Review: Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship

How should we read the Bible? Interpret obtuse texts with the clear texts? Should the Scripture interpret me alone? Those are helpful methods, but Starling vouches for an intertextual hermeneutic. Like the snowball which rolls down a hill and picks up more snow along the way, the Biblical authors picked up former themes and ideas when they wrote. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, has more echoes and allusions (~635) than any other NT book. That’s quite the snowball. But more than that, Starling argues that the “interpretation of the Scriptures is like a craft or a trade that must be learned if we are to draw the right connections, make the right intuitive leaps, and bring to bear on the task the right dispositions, affections, and virtues” (17). The work of the interpreter (which is anyone and everyone who reads the Bible) will require sweat, toil, and character.

The rest of his book is made up of fourteen case studies, six from the Old Testament and eight from the New. Each chapter has a specific theme (or “hermeneutic”) that is developed throughout that biblical book. If each theme was a play, Starling gives us tickets to the front row, the side balcony, and the nose bleed section. Each seat is a different angle and allows the ticket-holder the see the play, its actors, their motions, and their faces from different angles (near, far, and to the side). Some examples are Psalms (“delight”), Deuteronomy (“law”), Zechariah (“prophecy”), Luke (“fulfillment”), Galatians (“allegory”), and 1 Peter (“Empire”).

For example, in 1 Peter, how do we read the Bible and live in this world as exiles under an evil empire (no matter where we live)? Peter teaches his readers what the OT says about living as followers of Christ today (yes, even today) by having us sit in the different seats of the play Empire. We are to live with both a reverent fear/respect to those we live and serve under, and a reverent fear of God whom everyone lives under. We live under a God who has show us grace and we should show grace and good works as well to others. When we are alienated from the world we know that there is another greater One who we serve and approves of our lives. Our glorious salvation is incorruptible, greater than all the gold and social approval this world can give us. We were taken out of darkness and into light by the precious blood of Christ through a horrific crucifixion. “What is beautiful in the sight of God can—at least in principle—be found beautiful by all those who have eyes to see” (190).

The Spoiled Milk

There not much I don’t like about this book, but there are times when one of Starling’s points seems to come out of nowhere, or it’s very vague. In clarifying how Luke-Acts explains a true “gospel-centered hermeneutic,” Starling says in this third point that “the gospel preaching of Jesus and his apostles in Luke-Acts does not sit well with one-dimensional propositional accounts of the gospel speech-act, or with overly sharp attempts to pare off the response the gospel calls for and the blessing that it offers from the facts that it announces, as if only the latter were properly part of the gospel” (117). He states just before that the way Luke-Acts uses the OT contrasts with a one-dimensional use of the OT simply as a backdrop for the facts of the gospel that many people today use. But just what are these “one-dimensional propositional accounts”? What does he mean by “gospel speech-act”? What are the “overly sharp attempts to pare off” the gospel response and its offered blessings from the facts of the gospel, and who is doing the paring? I don’t know, but this is one of final main points. To give (what I thought to be) a vague expression of how we shouldn’t interpret the OT without explaining what that looks like is disappointing. Many may continue on without realizing their own one-dimensional interpretations. 

Recommended?

I would assign this book if I taught a hermeneutics class in a Bible college, and at least a few chapters if I taught this in a high school. It’s a good subset of larger Biblical theologies that keeps an eye on what the individual biblical authors are teaching their readers. They each have something specific they want to emphasize (multiple things, really), and it all fits under the heading of God’s Word.

Interpreting Scripture requires sweat, skill, and character. We work and develop the skill of learning how to read and understand it properly, and as God develops our character and shapes us into the image of his Son, we will understand better just who this God is who is working in the world around us. The fear of God which leads to godly wisdom “is a way of living with unanswered questions that still bears true witness, keeps faith with friends, maintains integrity, and hopes in God” (80). We will never get to the end of the Bible, and we will never have all the answers. But we will eventually have to make decisions in life, and what we have learned from the Bible will inform those decisions. Learn to interpret well. 

Lagniappe

Author: David I. Starling
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Baker Academic (September 20, 2016)
Podcasts: OnScript with Matthew Bates

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Separation Anxiety II

Detailed Outline

A. We Are the Temple of God (6:14–18)

1. God’s Commands and Promises (6:14–16)

a. The Command to Separate (v. 14–16a)

b. The Promise of Fellowship (v. 16b–16f)

2. Our Welcoming Father (6:17–18)

a. Leave (v. 17a-c)

b. Welcome Home (v. 17d–18)

B. Bringing Holiness to Completion (7:1)


Context

2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 comes at the end of a lengthy defense of Paul’s apostleship, stretching from 2:14–7:4.

  • 6:14–7:1 is framed by two sections (6:11–13 and 7:2–4) which consist of Paul’s requests for the Corinthians to make room in their hearts for Paul and his associates (6:13; 7:2):

A  6.11–13, “widen your hearts”

B  6.14–7.1

A’  7.2–4, Make room in your hearts” 

  • In 7:5 Paul picks up where he left off in 2:13 about his uncomfortable travel plans and describes the joy and comfort he experienced when he met with Titus and heard the good news of the Corinthians’ repentance that came as a result of Paul’s previous tearful letter (2:1–4; 7:8).
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  • 2 Cor 8–9: Paul encourages the Corinthians to give to the Jerusalem church knowing that God will fill them with many blessings.
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  • 2 Cor 10-13: Paul pulls no punches combating the influence of the false teachers among the Corinthians. He shows Christ’s glory by explaining to the Corinthians that he has not been a burden to them out of love for them, nor has he harassed them or cheated them in anyway.
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  • Finally, in 13.10, if he must, when he arrives in Corinth for the third time, he will spare no one who rejects his God-given gospel and authority.1

How Does 6.14-7.1 Fit?

G. K. Beale keenly points out, “This is not a general exhortation to separate from the world; rather, Paul likely has in mind that the readers are to separate from the world by not evaluating Paul’s apostleship according to the unbelieving standards of the world, as the preceding context has also focused upon.” While the unbelieving world did remain outside of the church, Paul here “viewed it as a force within the church (cf. 13:5) against whose influence believers needed to be on guard.” Rather than being an interruption, 6:14-7:1 “anticipates the main opposition to be elaborated on in chapters 10–13.” “Paul shows that the situation is so serious that their very salvation is at stake.”2

Some scholars don’t think Paul wrote this section. One in particular (i.e., Mitzi Minor) leaves this section out of her commentary completely. If not Pauline, why comment on it at all? But, if it is Pauline, then we’re missing out on a lot of theology in this section. This is more than a simple, “Don’t be married to an unbelievers.” Paul has Christ’s bride in view!
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1
 In my paper, I didn’t have space to touch on arguments against Pauline authorship of 6:14–7:1. These arguments include the number of hapax legomena (terms which occur only once in the New Testament) Paul uses (ranging from six to nine) in this short passage, the amount of terms found in Qumran texts, and stylistic inconsistencies with Paul’s other letters. Pauline authorship will be argued for in the way I present how this section “hooks” with the rest of the letter.

2 Quotes from G. K Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 716-717.

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Review(s): “Paul’s New Perspective” & “The Earliest Christologies”

IVP graciously sent me Garwood Anderson’s new book Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey. Is this just another book on the New Perspective of Paul (NPP)? No, not quite. “To put it simply, the argument of this book insists that both ‘camps’ are right, but not all the time,” or at least, not at the same time (5). Anderson actually thinks that the “New Perspective” was Paul’s old/earliest perspective, and the “Old/Lutheran/Reformed Perspective” was Paul’s new perspective. Anderson means to say that Paul’s early letters (e.g., Galatians), with their use of such terms as “works of the law,” reflect what the NPP says is wholly Paul. But Paul’s later letters (e.g., the prison epistles) reflect what the OPP says is wholly Pauline. And Anderson says, yes.

“Paul’s discourse [in Galatians] is conditioned by an urgent, on-the-ground crisis of how, against apparent scriptural testimony to the contrary and overcoming the skepticism of Jerusalem apostles, Gentiles can be admitted to covenantal membership apart from Torah observance, especially circumcision” (12).

But, like all people, Paul’s theology developed. Anderson in no way says or means to say that Paul’s earlier theology was wrong. But as new situations arose, Paul, like all people, had to think through these new issues with a gospel worldview, one that believed Jesus was the Son of God who died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, rules and reigns at the right hand of God, and will return to save his people and vanquish his foes. Anderson says that Romans was Paul’s turning point, and that Paul’s argument has a transformation of its own. Basically, what began with the crisis of Gentiles being included into membership apart from the law would eventually move to having a “vertical” reconciliation with God, by faith, apart from works of any kind.

“In particular, the question has become not how Gentiles gain a place in the covenant but how, the Gentiles’ place in the covenant being assumed, the unity of Jew and Gentile can be preserved without subverting the salvation-historical priority of Israel. And that question, salient in its own right, is ultimately tributary to the even larger question of God’s own rectitude in the outworking of the divine plan” (13).

Why write a book like this? Garwood says, “The project originates in the sobering observation that Paul’s students too frequently nourish contention, not least in the learned study of their mentor’s accounts of how enmity and its causes have been overcome” (3). And, unfortunately, this is true. Paul taught reconciliation with God and from God, and it should be received and given by his people to each other. Yet, looking at the different Pauline schools, there does not seem to be nearly as much fence-mending going on as Paul would have liked to have seen.

Outline

Before we can get to the real meat (chapters 6-8), some real work needs to be done. Anderson’s first five chapters take us through the gritty debates, but it takes some grit to get through them. Anderson examines some of the issues of the NPP (ch1), gives three examples of how Paul is uncooperative in either “camp”: Phil 3.1-11, Rom 3.21-4.8, and Eph 2.1-22 (ch2), and examines the theology of Dunn and Wright, Watson, Campbell, Bird, and Barclay to see if there’s a way through the NPP (ch3). In chs 4-5 Anderson lay out his “itinerary” on the dates of Paul’s letters, and he argues against the deutero-Pauline hypothesis and for Pauline authorship of all thirteen of Paul’s letters. The problem here will be that if some of Anderson’s arguments don’t work (e.g., a pre-Acts 15 date; a southern Galatian provinence), his theory will have a harder time holding together. It’s not impossible, but a bridge becomes harder to hold up without some of its suspension cables.

Chapters 6-7 deal with Paul’s movement from works of the law to works and his movement from justification language to salvation. Important topics that are hit are also grace, salvation (again), and reconciliation. In chapter 8 Anderson shows the similarities and, more importantly here, the distinctions between Galatians and Romans. Romans is not just an extended edition of Galatians. The second half of the chapter looks how impotent works are redeemed and become “good” in Paul’s later theology.

The Spoiled Milk

My main complaint is that it takes a long time (225 pages) to get to the meat of the book’s main argument, and the language in those first five chapters is very clunky. Anderson uses imagery and metaphor to draw pictures in his language, but sometimes it’s too confusing and makes for a slow read. I often asked myself if it was worth it working through the first five chapters of this book. Chapter 6-8 are definitely worth a read, but only those who are skilled in the discussions of the NPP & OPP will really find chapters 1-5 worth their while.

Recommended?

Unfortunately, this might be the first book I’ve read that specifically deals with the NPP. So for me, though I knew aspects of the NPP and OPP, I haven’t read much at all to begin working through the issues. I taught 2 Corinthians twice in Bible college, and besides Wright’s article on 2 Cor 5.21, there’s not much discussion (that I know of) on the letter from the NPP side. However, for those who are looking to go deeper into the N/OPP debates, Anderson’s book is a must read. His nuanced arguments shows that he has read both sides carefully (from what I can tell) as he tries to refrain from making grand, sweeping allegations. I too must agree with Anderson’s wife, he “should write more” (x).

Lagniappe

  • Author: Garwood P. Anderson
  • Hardcover: 457 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 28, 2016)

Buy it from IVP Academic or Amazon!


What did the early church believe about Jesus Christ? Were there really competing views over who Jesus was? Did the view that Jesus was both human and divine (what Papandrea calls “Logos Christology”) become the mainstream view through silence and oppression? Or was this the mainstream view because it was truly what his followers believed about him? In his short book The Earliest Christologies, James Papandrea introduces his readers to the five most common views of Christ with in the post-apostolic age and why Logos Christology won the day. This book focuses on each groups’ “christologies—drawing out what they believed about the person of Jesus Christ, as far as we can know. Then we will address the relationship of christology with soteriology (salvation) and also its relation to [their] lifestyle” (13). What we believe has a profound impact on how we live, and our lifestyle shows what we really believe.

The five christologies are:

  1. Angel Adoptionism: Jesus was a human anointed by God but indwelt by an angel.
  2. Spirit Adoptionism: Jesus was a human who, like the OT prophets, was inspired by the Holy Spirit who left him while he hung on the cross.
  3. Docetism and Docetic Gnosticism: Christ was a phantom who took on the appearance of a human.
  4. Hybrid Gnosticism: “The one who appears as Jesus is not really human but rather a semitangible being posing as a human” (69).
  5. Logos Christology: Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine.

The book ends with a continuum chart comparing the aberrant views with Logos Christology. The chart moves from the views which emphasize Christ’s humanity (to the neglect of his divinity) to Logos Christology (in the center) to those views which emphasize his divinity (to the neglect of his humanity).

Recommended?

Papandrea does a good job introducing the reader to the other aberrant views that skewed important aspects of Jesus Christ at the end of the first century and into the second century. As he points out, there’s not much to go on with some of these views. Unlike Christianity which wrote extensively (a la the New Testament, copies of the New Testament, and other helpful letters to the churches), the other views wrote very little, and much of what remains of their writings are only fragments. Because of this it is difficult to know with certainty what these other views precisely believed.

Lagniappe

  • Author: James L. Papandrea
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (April 24, 2016)

Buy it from IVP Academic or Amazon!

Disclosure: I received these books free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew & Workbook

Learning a language is not easy. You have to learn a new set of vocabulary, a new way to structure sentences, and new syntactical and grammatical rules just to be able to speak to somebody! It’s a bit different with Hebrew and Greek, as many student only learn to recognize and read the languages (unfortunately-languages stick better when you learn them through speaking and listening too). Duane Garrett (the John R. Sampey Professor of Old Testament at the SBTS) and Jason DeRouchie (Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem Seminary) have come together and revised Garrett’s previous Hebrew textbook.

Outline

  1. Orthography (the conventions of spelling) and Phonology (chs 1-4)
  2. Basic Morphology and Syntax (chs 5-26)
  3. Detailed Study of the Qal Verb (chs 27-30)
  4. Detailed Study of the Derived Stems (chs 31-35)
  5. The Masoretic Text, Detailed Study of Syntax, and Poetry (chs 36-41)

Upon finishing chapter 41, the reader will have learned nearly all words that appear 79 times or more in the Hebrew Bible, 510 core vocabulary, 155 proper names, and will have translated over 300 verses of biblical text (along with many practice sentences). A CD is included with audio files for the alphabet and vocabulary.  

The Chocolate Milk

I’ve found Garrett/DeRouchie’s grammar to be a helpful guide. Most chapters are packed with information (though this can be a double-edged sword), which is helpful for self-study and for after-class-need-more-time-to-let-this-soak-in-study. In chapter six, “Hebrew Verbs,” the authors give a very helpful discussion on verb tense, mood, aspect, and voice. 

  • Tense tells us if the “situation expressed by the verb is past, present, or future” (35).
  • Mood tells us whether the action (expressed by the verb) is real/actual (“was,” “is,” or “will”) or possible (“may,” “would,” “could”).
  • Aspect “relates to how a speaker portrays the action” (35). Are we told “it [the whole event] happened” or that “it was happening” (as a process)?
  • Voice “tells us whether the subject of a verb acts or is acted upon” (36). This is seen in active verbs (“The dog bit the man”) and passive verbs (“The man was bitten by the dog”).

Each chapter has a section on vocabulary, and beginning with chapter nine the reader is presented with a guided reading from Psalm 1, Numbers 1.24–35, Psalm 14, and various texts from Genesis. The authors cover the expected grammar of Hebrew: nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prefixes, etc. But Section E has six chapters, one on Masoretic marks, and five covering syntax and literary structure, discourse analysis, and poetry. These chapters give important advice on sentence clauses, speech, embedded discourse, paragraph markers, and more. There is a case study in historical discourse in Genesis 37.2–11 which will benefit any who put the time into understanding it. It’s not enough to know vocabulary and to be able to parse; you must know how to read sentences and paragraphs and to know how the sense units function in relation to each other. This is a large task, and Garrett and DeRouchie faithfully guide their beginners through these ravines.

The Workbook is excellent. Each chapter comes with many sentences to translate and many verbs to parse for extra practice. It’s unfortunate that the reader isn’t required to translate from English in Hebrew. It actually helps to reinforce what was taught in the chapter. Bonus: The workbook has an answer key (I’ve actually seen some books that do not have an answer key, which boggles my mind).

The Spoiled Milk

As I said above, almost every chapter is is packed with information, which can be a real benefit. But when I open A Modern Grammar I feel like I’m drowning in words. Though helpful, it can really be overwhelming.

The flip side to my praise of the chapter on verbs (ch 6) is followed up by my distaste for the chapter on verbs. Right off the bat, I’m a paradigm guy. I’ve seen that there are some people who have really appreciated that the chapters on verbs didn’t list paradigms. I’m not one of those people. That’s just not how my mind works. So even though I had already had a semester of Hebrew, this chapter still threw me for a loop.

The chapter quickly introduces the reader to the verb יִפֹּל (yippol) and it’s meaning, gloss, and alternative translations. The first verb reader meets is a weak verb. On the next page the reader is given six more verbs, and again, all are weak verbs (which are more difficult to properly recognize than the strong verbs). Then יִפֹּל (yippol) is described as an imperfect verb, what Garrett refers to as the yiqtol (יִקְטֹל) verb. קָם (qam) is a perfect verb, or a qatal verb. My point? יִפֹּל doesn’t look like יִקְטֹל, and קָם doesn’t look like קָטַל. The vocabulary list at the end of the chapter contains 15 verbs; two are strong. The rest are weak (and, thus, act differently).

Why not explain the perfect verbs (קָטַל) by strong verbs that actually like like the verb קָטַל? why use a weak verb with only two radicals (or ‘letters’) instead of three? Weak verbs are difficult enough to understand. Why begin verbs with them?  

In fact, I found all/most of the chapters on verbs to be at least somewhat confusing. On the one hand, the explanations are excellent, but the format of the chapters (and lack of paradigms, though they are in a back appendix) was unhelpful.

Recommended?

Yes, though in a number of ways I still prefer both Allen Ross’ grammar (which you can find free lectures here) and Van Pelt/Pratico’s grammar. Part of that is because I’ve worked through both of them (and Ross’ in Hebrew I & II). I also think both grammars are laid out  better than this one. This one has a lot of good information in it, but it does require a lot of reading. Some chapters also try to get too far ahead of themselves by providing a brief look at a grammatical rule that will be examined in a later chapter.

Chapter 1, when learning about vowels there’s a brief section about how nouns in construct can change their vowels. Yet this topic won’t be covered until chapter 12. Why not just leave it until then? Had this been my introduction to Hebrew, seeing vowels change in this way would have felt like a burden.

I still think that Garrett and DeRouchie have put together an excellent grammar, one that tries to give the reader all the information they need to understand the language. But this wouldn’t be the first grammar I reach for, nor the first I recommend as I don’t find it the simplest grammar to go through, but with self-discipline and patience one can surely make it through this grammar with a firm understanding of both beginning Hebrew and syntax.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Duane Garrett & Jason DeRouchie
  • Hardcover Grammar: 432 pages
  • Paperback Workbook: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (July 1, 2009)

Buy the Grammar from B&H Academic or on Amazon!

Buy the Workbook from B&H Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Separation Anxiety I

Last semester in my Biblical Hermeneutics class I had to choose a 10-15 verses from any part of the Bible and write a 10-15 page paper. I had to figure out the thesis, explain the meaning and form of the text, and why it’s important to us today. Having taught 2 Corinthians twice in Bible college, I knew immediately which I would choose: 2 Corinthians 6.14–7.1, a highly contested passage of Paul’s with a number of scholars believing that Paul didn’t write this section. Instead, they think it was written by another author later on (see below). I’m no scholar, but it’s incredible some of the things people come up with.

This passage is only six verses, and I ended up writing 18 pages. It was probably my favorite paper that I’ve ever had to write simply because it dealt with 2 Corinthians. Here is my broad outline. I’ll give another slightly-more-expanded one next time.

General Outline

A. We Are the Temple of God (6:14–18)

A. God’s Commands and Promises (6:14–16)

B. Our Welcoming Father (6:17–18)

B. Bringing Holiness to Completion (7:1)

One reason I enjoy 2 Corinthians so much is that it’s so different. Many of Paul’s letters are fairly straightforward, though nonetheless difficult (per 2 Pet 3.15–16). My first memory reading 2 Corinthians was in Bible College (I was a late bloomer). After I finished I was more confused and knew less about the book than I did before reading it. This began my gradual appreciation for Paul’s “weighty” letter. I hope some of what I have learned comes out in these posts. Enjoy.

The title for my paper Separation Anxiety actually came from an old Spiderman game I played as a kid. In this section of 2 Corinthians, Paul commands the Corinthian church to separate themselves from their beloved false teachers. This separation may include rejecting in their own homes churches who do not repent and who remain with the false teachers (6.14a). After giving reasons the church reasons to separate (6.14b–16a), Paul gives the ground for their need to separate, commands from God to separate, and ends with more promises that will accrue if they obey (6.16b–18). Because God is a Father who can be trusted, and because his promises are good, The Corinthians should cleanse themselves of all defilement and strive to live the life that is pleasing to their Father (7.1; cf. 5.9).

I haven’t figured out how long this series will go, but you can take it in bites while you munch on your cereal. It may not even have time to get soggy before you finish reading.


Introduction

In 2 Corinthians 5:13 the apostle Paul says, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.”1 Many scholars have taken Paul, or, rather, his second canonical letter to the Corinthians, to have been “beside itself,” having been written by different hands and compiled in a disoriented way.2 One can add to that some who do not believe 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 was even authored by Paul, but instead was inserted at a later point.3 In my paper I will examine the text of 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 and explain the original meaning of the text, draw literary and thematic connections from 6:14–7:1 and where it is situated in the letter, and build the reader’s confidence that this section was written to the Corinthian church by Paul, “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1:1).

After looking briefly at the context surrounding 6:14–7:1, I will examine Paul’s argument in three parts. In 6:14–16, because the Corinthians are God’s temple, they are not to be in fellowship with unbelievers, namely, the false teachers who oppose Paul and any who side with them. In 6:17–18, the Corinthian believers are to separate from the unclean knowing that God will welcome them as his sons and daughters. In 7:1, as a result of these promises, the Corinthians should cleanse themselves, be holy as God is holy, and fear and obey the Lord.


1According to Mark Seifrid, it would be as “if he spoke as one insane” (The Second Letter to the Corinthians [PNTC], 242).

2 See, for instance, Furnish, who provides a short overview of scholars and their arguments; Victor Paul Furnish, (II Corinthians. The Anchor Bible, 32–33).

3 Mitzi L. Minor (2 Corinthians [S&HBC], 132).

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Review: Paul the Ancient Letter Writer

Dear Jack,

School is a wreck. I’m smashed with work, I failed my last exam, my roommate and I aren’t getting along, and the kids in my nursery class do whatever they please. My teachers have been piling on the homework, and midterms are next week!

Love, Jill.

I’ve adapted this from an example Weima uses in his introduction, and for all of us this looks like just another having-a-hard-time-in-college letter between two lovebirds. But for Tom, this letter is quite different from Jill’s other letters to him. She always writes “Dearest Tom,” she begins her letters with her fondness for Tom before getting into the tears and sweat of school, and she always ends her letters with “Love, Jillie.” Tom realizes this letter is much more terse and a lot less friendly. What would seem normal to another set of eyes is dramatic, perhaps even overwhelming, to Tom.

Jeffery A. D. Weima, professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary for 25 years and author of Neglected Endings and 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT), makes the case that we should not only be looking at the content of the Bible but also its form. This isn’t exactly a new idea, but Weima, who has studied Paul’s letters for over 30 years, compares all of Paul’s letters to understand the purposes and contents of his writings and the function they play in his persuasive purposes.

The Layout

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is made up of six chapters.

1. Introduction: After using the above example of Jill’s letter to Jack, Weima explains his method of interpreting Paul’s letters (“epistolary analysis,” broadly called literary criticism). This means Weima reads Paul’s letters as they are—letters—which involves learning how to read their structure. Weima, contrasting epistolary analysis with the methods of thematic approach and rhetorical criticism, writes, “But though Paul employs [rhetoric], it would be wrong to conclude . . . that he was a rhetorician who constructed his letters according to the rules of ancient speech” (9). Instead, “the most important source for understanding the apostle’s letters must naturally be the letter-writing practices of his day rather than the rules for oral discourse” (9).

2. The Opening: Whereas most Bible readers (and commentators) overlook the opening verses of Paul’s letters, Weima sets all of Paul’s opening statements side by side and examines how Paul presents his apostolic position in relation to his readers “so that his purposes . . . are strengthened and enhanced” and foreshadows key themes in the letter (12).

3. The Thanksgiving: These sections in Paul’s letters are too long to place side by side, but Weima skillfully shows the differences between a few of Paul’s Thanksgiving sections. There are five parts to the Thanksgiving section, but some letters are missing one of the parts. Weima spends a few pages on Galatians, which is missing the entire Thanksgiving section!

4. The Body: Easily the longest chapter in the book, Weima spends 74 pages working his way through thirteen different forms that appear throughout his thirteen letters (e.g., appel, confidence, prayers, inclusios, etc.) and their functions.

5. The Closing: Paul’s closings usually receive equal (or less) attention than his openings (usually because people are ready to finish the letter by this time). But again, Weima shows that Paul’s closing sections pick up themes from within the letter and recapitulations the apostle’s concerns.

6. The final chapter is a test case of Paul’s literary techniques which Weima has covered in chapters 2–5. He shows how Paul’s persuasion can be most easily seen in the short letter of Philemon. All of the chapters are of high quality, but this was by far my favorite.

The Chocolate Milk

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is an excellent resource for anyone who is studying Paul’s letters. Weima can be quite detailed, but the effort is not without its payment. In each chapter, after Weima introduces the form of a passage and it’s function, he gives its interpretive significance.

For example, Weima says that the apostolic parousia “refers . . . to the presence of Paul, whether this is experienced by means of a future visit from the apostle, the arrival of his emissary, or the letter itself” (114). All three of these instances are seen in 1 Corinthians 4.14–21.

First, Paul wrote to the Corinthians (v14) to admonish them as his “beloved children.” He loves them as his children, but they must obey him as the one who fathered them in Jesus Christ through the gospel.” Second, he sent Timothy (someone they knew well) to them to represent Paul’s ways. Timothy is described as Paul’s “beloved and faithful child” (v17). Paul imitates Jesus. Timothy imitates Paul. The Corinthians should see Paul represented in Timothy, imitate Paul, and thus image Christ rightly. Third, Paul stresses that he will come to them again (vv18–21). As their father, which would they prefer: Paul to come with a “rod” of discipline or in a spirit of gentleness?

The Spoiled Milk

The only negative I could find in this book came in chapter 5 on Paul’s closing sections. Three times Weima picks up the last few verses of 2 Corinthians, but the last two times (13.12a, 13) almost completely rehash the information used in the first discussion of 13.11. There is some new information, but too much that was repeated.

Recommended?

Weima shows just how important a close reading of the text is. While he doesn’t create a whole theology out of every nuance, he doesn’t brush them aside either. Would all of his readers noticed if a particular section was missing from his letter? It’s difficult for us to know for certain. However, while Paul’s original audiences would not have been able to compare all of his letters, we can, and by doing so we can get a bigger glimpse into the mind of Paul by seeing what he did and didn’t write. This semester, my Old Testament professor has been drilling into us the importance of the literary structures of the biblical books. Weima only confirms that importance by showing how to read Paul’s letters rightly. This is a must have for all who study Paul’s letters. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jeffrey A. D. Weima
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 15, 2016)
  • Previous Posts: The Closing of 2 Corinthians

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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The Closing of 2 Corinthians

“The fourth and final major section of Paul’s letters—the closing—is the ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ section of the apostle’s correspondence: it doesn’t get any respect,” says Jeffrey Weima in his new book Paul the Ancient Letter Writer (165). Perhaps it’s because pastors, church members, and daily devotional readers are just ready to finish the book by the time they get to the closing section that they don’t want to work at just how the closing section finishes off Paul’s letter. Perhaps.

As he does in the rest of his book, Weima “recognizes that the letter closing, like the other major sections of Paul’s letters, is a carefully and cleverly constructed unit” (165). The closing section intentionally recalls themes and echoes concerns from the letter as one last fitting reminder before Paul finishes his letter. “Consequently, the letter closing potentially has great interpretive value, providing important clues for understanding the key issues and themes addressed in the body of the letter, as well as our understanding of the apostle’s readers and their historical situation” (165).

2 Corinthians 13.11–14

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

v. 11

Finally, brothers, rejoice.

13.9a, “For we are glad [“we rejoice] when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.”

Paul rejoices when the corinthians are strong, but this word also rehearses Paul’s earlier statements of joy over the Corinthians (1.24; 2.3; 6.10; 7. 4, 7, 9, 13, 16; 8.2).

Aim for restoration,

Paul prays that his divided congregation would be healed and made a unified community, something that has been a battle for a long time (1 Cor 1.10; 12-14; 2 Cor 5.12; 6.14).

Comfort one another,

This reiterates a host of Paul’s language all throughout the letter. His entire letter oozes of “comfort” and “encouragement” in the face of suffering. George Guthrie cites the following passages (1.37; 2.78; 5.20; 6.1; 7.413; 8.4, 6, 17; 9.5; 10.1; 12.8, 18; 13.11).

Agree with one another, live in peace;

These both repeat the command to “aim for restoration” only at different angles. Living in peace and unity has been almost impossible for the Corinthians, but these relate directly to Paul’s concerns over the “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” among them (12.20).

And the God of love and peace will be with you.

This line is Paul’s regular peace benediction (Rom 16.20; Gal 6.16; 2 Thess 3.16), only now he has included “love” into this benediction (the only other occurrence is in Eph 6.23). Weima says, “It can hardly be doubted that ‘love’ has been deliberately added to the peace benediction so that this closing formula better echoes and reinforces the [entire] letter’s appeal for love and harmony to characterize relations within this fractious church“ (192).

v. 12

Greet one another with a holy kiss.

This greeting, an actually kiss of some kind, was meant to challenge them to lower the defenses they have set up against each other, to remove any hostility, “and to exhibit the oneness that they share as fellow members of the body of Christ” (192).

v. 13

All the saints greet you.

Reminds the Corinthians one last time that they are not the only members of God’s family on the earth. They are not the solo church. They are only one part of Christ’s church. Paul began his letter by saying,
.

1.1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

1.11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

9.1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.
.

The Corinthian has a whole family surrounding them. The Corinthian church was an established church (though not without their major problems), and the surrounding churches were looking to them! Paul reminds them, “You’re not alone. Your character is seen by all. If you defect to the false teachers, you will not have these saints as your family (cf. 6.18).”

v. 14

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Weima, “These supplementary wishes of ‘love’ and ‘fellowship’ fit the thrust of the rest of the letter… peace and harmony must exist within the Corinthian church” (192). The repetition of “love,” “comfort,” encouragement,” and “fellowship” would be the final sounding of the gong  in their ears that has been echoing all throughout Paul’s letter.

Conclusion

Will the Corinthians reject Paul’s divisive opponents and seek reconciliation between their own? If they have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and if it was “in one Spirit” that they “were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12.13), there should be harmony among them. But if they don’t separate from the false teachers, and if they have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality they have practiced, if they examine themselves and fail to meet the test, they will no longer have a Father who will welcome them (2 Cor 7.18) nor an apostle to weep for them (2.2, 4).

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