Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Galatians Summarized in One Verse: Galatians 1:1

"Paul, an apostle not from men nor through the agency of man, but through the agency of Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead . . ." - Gal 1.1.

Here Paul affirms that the origin and agency of his apostleship (i.e., the status of being 'sent-by-God-to-preach') rests in Jesus Christ and God the Father rather than mankind.  He will later emphasize that the apostolic message itself also has come through the agency of Christ (1:12).  As a result, Paul does not seek to please mankind, but rather to be a faithful slave of Christ (1.10).  Further, the Gospel message itself is not 'according to man' (1.11), but it has been received through Christ (1.12).  

Paul's argument serves to compel these 'foolish Galatians' to be faithful to the true Gospel - the apostolic message received from Christ (and his apostles).  But in Galatia, some Jews have perverted this message.  Their message is according to man; their 'sent-ness' is from and through man.

In just one verse, Paul touches on the nature of his apostleship (a part of which is the content of the apostolic message) - that it is from God/Christ, not man.  He also mentions a core element of the message: the resurrection of Christ by God the Father.  As he moves through the next few verses, Paul summarized the apostolic ('from/through Christ') message as follows: Resurrection (1.1); Personal atonement (1:4, note 'us' = personal element); Subsequent rescue (1.4); Accordance with God's will (1.4); Result in God's ongoing glory (1.5).

Fascinating.  So much is packed into these first five verses!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Literacy in the First Century

If most of the first century world was illiterate, could the NT have been written and transmitted so quickly during this time?  Or must we assume, as some scholars would suggest, that the NT was written late, the content of which sprang forth from oral traditions which were tens (and perhaps hundreds) of years old?

Carson and Moo, in An Introduction to the New Testament, suggest that "the world into which Jesus was born was highly literate" (p 24).  In their context, however, it is important to note that they are avoiding such notions implicit in the questions above, namely, that the NT is late and based on oral traditions.  Most scholars (conservative and liberal) have accepted the fact the literacy rate in the Greco-Roman world was low, perhaps 20% or lower (specific stats vary widely).  But in recent years, the prominence of a first century 'literary culture' has begun to emerge in research.  In other words, there is substantial evidence that even though many in the first century were illiterate, there existed an influential written culture, books, contracts, letters, etc..

For more information, read this fascinating article by Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts: "Paul's Bible, His Education and His Access to the Scriptures of Israel."  This article addresses essential issues for Greco-Roman background studies.

Here are a few 'highlights' I found interesting:

"The first stage is to try to create a scenario in which to place Paul. Though orality was significant in the Greco-Roman world, including the world of Diaspora Judaism, it maintained a complex interplay with literacy and a growing and developing book culture. " (p26).

"As a literate person and a major letter writer (we believe it is impossible for Paul not to have known that he was a major letter 

writer, on the basis of simply seeing how his letters compared to other, more typical letters of the ancient world), he probably wrote or had written multiple copies, with copies being kept, with later copies being made from them, and with the copies perhaps forming the basis of his letter collection." (p27).

Regarding Paul and his 'parchments' (2 Tim 4.13): "A likely hypothesis, therefore, is that Paul, or one of his early Christian colleagues, compiled an anthology of significant texts for specific purposes, as liturgical, doctrinal or compositional tools" (p29).

"More than likely, the Greek text was dealt with in terms of individual books and their respective scroll(s)—it did not exist as a single volume until the dissemination of the codex in the second century CE" (p29). 

Dealing with question regarding the Scriptures brings up a topic about which I'd like to blog soon: Biblical apologetics, that is apologetics that utilize arguments based on biblical studies, especially original language studies.  

By the way, my position is that the books of the New Testament were completed by AD 90-95 (though many of the books were written around the 50s and 60s).  I also maintain verbal plenary inspiration.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Greek Progress

Though I focused on Greek in my B.A. at Calvary Bible College, as well as my M.A. Midwestern Baptist, I find it helpful to review 1st-year Greek semi-consistently.  Perhaps this is telling on the time I find to spend in the Greek text itself :(   More likely, however, this reveals how hard I studied and reviewed during that first year in Greek (not enough)!  But there are always small matters of Grammar about which Mounce (Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar) reminds me.  These are usually small things that are easy to forget, such as the fact that the genitive case ending in the second declension is actually omicron, not upsilon, or the fact that the second declension accusative plural ending is actually nu-sigma, not upsilon-sigma.  These seem like trivial matters of morphology and grammar, but it seems that these minor details show up here and there as one works through various passages of the NT.  

Each time I review 1st year grammar, it seems like something else 'sticks out' as significant.  I pick up one more detail which I missed before.  And this knowledge of seemingly trivial matters begins to accumulate.  I make more connections between issues of grammar/morphology as I move through a particular passage than before.  I hope this compounding will continue on the quest to read the Greek NT like a native, of course, for the purpose of accurately hearing God speak in Scripture and proclaiming His revelation precisely to others.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Carson on Preaching

PreachingToday.com has two parts of a three part series in which D. A. Carson offers 8 significant words for understanding and preaching the Gospel (part 1) (part 2).  In part 2, Carson says: 
We must help people wrestle with what Scripture says by putting their finger on the text and working it through. The best preaching does that.  That means it's not enough just to summarize accurately what the Bible says. That's a good and important thing to do, but it's not enough. Preaching the gospel has to be done in such a way that everything of significance that is said is demonstrably tied to the text. The preacher must constantly say, "The Bible says," or words to that effect. Look at the text itself. Cite it again. Show that the connection is to be made. In other words, there is some preaching that is biblically faithful but does not make the truth demonstrably biblical. In a biblically illiterate age, one of the things that must be done is to show that what is being said is demonstrably the Word of God.
As usual, Carson articulates his point very well.  He summarizes a significant point I attempted to make in my previous post: The content of preaching (i.e., content of sermons) should be text-centered, asking and answering the question: "What does the Scripture say?"  

A man can preach a biblically faithful sermon about loving others, referencing multiple texts in John, 1 John, and perhaps Romans 5, for example.  But if these references become 'stand-alone' proof-texts used by the preacher to 'prove the point' without coming to really understand what each passage says, then a certain power and authority is lost.  The problem is not that the selected texts fail to teach the point, namely to love others, but it is that when the people leave the church, they are left saying, "The Preacher says we need to love others," rather than saying, "God has said in Scripture, we need to love others" (although both statements are technically true).  Do you see this difference?  I count it a successful sermon when people can walk away saying, "God says in 1 John 3:10-23, . . .".  When I understand what God said through John in 1 John, in a sense I hear God speak again to me as the word is preached.  There is then an authority that compels me to obey.  I can say, "I have heard from the Lord, today, and this is what he said."  This is the prophetic element of preaching that I fear is being forgotten by many 'Evangelical' preachers today.