New Testament


I am not a Pauline scholar nor the son of a Pauline scholar. I am, however, a Christian and a student of the Bible. This means I seek to understand the Bible as a whole, not just the parts I like. To that end, I find myself puzzled and perplexed with the new debates about Paul, specifically in regards to the so called “new perspective on Paul.” I make no claims to understand this debate. I have my own thoughts but I’ll keep them to myself.

Nevertheless, if you are interested in the New Perspective on Paul–and if you are interested in Paul and/or are a Christian then you should be–then this two part lecture by notable evangelical scholar D.A. Carson should interest you. D.A. Carson is one of the outspoken critics of the New Perspective. He is both very bright and a very engaging speaker (though he speaks very fast, try and keep up). While, sometimes I think he is over critical of the New Perspective, this two part lecture gives a helpful introduction to the issues from a non-New Perspective point of view. Whether you are well versed in this debate or have never heard of it, these lectures should interest you.

D.A. Carson – The New Perspective on Paul Part 1

D.A. Carson – The New Perspective on Paul Part 2

Obviously, for the Christian, the gospels are the primary source for information about Jesus. However, critical scholars and skeptics have called into question the reliability of the gospels. By even the most conservative reckoning the earliest gospel (usually understood to be Mark) cannot have been written before the mid 50’s CE (Carson, Moo and Morris, An Introduction, 21.). Therefore, at the very earliest, the first gospel must have been written at least twenty years after the events of Jesus’ life. We must, then, come to grips with the gap from the events to the writing of the events. Does this mean that the outlook for seeing any historically accurate information about Jesus is, as one scholar has commented ‘bleak’? I do not think so. But, we have to accept that behind the literary texts we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there is an oral tradition spanning at least 20 and possibly 40 years. For us to have any faith in the historical accuracy of the gospels we must have an understanding of this oral transmission.

Bultmann: Informal Uncontrolled Tradition

In order to understand how important a proper view of the oral tradition is for historical Jesus study, we must at least have a passing understanding of the view that has dominated much of New Testament study in the last century. The person most credited with this view is Rudolph Bultmann. He argues that “we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist” (Bultmann, Jesus, 8). His view was that the sources (i.e., the gospels) do not tell us anything about Jesus but about the early Christian community. He writes that “What the sources offer us is first of all, the message of the early Christian community, which for the most part the Church freely attributed to Jesus” (Bultmann, Jesus, 12). In other words, when we read the words of Jesus in the gospels, what we are really reading are the words of the early church which they attributed to Jesus. So, according to this view, we cannot know anything about Jesus, the best we can do is to know something about the early church which created much of the tradition we find in the gospels. Obviously, if this view is accurate it has massive implications for our faith in the historical viability of the gospels. 

Informal Controlled Tradition

In 1991 Kenneth Bailey wrote a really fantastic essay in which he proposed another way to view the oral tradition behind the gospels, a view he called informal controlled tradition (more…)

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006). 508 pp. + indices.

Bauckham begins his study by introducing what is to me the key contribution his work makes: the category of eyewitnesses. He points out that the way a lot of form critics of the NT operate it is as if they assume that the disciples (or eyewitnesses) first told the Gospel story and then went on permanent retreat, never to be heard from again. The argument that the Gospels are in the majority constructions of later Christianity is nonsensical in light of the fact that “The gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount” (7). Furthermore, he points out that contrary to our modern view of history, in the ancient world the most reliable witnesses to an event were those that were not only present at the event, but were intimately involved in the event which allowed them “to understand and interpret the significance of what [they] had seen” (9). In this regard, Bauckham notes, “the Gospels are much closer to the methods and aims of ancient historiography than they are to typical modern historiography” (11) but they must be understood as historiography in some form.

He next turns to a discussion of Papias (who we know only through citations in Eusebius). He will return to examine in detail Papias’ view of the Gospels in chs. 9 and 16. For his purposes here, he establishes the importance of eyewitness testimony in that it was considered “the best practice of historians” (27) to be most reliant upon eyewitness testimony in constructing a history.

The next several chapters (chs. 3-5) (more…)

1 John 1:1 – We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

The above translation of 1 John 1:1 comes from the NRSV and is fairly typical of modern translations (the NIV, NASB, NET, ESV, NKJV, TNIV, and KJV all reflect the same translational technique). My issue here is the translation of the four Greek Verbs: ακουω, οραω, θεαομαι  and, ψηλαφω.What the vast majority of modern translations miss is the difference in form between the first two verbs, ακουω (‘to hear’) and οραω (‘to see’) and the second two verbs, θεαομαι (‘to see’) and ψηλαφω (‘to touch’). 

The complete Greek text is as follows:

Ο ἦν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς _

The first two verbs (ακουω, οραω) are in the perfect verb form. The perfect verb form in Greek is typically described as ‘a past action with present significance.’ Prefective verb forms are rare and very often emphatic or at least a “deliberate choice on the part of the writer” (Wallace 573). Moulton goes so far as to call the perfect “the most important, exegetically of all the Greek tenses (Moulton, 140). The second two verbs (θεαομαι, ψηλαφω) are aorist verbs. An aorist verb form is typically described as a ‘past action.’ It is a ‘snap-shot’ kind of verb describing an action that happened in past time without reference to present significance (see Wallace, 554-65). Contra to perfect verb forms, aorist verb forms do not emphasize any present significance of the past action. 

While many commentators claim that the shift in verbs from perfect to aorist in 1 John 1:1 is of no significance (cf. Marshall, 101, n.8 and Brown 160 and the literature cited there) I am inclined to see significance here. The elder seems to be very aware of his varied use of Greek tenses. For example (more…)

I am trying to spend more time reflecting on the sermons that are proclaimed to us each Sunday. I love the preaching at our church but too often by the time it’s Tuesday I can’t even remember what the sermon was on. So I think I am going to begin reflecting on the our church sermons as an occasional series on this blog. 

Today’s sermon was on the various metaphors for discipleship: salt and light (Matt. 5), fishers of men (Matt 4:19/Mk 1:17) but most significantly the true vine and branches (John 15). As John 15 was read in the sermon today I couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of the word ‘remain’ (μενω). This is possibly because I was trying to follow along in my Greek New Testament and I at least knew the word μενω. But it could also be because of the 118 uses of the word μενω in the NT by far the most occurrences are in John, 40 in fact. Of those 40 occurrences in John, 11 are in chapter 15 alone, that means a over 9% of all the uses of μενω in the NT are in this chapter alone!

In John 15 the phrase ‘remain in me’ (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί – vv. 4, 5, 6, 7) is repeated. The first occurrence is the command to remain in Christ (μείνατε, v. 4) followed by the promise that whoever remains ( μένων) in Christ and Christ in them, will bear much fruit (v. 5). Then we are warned that whoever does not remain (ἐὰν μή τις μένῃ) in Christ will be thrown into the fire (v. 6) because, it is implied, they do not bear fruit. All this is finally capped off with the final promise that whoever remains (ἐὰν μείνητε) in Christ and has His words remain in them also will be granted whatever they ask for (v. 7).

The question that came most readily to mind in this text was: how are we to remain in Christ?

This question is first answered for us. In v. 4 Christ commands us to remain in Him (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί – imperative use of μενω) even as (κἀγὼ – combination of και and εγω) Christ remains in us. In other words, we are to live in the reality that Christ remains in us! This reality is easy to affirm but difficult to inform our daily living. If we lived our life as if Christ was truly dwelling in us, I really believe we would live much different lives.

The second answer to this question is given in v. 7. There we are told that our prayers will be answered if we remain (μείνητε) in Christ and his Word remains in us (τὰ ῥήματά μου ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ). Thus we remain in Christ by letting His word (ρημα – I don’t have time here to go into the difference between ρημα and λογος, perhaps that is worth another post another time) remain in us. 

So as I go about this week, my goal is to remain in Christ by 1) living in the reality that Christ remains in me, and 2) intentionally letting God’s Word remain in my heart. If those two things do not change the way I go about my week, I don’t know what will. These things are worth thinking on.