I got an email today alerting me to a nifty little c0ntest over at the Bibleworks web site. It seems that the folks behind the best Bible software for scholars are celebrating 20 years in the business by giving away a copy for each decade they’ve been at it. Swing on by for a chance to save a hefty sum and gain access to a fantastic product.
- Pete Enns asks if Paul would make a good evangelical. (Best comment comes from Stephen Young on facebook: “He would have known he didn’t write the Pastoral Epistles…so no, not a good evangelical.”)
- Some brilliant scientists at MIT have found a way to save the world from wasting millions of tomatoes every year through a neat invention.
- Rod Decker shares some sweet Greek palindromes.
- Jim West shares some useful resources on Romans.
- James McGrath alerts us to a rare holiday.
- Mark Goodacre shakes things up with a great post on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
- Penn Jillette makes an interesting point about governmental hypocrisy.
- Please read Bill Leonard’s thoughts about being a Baptist when so many awful human beings want to use the same label.
Kurt Vonnegut once gave eight rules for writing short stories. Number Eight states: “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” While Daniel Kirk is clearly not writing a short story, his opening chapter, like all well-written academic books, does a good job of letting the reader know where he is going. The reference to Vonnegut is not entirely inappropriate, though, because Kirk is decidedly concerned with telling a story. He’s not, however, telling a story in the conventional sense with the creation of characters and plot. Instead, Kirk is telling us a story by telling us how to be a good audience. It’s something akin to my experience reading Tolstoy’s short story “The Three Hermits.” The story is about an encounter between a church official and three hermits who live on an isolated island. The hermits being ignorant of liturgy, the church official teaches them the right way to pray making them repeat the Lord’s prayer again and again. He then departs, content that he has brought them into the fold. As the church official sails on, he suddenly is overtaken by three mystical figures shrouded in light and running upon the waters. They are the three hermits who have come to inform the official that they have forgotten the words of their prayer. When I first read the story, I read it in terms of a dichotomy that seemed important to me: organized religion vs. the Holy Spirit. It was a victory over stuffy religion. With greater knowledge of Tolstoy’s battles with the Russian Orthodox Church, the meaning of the story began to change. My prior reading wasn’t wrong per se, but it really failed to capture the force and intensity behind Tolstoy’s portrayal of official state sanctioned religion as foolish, devoid of power, and spiritually suffocating. Kirk offers us a hermeneutical key that doesn’t so much change the way the story is told, but begs us to alter how we listen. Some of the broad ideas of Romans are not in dispute: that Paul is concerned with Jew-Gentile relations, that he is trying to frame his argument in a way that is theologically consistent with the Jewish Scriptures, and that he is intimately concerned with the implications of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for the understanding of God. Less certain is how he gets there.
Daniel Kirk proposes that understanding Paul’s argument in Romans is quite simple: pay attention to Paul’s portrayal of God. He cautions the reader that whatever sort of God one expects to find in Romans will inevitably shape how one reads the letter. If we hold in our minds the God of the philosophers–the unmovable mover, the perfect and ineffable first cause–then we arrive at a reading of Romans that fails to hear Paul. Instead, Kirk proposes that Paul consistently and necessarily focuses his letter on the God of Israel. It is this God whose character is challenged by the curious fact that his people simultaneously continue to be in bondage to pagan rulers and reject Jesus as the Son of God. As the demographics in the church shift, Paul must account not only for the rejection of the Jewish people but for the acceptance of the Gentiles. The trouble for Paul is that he is simultaneously the ambassador to the Gentiles and the representative of a God whose identity is marked by his particularity. How does an apostle navigate the disjunction between a God whose character is revealed by his patronage of Israel and his calling to a group that has historically been excluded from that group? Kirk promises to guide us through a reading of Romans–to tell us where to listen up–that will solve Paul’s dilemma, make sense of the peculiarities of the text, and, most important of all, lead us away from outmoded ways of hearing Romans. In short, he promises to show how Romans is a theodicy of sorts. Whether he will keep his word remains to be seen.
Details here. All titles are buy one get one free, no exclusions and no exceptions. I think this might be a good time to pick up Pratscher’s book on the Apostolic Fathers (recommended here) for free with purchase of some other resource you might want. There are plenty of nice things to choose from, and this would be a great opportunity to stock up on some of those nifty Handbooks on the Greek Text. If you want to take advantage of this deal, you better hurry as it ends May 31. **PLEASE NOTE: BOGO orders cannot be made through the online store. “All orders must be placed by phone, email, fax, or mail.”**
I’m instituting a new rule prompted by Daniel Kirk recently publishing his second book. I’ve decided that when friends or colleagues publish more than one book, I am thereby obligated to read the book published before their most recent one. Or, to put it another way, I will not get more than 1 book behind when it comes to reading the works of friends and colleagues. On account of this new rule, I’ve decided to blog through Unlocking Romans so that I can keep myself accountable and so that I’ll have a place to point out everything that Daniel gets wrong (since, you know, everyone thinks they have the right way to read Romans). You may also have noticed the rule is marked by an alpha, which perhaps might indicate a beta. Such a beta does not at this time exist, but I feel certain that given Daniel’s vast experience and qualifications in the field that I will one day learn something about homebrewing from him. All that to say: Be on the lookout for rambling, quasi-reflective, and semi-critical blog posts on Unlocking Romans. I’m thinking I’ll post them on Mondays, but who knows if I’ll stick to that.
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Many of you are probably aware of a set of early Christian documents collectively called “The Apostolic Fathers” all of which were likely written in the first or second centuries of the common era. However, if your seminary/bible undergrad experience was anything like mine, these documents were only occasionally mentioned and never discussed in detail. This is a terrible shame, because the documents that comprise the Apostolic Fathers are not only really cool, but they also give you an idea of the unity and diversity of the earliest Christians. Since you may not have had any detailed instruction on the AF, I thought it might be useful to the people out there to have a quick guide to some resources available out there.
First Things First: Choosing a Greek Text and Translation
There are basically two good texts/translations of the Apostolic Fathers that have been done recently. One is by Michael Holmes and now is in its third edition called: “The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations.” Holmes’ Greek text is a revision of Lightfoot’s text, but his English translation is purely original. The introductions are clear and helpful, but the reader should be aware that they skew very conservative. Holmes’ emphasizes the continuity of these texts with the New Testament to the point of sounding quasi-apologetic. The other is by Bart Ehrman (who just started blogging) and is published as part of the Loeb Classical Library in two volumes: “The Apostolic Fathers, Volume I: I Clement. II Clement. Ignatius. Polycarp. Didache.” and “Apostolic Fathers: Volume II. Epistle of Barnabas. Papias and Quadratus. Epistle to Diognetus. The Shepherd of Hermas.” Ehrman’s Greek text was done from scratch, and the translations are, of course, also completely fresh. The introductions are far more in line with scholarship on the Apostolic Fathers, especially the more recent stuff. I’d recommend the Ehrman volumes, but the choice isn’t particularly essential as both are solid pieces of work. Holmes’ is by far the cheaper of the two. If funds are tight and you can’t spring for a newer text, the Loeb volumes which Ehrman’s two volumes replaced are available for free. They are by Kirsopp Lake and are still perfectly usable today. Volume One and Two are available for free through Google Books. I do not recommend buying an English translation without a Greek text.
Where to Begin?
Assuming you now have one of the three Greek-English editions listed above, you’ll quickly find out that the introductions to the various texts are very brief, usually not spanning more than a handful of pages. If you want more in depth background, you’ll have to purchase or borrow an introduction to the AF. Unlike the New Testament, where there are as many introductions as there are scholars, there are only a few introductions to the AF in English. My least favorite is put out by T&T Clark and edited by Paul Foster, and is titled “The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers.” There is nothing terribly wrong with this volume, but the introductions are not as well-rounded as others out there. This is probably because the volume is really a series of brief introductory articles which appeared in Expository Times (if I remember correctly) that were later gathered together and published. The articles are easy to read and entertaining, so if you can get them for free via your library they are worth reading. Otherwise, I’d skip it. The volume I’d recommend starting with is “Reading the Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction” by Clayton Jefford. One of the great strengths of the book is that it makes no assumptions about the background knowledge of the reader, but this can also be a source of irritation if you are generally familiar with the time period involved. Each chapter breaks the texts down with discussions of organization, theology, notable features, etc. It is very nicely organized, and if there is a section you don’t find helpful, you can easily pass over it. After you’ve read that work, I’d recommend the new and utterly fantastic volume edited by Wilhelm Pratscher called “The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction.” The great strength of this volume is that it makes German scholarship on the AF accessible to English speakers in a concise and helpful format. Each chapter is written by a different expert on the particular text and is organized into subsections like structure, date, theology, etc. I can’t recommend the book enough. I suggest acquiring both the Jefford and the Pratscher books, if you can. Between the two of them, you can’t go wrong.
Update: Fixed link to Lake’s Volume II.