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Jonah: Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text

September 28, 2016

 

A couple of Advents ago I preached on Jonah. There is no lack of good resources on the book, even ones that treat the Hebrew text itself. But the Baylor handbook offers a somewhat unique perspective, analyzing the words and phrases of the Hebrew text, as well as reading it through a discourse analysis lens:

This approach begins by observing that within Biblical Hebrew texts a number of types or “discourses” can be identified. Each type has a particular function that is readily evident. Narrative discourse relates the events of a story (Gen 8). Predictive discourse speaks of an event in advance of its occurrence (I Sam 10:2s7). Hortatory discourse is meant to exhort someone to act in a particular manner (Job 2:9). Procedural discourse tells someone either how to do something or how something was done (Gen 27:1-4). And expository/descriptive discourse is meant to explain something or make a statement (2 Sam 12:7). (3)

The Jonah handbook is short and compact. The formatting is easy to follow. First there is an English translation, passage-by-passage. Then the Hebrew text is reprinted verse-by-verse (making this an all-in-one-place reading aid). After that is “an analysis of that clause as a whole, with comments related to the function of the clause, its discourse type, and related syntactic matters” (9). Finally, there are word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase comments.

Overall, I appreciated the handbook: I read it cover to cover. The grammatical comments are helpful at multiple turns. For example, here is the text of Jonah 3:8

וְיִתְכַּסּ֣וּ שַׂקִּ֗ים הָֽאָדָם֙ וְהַבְּהֵמָ֔ה וְיִקְרְא֥וּ אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים בְּחָזְקָ֑ה וְיָשֻׁ֗בוּ אִ֚ישׁ מִדַּרְכּ֣וֹ הָֽרָעָ֔ה וּמִן־הֶחָמָ֖ס אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּכַפֵּיהֶֽם

For וּמִן־הֶחָמָ֖ס, W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. writes:

When a preposition governs more than one object, the preposition will typically be repeated before each object. The waw copulative + מִן signals the continuation of the prepositional phrase.

Here’s a representative comment using discourse analysis, coming at Jonah 3:10:

A qatal in a dependent clause provides background information in the relative past (i.e., past in comparison to the mainline). This is often expressed in translation through the use of a pluperfect (Longacre, 82).

These two paragraphs from Jonah 1:5 give a good sense of the depth and utility of the comments:

The target audience is the student who is “making the move from introductory grammar to biblical text” (1). Given that, a surprising number of terms (irrealis, factitive, prosopopeia, diegetic, and more) go unlisted in the 28-term Glossary. And the discourse analysis is too much at times, as in this difficult paragraph:

Typically in narrative discourse, the negation of any verb is understood as irrealis scene setting and appears at the lowest level on the discourse profile scheme. The negation of a verb stops the forward progress of the narrative by indicating what is not the case. Longacre, however, has suggested that in certain contexts a negation may be termed a “momentous negation” because it is critical in advancing the narrative line forward (82). In these rare occurrences, the verb form is understood as a second-rank construction (similar to the X + qatal), in effect actually serving to move the narrative along. The events and dialog in chapter 4 are predicated, in part, on the momentous negation that occurs at the end of 3:10. The object of the verb is absent due to ellipsis.

Typos in the book are surprisingly frequent, especially occurring in the English translations. The book sets out to provide lexical forms for every verb in Jonah but omits them in a number of instances, leaving the reader without needed help at times. And the Malachi handbook has a “word chart” which I have hoped to see in other volumes, but haven’t. (Baylor published the Malachi volume after Jonah.)

On the plus side, Tucker commented more than I expected on the style of the author of Jonah—this helped me better understand the Hebrew in context. And there are more comments with exegetical and even preaching payoff than one might expect from a series that the editors intend to serve as a sort of prequel to a commentary.

If you’re reading through Jonah in Hebrew, will you want this handbook? Despite what I see as some shortcomings, yes. The best commentary on Jonah is probably this one, which covers Hebrew well, but in its transliterated form. So if you’re going to go deep with the Hebrew of Jonah, Tucker’s handbook is a nice companion—and much of his discourse analysis is clear, even if the reader needs to reference his introductory comments (and external sources) a few times along the way.

The handbook is available through Amazon (here) and the publisher (here).

 


 

Thanks to Baylor University Press for the review copy—sent to me with no expectation as to my reivew’s content.

How I’m Keeping Greek and Hebrew Fresh

September 26, 2016

I’ve been practicing reading Greek fairly regularly all year. Hebrew had fallen a bit by the wayside until recently. As of the last two weeks, however, I think I’ve got a good rhythm now for keeping both fresh.

I know I’m not the only pastor who finds it a challenge to not lose the heard-earned results of semesters and years of Greek and Hebrew in the classroom.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

 

1. Reading through the Greek New Testament, roughly a chapter a day.

 

To become more fluent in reading, there’s no substitute for… you know… reading. I just got through 2 Corinthians, which I think might be the most difficult book in the New Testament—in both Greek and English!

 

2. Working through the Baylor Handbooks.

 

Baylor’s got two solid series in progress: Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT) and Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible (BHHB).

 

 

These are books to read cover to cover, especially when you want to move from “rapid reading” to more detailed analysis of the text. I just finished Jonah and have started in on †Rod Decker’s Mark. You can see more about the series in my reviews of Luke and Malachi (here and here).

 

3. Reading my preaching passage in the original language, maybe even making my own translation.

 

Mark 1 in GreekI just preached through Ephesians. I translated much of it as I studied the text—either typing it out or doing it in my head. Especially with Paul’s longer sentences and more involved lines of thought in the first three chapters, this was challenging, but also essential in my grasping the text.

Now with the Old Testament lectionary readings in view (hello, prophets!), I’ll have a chance to reactivate my Hebrew reading.

If you (a) preach somewhat regularly and (b) want to make use of your Greek and Hebrew, why not combine the two endeavors? Both your preaching and your languages will be the better for it.

(NB: I teach a Webinar on this very topic, with more dates TBA. Here’s the handout.)

There’s also an invaluable chapter in Baker Academic’s Preaching the Old Testament called “Keeping Your Hebrew Healthy.”

 

4. Reading Greek with another person.

 

I’m really fortunate to have a reading partner for #1 above, reading through the GNT. This is an immense help and likely deserves its own post. Just remember that skill-building often happens best in community.

 

5. Learning to enjoy reading Greek and Hebrew.

 

Lack of proficiency for me is a great way to not enjoy a task; conversely, the more I read, the more comfortable I am with the text (Galatians was almost easy after 2 Corinthians!). Reading the Bible in its first languages also forces me to slow down and carefully consider what I’m reading. Greek and Hebrew reading fit well into devotional practices. (Great book on this, by the way, here: Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion).

 

How about you? If you’ve been keeping your Greek and Hebrew active, what’s been helpful? What pitfalls are you facing? What other resources should I and others like me be using?

The Rhodia Webbie for Long-Range Planning (by Hand!)

September 20, 2016

Back before the days of advanced task management apps, I rocked a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People planner. It had everything. Insert pages for contact information (before we kept that all in our phones), daily layouts for schedules and to-do items, and a section in the back for values planning and writing out my personal mission statement.

Task tracking for me is significantly easier on a device, since I can see what I have to do (and check it off) from just about anywhere. But hashing out the bigger picture life stuff doesn’t seem to quite fit in OmniFocus or 2Do.

So for long-range planning and goal setting, I’ve gone back to paper.

I now have as many dedicated-use notebooks as I have to-do apps—a liability transferred to merely a different medium—but a notebook just for “the 30,000-foot view” has been helpful. Here’s what I’ve been using—the black Rhodia Webbie:

 

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As you can see, it looks much like the hardcover, 5″ x 8.25″ Moleskine. But the Webbie (a.k.a., Webnotebook) is better, not least because it’s got 90 gsm Clairefontaine “brushed vellum paper,” which seems to be made for fountain pens. (Moleskine, by contrast, is not fountain pen-friendly.)

Much like its counterpart, the Webbie has a hard and smooth leatherette cover. I’m not in love with the cover, but I’ve grown accustomed to it and it is fine. The notebook is bound shut with an elastic wrap-around strap. This offers a nice way to store a pen with the notebook, in fact.

 

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There’s an expandable back pocket, so you can keep papers, receipts, photos, etc. with the Webbie.

 

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An 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, folded in half, just barely fits inside the notebook, though its edges come out a bit. No matter—this is not a notebook with U.S. dimensions! It’s A5, which is as tall as the Moleskine, but wider, which I find more natural for extended writing.

It does remarkably well with a fountain pen. The smooth paper feels wonderful, and provides no feathering or bleeding of ink. For that matter, there’s hardly any show-through.

 

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My one complaint about the Webbie (besides the fact that my text editor keeps wanting to auto-correct it to Rhoda Debbie) is that the ribbon marker feels too short. It just barely extends out of the notebook, about an inch or less.

Other than that, the Webbie is as good an all-purpose notebook as I’ve written in. And it’s working great for me to replace the role those 7 Habits planning pages once played. There’s plenty of room on a page to do some serious writing, note-taking, brainstorming, or drawing, but the size still makes it portable enough to go anywhere. In terms of specs, look, feel, and quality, the LEUCHTTURM1917 notebook is quite similar, though the Webbie is a bit slimmer and has slightly fewer pages.

With 192 pages of paper (96 sheets), the Webbie ought to last its users for at least a couple months before they need a new one.

You can find the Webbie here or here.

 


 

Thanks to the kind folks at Rhodia for the notebook for review, provided without any expectation as to the content of my write-up.

To Change the World (James D. Hunter): A Brief Review and Critique

September 15, 2016

James Davison Hunter makes helpful contributions to the discussion of how Christians should orient themselves toward the world and its need for improvement. His idea of “faithful presence” is a good one, if not especially novel. The idea’s rootedness in the faithful presence of God in Christ offers a theologically sound and relatable paradigm. Because of God’s love for and presence with us, any Christian, whether walking in the so-called halls of power or not, can exercise faithful presence.

Hunter offers a robust view of faithful presence as “the exercise of leadership in all spheres and all levels of life and activity” (260). One thinks of the oft-quoted Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ… does not cry, ‘Mine!'”

to-change-the-worldHunter sees the need for faithful presence to bring about both individual and institutional change, as it “generates relationships and institutions that are fundamentally covenantal in character, the ends of which are the fostering of meaning, purpose, truth” (263, my emphasis). Further, Hunter writes, “Culture is intrinsically dialectical” (34). His drawing on the Hegelian dialectic allows him to articulate a Christian relation to the world that avoids extremes: “Christians are called to relate to the world within a dialectic of affirmation and antithesis” (231).

The author spends more time than the reader might like in debunking other people’s ideas as to how to make the world a better place. This is a noble enough endeavor, but one wonders: On what authority does he offer his critiques? He begins, “I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology” (5). (That’s a big claim to have to defend.) He continues with broad, sweeping statements like, “Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up,” (41) and, “Change of this nature [i.e., cultural change] can only come from the top down” (42).

Evidence, however, seems to be in short supply. One does not have to wade deep into the history of the African American civil rights movement, for example, to find figures who effected change from the bottom up. No doubt Martin Luther King, Jr. found support from “the top” in Lyndon B. Johnson, but King led a movement of the people, many of whom (King included) did not have positional power in the society they changed.

And to take a current example, there is the Black Lives Matter movement. While its long-term impact remains to be seen—and while the movement itself may not always speak with one voice—one would be hard-pressed to suggest that this “grassroots political mobilization” (42) has not “penetrate[d] the structure of our imagination, our frameworks of knowledge and discussion, the perception of everyday reality” (42). Already the Black Lives Matter movement can claim victory in that there is a greater societal awareness of race-motivated police brutality, as well as police departments taking increasingly deliberate measures (body cameras, and so on) to prevent it.

I do appreciate Hunter’s giving “priority to what is right in front of us–the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted” (253). But in some ways his “faithful presence” still reads just a little as, “Just try harder… this way is sure to work!”

Of course he is right in saying, “Christians have failed to understand the nature of the world they want to change and failed even more to understand how it actually changes” (99). But the reader rightly wonders: what makes Hunter immune? In short, while Hunter’s larger framework has much to commend it, his work seems to lack attention to important details—and fails to convince that all other visions of world change that preceded him are faulty.

 

Book info: Publisher’s Page (OUP) // Amazon

 


 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for sending me a review copy, which—I assume will be evident—did not influence my attempts at objectivity in assessing the book.

This Is Better Than Anything Apple Could Announce Today

September 7, 2016

2016 American Football

 

A second new American Football track has just released today. It’s one of the songs Mike Kinsella teased at on Instagram nearly half a year ago. It sounds almost nothing like the first song, and yet it sounds like everything you’d hope American Football could be. (You’ll have to forgive the melodrama. I’m more excited about this album than I have been for new music in years.)

Here it is:

 

 

NPR has a nice write-up of the song here.

Pre-order information is right here, and pre-orders ship October 12.

 

Review and Reflection: Greek for Preachers

September 6, 2016

Greek for Preachers (Chalice Press, 2002) divides into three primary parts. Part 1 is “The Preliminaries,” where authors Joseph M. Webb and Robert Kysar suggest initial tools for preachers who want to use Greek. Part 2 offers “Ten Principles for Uncovering Greek Meaning,” which makes up the majority of the book. Part 3 focuses on “Using the Greek Text in Sermon Preparation,” and is a hands-on application of the principles the authors have taught in the second part. The book’s aim is simple: “to bring the Greek text of the New Testament within reach of anyone who wishes to explore its riches” (x). The authors want preachers who have lost their Greek (or not had any) to find the language “both usable and exciting” for use in sermon preparation (7).

 

Part 1: “The Preliminaries”

 

I worried a bit when I saw “uncovering Greek meaning” as the title for Part 2. Somewhere along the way I learned that Greek is not just a language to decode, as if there could be one-to-one equivalents for everything, with “hidden gems” available to ones with secret inside knowledge. But the authors are balanced here. In the Preface they say, “We do not believe there is anything intrinsically magic or even necessarily sacred about the original language of the New Testament, even though we both assert the importance of biblical languages for the Christian tradition” (ix). This approach resonates with me, especially as they go on to affirm, “But, judiciously and frugally handled, the joys of the Greek language of our New Testament are as bright as newly cut diamonds sitting in a store window waiting for someone to pick them up and share them with others” (7).

The first part focuses primarily on introducing the preacher to two tools: a Greek-English interlinear and an analytical lexicon. From there the authors go over the Greek alphabet, syllabification, pronunciation, and helpful immersion in a few practice texts. (The Greek font in this book looks good and is readable.) It is also in this first part that the authors introduce their approach to words and meaning, one that I am fully on board with: “[W]e should never assume that a word is used in the exact same way in different passages. The context in which a word is used is more important than how another writer in a different document might use the same word…” (5). This, in fact, has preaching implications for me, because I can make points like this in my sermons without even bringing “the underlying Greek” into the picture.

 

Part 2: “Ten Principles for Uncovering Greek Meaning”

 

Part 2 is the heart of the book. The authors give ten principles around specific grammatical features. Concepts they explore include: articles (and how their presence or absence adjusts meaning), verbs, participles, infinitives, cases, and more. There are lots of examples from the Greek New Testament, including possible sermon angles to derive from interpreting the Greek grammar. There’s a wealth of interaction with the Greek text for the reader to work through. There are charts, glosses, and plenty of material that any Greek reader will benefit from reviewing.

A highlight of the second part for me was the authors’ good distinction between grammatical gender and what they call human gender (also called social gender). They would support, for example, not using the generic “man” in English translations where the Greek has ἄνθρωπος. I am similarly deliberate in reading from the pulpit gender-accurate translations whenever I can.

While most of the instruction in this section is consistent with what I’ve learned from various grammars and exegesis courses at Gordon-Conwell (and reading Greek regularly since), there are a couple of surprising hermeneutical moves that I didn’t think were on firm footing.

For example, here is John 1:1:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

The authors say, “Look for the articles, especially the ones associated with God” (39). With the last part of the verse (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος), the authors rightly point out that ὁ λόγος becomes the subject because of the article. So, “the Word was God.” However, they go on to explore “the nature of the articular nouns as they differ from the anarthrous nouns “(39), considering that the anarthrous θεὸς could simply mean something less specific like “God-like.” They approach the translation with humility, but unfortunately conclude, “Theologically, it raises the issue of whether or not the text means that God and the ‘word’ are identical” (39). Though it’s tempting to criticize this interpretation on account of what sounds like heterodoxy, Greek grammar alone (at least I thought!) settles the issue, that, “the Word was God” (and not just God-like). I can recall at least two Greek professors at GCTS making a similar point that the anarthrous θεὸς should not be interpreted in the way the authors explore.

greek-for-preachersAlso a curious was the interpretation of participles in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. The authors point out the three participles in those two verses, the first of which is aorist. “But the aorist participle,” they say, “that begins the sentence gives the idea of ‘going’ before it mentions the command to ‘make learners.’ Those who are addressed in this passage are already going” (65). As Roy Ciampa (from a 2008 Every Thought Captive blog post called, “As You Go, Make Disciples?“) and others have argued, that aorist participle is actually a participle of attendance circumstance, and it simply has the force of an imperative: nothing more, nothing less.

How does this interaction impact my own preaching, beyond my desire to critically engage with anything I read for my ministry development?

The authors model humility in how they approach the Greek, even when I disagree with them. I want to follow suit here.

On the other hand, some of their Greek-based hermeneutical moves seem like classic anecdotes of “what not to do” when moving from Greek New Testament to interpretation to pulpit. One wants to be careful not to make too much of subtle grammatical points that may reflect merely on what wording the author felt like using at the time of writing. As with the John 21 example where John and Peter dance between two different Greek words for love, a given author could simply be using a rhetorical flourish, and not intending us to derive any meaning more than that the author writes with creative style. (John 21 seems less clear-cut to me, though, than the examples above.)

 

Part 3: “Using the Greek Text in Sermon Preparation”

 

In the third part, “Using the Greek Text in Sermon Preparation,” the authors move the process into the pulpit. They list seven steps, each of which is easy enough to implement. And they have a stance on commentaries that I really appreciate, even as I’m aware of the discipline required: “We suggest that you use commentaries to learn what others have said about the passage but not necessarily to learn what you should say” (172). Great advice. I also resonated with their explanation of a topical sermon, where “the text gives you entry into an extensive issue that reaches beyond the text itself” (163).

The book closes with two full sample sermons using Greek, the first of which was a really interesting (and helpful) take on “submission” (as mutual) in Ephesians 5.

 

Concluding Assessment

 

Greek beginners will want to turn to Part 1 right away, although I’ve had it drilled into me that interlinears are bad. I think they have their place, but a preacher who really wants to learn Greek might better avoid them and use a footnoted Reader’s Greek New Testament instead. The authors suggest that pastors actively using Greek can profitably skim Part 2 as a refresher–it can be consulted later as a reference–and cut right to Part 3 for the meat of using Greek in preaching.

I appreciate the desire of this book. On the one hand, the authors are right on when they say,

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Novices in the Greek New Testament are in danger of slipping into the same mold. Greek is not a cure-all for biblical interpretation nor the key that unlocks truth. It is only one more tool to help us (176).

On the other hand, I really like the idea of teaching pastors the basics of Greek so that they can begin to get their feet wet with word studies.

Again, the drawback to using this book is that readers need enough Greek already to be able to discern what the authors are doing with John 1:1 and Matthew 28:19-20. The humility they model is admirable, though, and the majority of the other examples don’t make the same kind of questionable (in my opinion) conclusions those ones do.

For me, I try to use Greek as much as possible in my study. I’m reading through the Greek New Testament this year with a friend, and we’re taking (and sharing) notes as we go. I often find that insights from our conversations about the Greek text make their way into my sermons. So I wholeheartedly affirm with the authors that the integration of Greek reading and sermon preparation is a beautiful thing. Reading Greek for Preachers compels me to re-double my efforts in turning over the Greek (or Hebrew) text as an essential part of sermon preparation.

Greek for Preachers is at Amazon here, and at Chalice Press here.

 


 

Thanks to Chalice Press for sending me a review copy, which—I trust will be evident—did not influence my attempts at objectivity in assessing the book.

A Look Inside Zondervan’s New NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

September 2, 2016
Image via Zondervan

Image via Zondervan

 

The aim of Zondervan’s just-released NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is simple:

This study Bible has been purpose-built to do one thing: to increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded.

John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener are the editors. Walton oversaw The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament (ZIBBCOT), a resource I consult for almost every passage I preach on. Walton also co-wrote the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament.

Keener has written a page or two in his time, too. Just today I found great help with Ephesians 5:21ff in his IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Although some of Keener’s contextual explanations of “submission” and “headship” and slavery did not make their way into this study Bible, where those verses unfortunately received a less nuanced approach.)

Content from both the ZIBBCOT and the IVP Bible Background Commentary finds its way into this study Bible. (As do a couple dozen articles from the NIV Archaeological Study Bible.) As for the 2011 New International Version—used in this volume—I write more about it here.

This definitely-not-compact Bible has more than 10,000 study notes. No, I didn’t count, but check out this page from Micah 1, a chapter which needs a lot of background explanation. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible delivers:

 

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The accompanying maps, images, diagrams, and charts are all in color:

 

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Micah’s introduction is fair in presenting a few different viewpoints on dating, and concludes:

The modern reader of Micah should at least be aware of the variety of ways in which different historical backgrounds have made a difference in the understanding of, and even translations of, several difficult passages in the book of Micah.

And it’s not just historical background for its own sake. The authors and editors seem to have the aim of helping the reader understand the text.

Micah 4:4 reads:

Everyone will sit under their own vine

and under their own fig tree,

and no one will make them afraid,

for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

Here is the study note on Micah 4:4:

The vine and fig were the two most important fruits of an ancient Israelite garden. The vine, because of the length of time necessary before good grapes were produced, was often a symbol of a sedentary life. The fig was known for its sweet produce (Jdg 9:11) and, like the vine, for its pleasant shade. …[T]he picture of the vine and fig tree also point to long-term investment and stability.

The Old Testament introductory materials include a helpful “Hebrew to English Translation Chart,” for instances where “there is no English word that corresponds sufficiently to capture the breadth of nuance that the Hebrew word contains. “ It’s a nice addition, and not one I can recall seeing in a study Bible before.

The inclusion of those Hebrew words caused me to be a little surprised, then, that the study Bible missed the opportunity to point out the Hebrew wordplay on Micah’s name in Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like you…?”

So one may still want the larger background commentaries that this study Bible makes use of. However, the Bible is already fairly large, so the level of detail is understandable.

All in all, though it’s difficult to justify yet another study Bible, this one does fill a void, since many study Bibles treat background, but in nowhere near this level of detail.

You can learn much more about the study Bible here. If you want to see some nice shots of the inside of the print edition, check out this post over at Bible Buying Guide. And you can find a couple different versions of the Bible at Amazon here.

 


 

AcademicPS and Zondervan set me up with a hard copy of the Bible, as well as electronic access, so I could review it, though this kindness did not influence my objectivity.

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