Thursday, February 21
7:55 AM Although it's reductionist, I categorize most books as being either repetitive or novel. Last night I began reading Eugene Petersen's Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. Already its tone troubles me. He begins with a rather lengthy (and pessimistic) quote by Robert McNamara.
For the love of Job! Sisters and brothers, may I inject some opinions here? I might actually believe what McNamara was saying if in fact my own existence bore it out.
Bless my heart. Here is the truth. There is plenty of this all around us, if only we had the eyes to see it.
What keeps me from pessimism is reality, the reality of God's blatant goodness in our fallen world, the doggone irony of how our dull, monotonous lives are so often "surprised by joy" (C. S. Lewis). We invent a worst-case scenario and it muffles us. If stepping outside your mind to self-observe the highway of grace is impossible for you, come to my house and see the new fence my kids built for me out of pure love. Because that's WJWD.
Yes, life can be mind-numbingly hard. Yet somehow, against all odds, we just keep plowing ahead, eyes fixed firmly on Jesus. It is possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own fears and anxieties? Anyone who focuses on the world's "decrepitude" is bound to become decrepit. A son showing sacrificial love toward his aging dad, a student struggling through failure to pass the course, a divorcee adapting to a new environment, hard work, failure, simplicity, gratitude, perseverance -- there are too many virtues awash in our fallen world to even begin to list here. God's faithfulness ought to melt our hearts and dampen our eyes. His goodness should lead us to repent of our morose thoughts about life. The passions of youth may subside, but we can't spend our days by the casket of things past. There is a new day to be greeted and a new chapter to write. Indeed, if you take eternity into account, we are merely on the Introduction!
Wednesday, February 20
7:45 PM This and that (in pictures):
Having Mexican for lunch with some colleagues. Guys, your friendship is so appreciated.
A doctoral student of mine teaching my Greek students Tuesday night. Huss, you did a great job.
Thank you, Amazon Prime. 'Nuf said.
While I was on campus, my son and his wife stopped by the farm and replaced my old cedar fence.
Thank you, Nate and Jess. It looks beautiful.
The boys helped, of course, especially by taking good care of Sheba.
Need I say more? This is exactly my life, and I love it. Seriously, my thanks to all who have made my week so special.
Bring on the next race!
Monday, February 18
8:42 AM Does running in one ultramarathon make you an ultramarathoner? If it does, well then, I guess I'm an ultra runner. Barely. My 50K ultra last year was the longest, hardest, and most challenging race of my life.
I definitely started out faster than I should have. After the 16 mile halfway point people started passing me. And passing me. I was feeling great for a while and then reality set in. The second half was much harder than the first. Plus the trail conditions weren't all that great. Still, it was an INCREDIBLE experience. Although I contemplated quitting on several occasions, the Lord kept allowing me to muster energy from somewhere. The final road to the finish was a slight uphill. I ran with all my heart to get there. When I finally crossed the finish line the race director himself was there to shake my hand. That had never happened before. I couldn't wait to hang out at the refreshment table with my fellow runners and bask in the sense of accomplishment we were all feeling.
The question today is: Should I try and do another ultra this year? Upon reflection, I've learned that ultras tax your strength and endurance to the limit. Only my stamina and hardheadedness got me through. But my lack of raw physical strength really held me back. Still, I'm insanely grateful to God for the experience. The ultra runners welcomed me with open arms. It's the humans you connect with along the way that make running so worthwhile. At the end of the race you're tired, but it's a good tired if you know what I mean. It's like how I feel after getting up hay bales. Farming is hard work but it's good work. It puts you to bed at night with a good tired. So right now I'm in uncertainty mode. I still need to find balance between my running life and the other lives I live. An ultra is all about survival. It's all about moving forward. Run if you can. Walk or crawl if you must. I want to do this. I love watching people push themselves beyond their limits. There are two races I'm looking into as both are fairly close to the farm. The first is held at the Tobacco Heritage Trail between LaCrosse and Lawrenceville, VA. It's called the Thoroughbred Races. The second race is held on the same trail where I ran my ultra last year: the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. In this race you run at night, hence the name Night Train 50K and Half Marathon. Both seem to be very well organized. This is not to say I won't be doing road marathons this year. On deck are the Flying Pig in May and the Chicago in October. But I would like to do another long run this year.
That's all I've got for now. Time to put on my teacher's hat!
8:04 AM This is a great book.
Someone needs to translate it into English. (Not me.)
Sunday, February 17
7:10 PM I'm warning you: This post is long and boring and I won't be offended in the least if you leave now. In the Greek classes I teach we discuss words and how they take on meaning. It's all part of an effort to make classes practical and motivational. At the same time, there's nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word's meaning by its parts. For example, some insist that a New Testament church is "called out" from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts—ek, "out of," and kaleō, "I call." Hence the church is a "called out" organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.
In New Testament usage, however, the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of "called out ones." Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn't meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and have nothing in common. Ochlos is often glossed as "crowd" in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I pose this question in my classes, I usually get several excellent responses: "gathering," "assembly," "congregation," and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term "community." Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of us are ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: "We're all in this together. So let's do it together." This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our "church" — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.
As you know, in recent years I've become part of a similar community, one known simply as the "running community." The similarities between this community and the "church" are legion. As soon as I began running competitively, I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners.
I'm not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: "I'm looking for a Bible for my mother, but I'm not sure who the author is." A novice runner asks you, "How far is your next 5K race?" As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn. We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn't matter how fast we run or how far we run. It doesn't matter whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a recent 5K race I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I'll never forget. He said, "Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran." I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him "The World’s Greatest Runner Award" that day. Folks, the Christian life is a race we run together. It's no different in the running community. "Hey guys. I've got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?" Or (in the church), "As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?" The point is: We are there for each other.
As I've gotten older, I've found my priorities changing. I find myself wanting richer, more intimate and complex relationships with my family and friends. Like women, men have a primal need for closeness. We were created for relationships. Men discover that as they move into middle and older age they also move from competition to connecting. The best corporate managers are those who foster networks of connectivity. The best professors, too, prize being hands-on guides and mentors to their students, and not only disseminators of information. Before Becky died, she was the one who did most of the connecting with our kids on an emotional level. But as I've come into my own as a widower, I've come to a realization that emotionally connecting with my kids and grandkids is deeply enriching. One of the things that my loss of Becky did for me personally was to make me value and cherish my family more. It's like taking the barnacles off. Now is the time in life to enjoy my family. The real ideal of manhood here is "servant-leader" in which we men discover our nurturing side. The apostle Paul had a lot to say about love. He knew that love is not blind. Nobody is perfect, least of all those closest to us. What is necessary in love is the ability to see others as God sees us. And to love others correctly, we must first love ourselves. The self must first be strong and whole before we can offer true and lasting love to others. Love is a positive sum game where both sides can and should win.
Which brings me back to the notion of community. An athletic team has goals that far surpass the aspirations of its individual players. And that's true of all of life. As I look forward to the winter of my life, I want to be a man who joins the "I" to the "we," whether that's in my family, my church, my profession, my mission work, and even my hobbies. Saying I want to do this is quite easy. Becoming the self I want to become is quite difficult. But every healthy relationship at least makes an attempt to meld the "I" with the "we."
Well, that's the end of my ridiculously long blog post. If you're not bored to tears, then clearly you're a blog junky like me. If you made it to the end, you deserve a cookie!
5:14 PM William Varner (Philippians, p. 38) on Paul's "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain":
8:58 AM In just 3 weeks my Greek course on Philippians begins. I've asked the class to listen to the entire book using my audio files. Why not listen along?
By the way, I use the so-called Erasmian pronunciation. Other pronunciation schemes are used nowadays as well. Which is the best? So hotly debated is this question that we've asked Randall Buth to lecture on "Pronunciation" at our upcoming Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference. Randall is flying all the way from Israel to join us. I hope you can join us too.
Speaking of Greek, I'm sure you're all familiar with the legend of Pheidippedes. He was the runner who announced to the Athenians that the Greeks were victorious over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The distance between Marathon and Athens was about 25 miles.
As the legend goes, upon arriving in Athens, Pheidippedes announced
and then promptly died. My question for you: How would you translate this Greek verb?
Alas, this goes to the heart of the debate today over the significance of the perfect tense in Koine Greek. Addressing this topic at our linguistics conference will be none other than Mike Aubrey, who edits the website Koine Greek. Yet another good reason to attend.
P.S. On the tomb of the Athenians in Marathon is an epigram by Simonides:
Do you like the English rendering? To me, the second line is somewhat of a loose paraphrase. How would you render the Greek?
Saturday, February 16
5:02 PM Phil. 1:27-29 in the Dave Black Version:
What Paul really wrote:
Lord, forgive me. The head should not grow when the hands and feet shrink.
11:32 AM I recall once reading about a church in Africa that baptizes new converts in the ocean. The candidate is literally thrown into a wave "in the name of the Father," at which point he or she is washed back to shore. (Can't you just picture that?) But it gets even better. The church leaders quickly pick up the now drenched convert and throw him or her into another wave "in the name of the Son." This is repeated a third time, "in the name of the Spirit." (Interestingly, as a lifelong surfer I've noticed that waves often come in sets of three.) The point apparently is not simply to emphasize the name of the Triune God. In baptizing people this way, converts are given a tactile baptismal experience that initiates them into the struggle of the Christian faith. "Hey, follow Jesus if you want to, but man, it's going to cost you!" I'm reminded of Paul’s famous "encouraging message" to the believers in Asia Minor. After urging them to stick with their new-found faith and not give up, he said, "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through hard times" (Acts 14:22).
I can't resist the temptation to draw yet another analogy to running in a race. In many ways, that first race was your easiest. After all, that's where you got your very first PR (Personal Record). Now that you are a "runner," however, the real struggle begins. Some days you just can't get out of bed to do it. You struggle with willpower, with sore feet, with aching quads, with lack of motivation. I'm not proud to admit it, but I have these struggles almost every day. As Unknown once said, "My sweatpants smell like give up." Life can be hard. Actually, life is hard. On race day my legs often feel like they weigh 200 pounds each. You have to learn to push the doubts aside and just keep on going. And I will. Because I'm hooked. Even with all my self-doubts and infirmities, I am a dedicated runner. My race times might not make salacious headlines, but for me they are symbols of victory. I'm overwhelmed by the joy of it all, despite all the "hard times." Racing, like life, is just plain tough work. But the task is made easier when I consider that everything I have is a gift from God, freely bestowed, so I should freely give it back in return (Matt. 10:8). I never want to back off from doing something because it looks too hard or because I don't want to "fail." Fact is, Jesus helps us in our Christian walk, and He's always there to pick us up should we fall.
Baptism means death. It means, "Hello! Ready for a fight? Ready to face temptations that blitz you daily? Ready to be a Christian in a non-Christian world? Ready to love your neighbor as you love yourself? Ready to exercise love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — the marks of a true Christian?" No one is ever ready to do that. But you have to start somewhere. You get saved, you get wet. Baptism is your public pledge of total and complete allegiance to your Lord and Master and Savior and Redeemer and Best Friend. And, as a Spirit-filled Christian, you should be able to keep on running your race to the glory of God.
Awaiting baptism at Kailua Beach at the age of 8.
8:42 AM To continue our discussion of internal evidence. This morning I was studying Mark's account of Jesus' temptation. As everyone knows, Mark uses an unusual verb to describe the way the Spirit "sends" (ekballei) Jesus into the wilderness.
Some have latched onto this verb as evidence for Markan priority. They call ekballei a cruder term than Matthew's "Jesus was led" or Luke's "the Spirit led Him." Then they ask: If Mark came after Matthew and Luke, why would Mark have taken perfectly normal diction and changed it into a cruder form of expression? My own sense is that Mark's ekballei is vivid rather than crude. Note also the fact that it's in the present tense. Mark loves the historical present. In other words, I see nothing in Mark's language to suggest that his account is either prior or posterior to the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Mark's language is simply different.
Yes, the verb ekballei is a very strong one, but there's nothing crude or inferior about it. That translators have difficulty in rendering the verb into English is no argument for its priority either. Every Gospel writer has his own idiolect. (Take John's habit of using synonymous words synonymously, as with agapaō and phileō). I had two translations open before me this morning. The Good News Bible renders ekballei as follows:
And here's the new Delitzsche translation:
I think both miss the point. For ekballō I might prefer "thrust." Or perhaps "compel." One thing I value greatly about my Greek students is their willingness to grapple with really difficult issues of translation. Too much in our American educational system is based on lectures and final exams. There's not a lot in the way of reading texts as texts and then struggling with the best way to translate these ancient texts into understandable and idiomatic English. I find that our system of education does not encourage independence of thought as much as the system I was used to in Basel. There's a large gap between classroom and church. That's one reason I began a Greek class in a local church in my home town of Kailua a couple of years ago. I also hope to do the same in Phoenix shortly. I want my students to see how utterly practical Greek is for their understanding of everything about the Christian life, including our understanding of something as basic as the Great Commission. (This subject will comprise one of the three talks I'll be giving at Piedmont University in April.) Today, I am intrigued to note that there is a movement toward returning biblical education to the local church, the place where I suppose it all began two thousand years ago. The essence of the Christian Gospel is that it establishes local communities of Jesus followers who contend intelligently for the faith. No one can become a medical doctor without clinical experience. The preparation of Jesus-missioners languishes a long way behind because practical training is often discounted in favor of a more formalized education. That's one reason I'm so excited when one of my Greek students tells me he or she is teaching Greek in their local church. The goal is to take what we learn in seminary and pass it on to others. I call it hands-on Christianity.
The remarkable thing about my time in the Word this morning was how simple it was. You just grab your Bible(s) and a cup of coffee and go to work.
Any of us can do this. Call it a "devotion" if you want to. But getting to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings is a goal that will keep us occupied from here on out!
Friday, February 15
6:40 PM Today I read a delightful essay called Writing on the Tough Days. The author is very insightful. I really didn't want to write today, but here I was, making one last pass through my latest book before sending it off to the publisher.
Michael Green once called himself a writer by mistake. I could say the same thing about myself. My first passion is the classroom. I hit the ground running in 1976 and it really took off. Books, however, occupy a good deal of my time. Mostly reading them. Sometimes I write them. Not many. And not necessarily the books I set out to write. My beginning grammar and my second year grammar, for example, were invitations from the publishers. Later on I wrote even more textbooks. At first I wrote as though I was writing. Nowadays I write like I speak. With all of my books, the publishers did a splendid job. Me? I'm an okay writer I guess. If there's one discernable theme in my writing, I suppose its simply the attempt to write for normal, everyday people who want to address serious scholarly issues but who feel intimidated by scholarship. This latest book of mine almost wrote itself. I don't expect it will have a far-reaching circulation. I wrote the book mostly because I needed the encouragement as a runner. They Will Run and Not Grow Weary stresses the fact that we, as Christian runners, are called to serve the Lord through our running. Running is an act of worship, since worship, according to the New Testament, is something we do 24/7 and not just on Sunday (see Rom. 12:1-2). Running, therefore, is a ministry for me -- an attempt to care for the temple the Lord has given me. The temple, by the way, is feeling a wee bit run down today. Nothing major -- just a few sniffles and some sneezing. Trying to run with cold symptoms is usually not a very good idea. I'm not (too) disheartened. I know I will heal up. I'm just fatigued. Which is why I went out for dinner tonight. I just couldn't bring myself to cook. Besides, they're running a special on arroz con pollo.
This was my way of rewarding myself for the accomplishments of the past week -- and for buttoning down and getting some writing done today. If I'm actually sick, I'm probably not going to run or bike for a few days. I can't "push through everything" like I once did when I was younger. I know this is the time of the year for colds. If you're suffering from one of those colds, I hope you're on the mend soon.
Okay. Time for another Airborne ... and a good movie.
9:15 AM In one of my talks at Phoenix Seminary I quoted the Scottish proverb that says, "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it's not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus." Oh, I do hope the message came through loud and clear. Seminaries do not exist for scholarship. Yes, we need to study the Bible, and study it carefully. But the goal of the careful study of the Bible is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to become obedient Jesus-followers who feed the poor and open our homes to strangers and share Jesus with the lost and live lives characterized by scandalous love for our enemies. Show me a New Testament teacher off mission, and I'll show you somebody who has no concept of what the New Testament is all about.
8:45 AM There is something wonderful going on the world of New Testament textual criticism these days. I was reminded of that fact this morning when I found myself perusing these websites:
One name you will often see in these sites is that of Peter Gurry, a scholar I had the honor of meeting last weekend in Phoenix. Peter, it seems to me, represents a growing trend of those who are willing to acknowledge the value of the Byzantine text even while questioning some of the tenets of the Byzantine Priority Theory. In his essay The All-or-Nothing Problem with Byzantine Priority, he puts into words a concern I've had for a very long time, namely, the highly subjective nature of arguments for or against a certain reading based on the internal evidence. For me, the internal evidence -- be it when we are discussing textual criticism or the Synoptic Problem or the authorship of a New Testament writing such as Hebrews -- is not probative but corroborative. I emphasized that point last week in my NT class when we were discussing the Four-fold Gospel Hypothesis that I espouse. Matthean priority, in my view, is based solidly on the external evidence, but it can also be corroborated by the internal evidence (for example, the "zigzagging" effect caused by Peter's following now the scroll of Matthew, now the scroll of Luke). Likewise, as far as textual criticism is concerned, I argued in my little book on the subject that the reading "in the prophets" in Mark 1:2 is unlikely to be original because it is found in only one of the three major text types. Here the Western and Alexandrian texts ("in Isaiah the prophet") combine against the Byzantine. One could argue additionally that the internal evidence supports the reading "in Isaiah the prophet." I've heard it said that since the passage actually quotes two prophets, Isaiah and Malachi, the change to "in the prophets" makes perfectly good sense. A Byzantine priorist, however, might demur by arguing that "in the prophets" was original but was changed to "in Isaiah the prophet" because, in actuality, there's only one direct quote in the passage (from Isaiah); the Malachi text is only alluded to. I get that argument. It seems unlikely to me, but that's a possible reading of the internal evidence.
Peter Gurry argues that the Byzantine Priority position would be "more consistent if it said that 'transmission considerations' (i.e., external evidence) is decisive and that the internal evidence is only needed secondarily for large splits in the Byzantine witnesses." He adds:
My own view is very close to Dr. Gurry's. Hence I've argued for the originality of Byzantine readings in places like Eph. 1:1, Matt. 5:22, Mark 6:20, and John 3:13, not because they are Byzantine readings per se, but rather because these readings enjoy a greater geographical distribution than their competitors. To return to the tune I've been playing: To me, the external evidence seems to be probative in almost every instance, while the internal evidence seems to be corroborative.
Anyhow, I hope you'll bookmark the three websites I linked to above. Each takes a stuffy, somewhat complicated subject like textual criticism and makes it palatable.
P.S. In my book on the kingdom (Godworld), I'm having to work through a first-class textual variant in Matt 6:13. Do the words "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever, amen" belong in the text? I'm finding Jonathan Borland's essay very helpful!
Thursday, February 14
1:14 PM Goats are always full of surprises. Anyone who owns goats will tell you that they are incredibly smart. They're always looking for greener grass too. Goats will go over, under, or through at the drop of a hat. Here's the view I had as I was driving down my driveway this morning.
"Lookie here! We've escaped! Yay!"
Goats rub on fences and buildings, and today my goats managed to open a hole in the barn siding. Out they merrily went! I kid you not. (Awful, I know.) Ya gotta give 'em credit, though. They did manage to escape. However, here at Rosewood Farm we have a non-escape policy for all of our animals, including the Boers. Needless to say, it took a bit of coaxing to get them back into the pasture, but my persistence eventually paid off.
People raise goats for all kinds of reasons. Some for their meat (we did this for many years). Some for their milk (we never had milk goats). And some just because they make wonderful pets (except when they're in escape-mode). In case you've never noticed, I love animals. As in really, really love them. Who needs TV when you can watch the goats and your other farm animals doing their thing? But I don't want them getting out and walking down to the road, where they could cause havoc (as some goats did recently in an Idaho suburb). Plus, I'd really like to remain on good terms with my neighbors.
I'll close with some (lame) goat jokes.
8:30 AM When was the last time you had a good, long rest? My mind is fried from teaching and speaking so much and my body is tired from being on the go for so many days in a row. I just sit here at my desk with a wild smirk on my face that resembles one of those "You're weird" emojis. I can't help but laugh at myself. "Remember, Dave, you did this to yourself." This morning I got out my old Good News Bible (oh, do I love this translation) and read John's Upper Room Discourse.
The Greek is even more interesting, of course. Many questions arise. In 14:1, does the Greek mean "Believe in God; believe also in Me" or "You believe in God; believe also in Me"?
In 14:14, does Jesus say, "If you ask Me for anything in My name" or "If you ask for anything in My name"?
In 14:17, does Jesus say about the Spirit, "He remains with you and is in you" or "He remains with you and will be in you"?
See how relevant Greek is? But what struck me the most from my reading this morning was the use of the so-called "first class condition" in 15:18: "If the world hates you [and IT REALLY DOES!], just remember that it hated Me first."
Hear this: Persecution is alive and well on this old planet of ours. Just this week I received news of extreme persecution in a country I've visited 17 times. Tumultuous waters are everywhere. Opposition to Christ is a stream that has become a current that is turning into a raging flood. At the same time, the body of Christ is mobilizing in unprecedented numbers to deal with the crisis, not through military might but by fearlessly proclaiming liberty to the captives. I think that the sooner we untether from the American Dream and the trap of "more," we as a church in America will truly be able to speak truth to power and overcome evil through loving deeds of towel and basin ministries. As I hear stories of courage in the face of enormous persecution, I applaud my brothers and sister in these lands. Honestly, no one can be sure what the future of the church in America will look like. But our baseline as a community of Jesus-followers never changes: Love God, love others. This is everything.
Today, as I "rest," I've got a long list of tasks to complete, including reading a Ph.D. prospectus, working on the quizzes for my Philippians class (which starts in a couple of weeks), and working on my 2018 taxes. My next marathon isn't until May (this race) so I'm going to take a long break from marathon training because it's such a huge time commitment. Right now my body feels like rubber, and I'm not good for anything except to lie around the house munching on donuts. I also want to start incorporating recovery weeks into my training schedule, not just recovery days. I want to do as much cross training as I do running, and I want to manage my life better. I have no idea what living out the kingdom might look like for you. You have an entirely different set of factors in your life. There isn't a list we all have to follow. I just want to say, I'm on your team. I'm pulling for you every bit as much as those dear folks along the sideline at last Saturday's marathon were cheering us runners on. We can rest in Him without becoming lazy or unproductive. The goal is to cultivate a quiet heart in the midst of a crazy world.
Rest. Recover. Carry on.
Wednesday, February 13
7:10 PM Wowsers. This has got to be the longest I've ever gone without blogging. Well, probably not. But it feels like the longest. Why? Because I've got so much to share with y'all. Where should I start? I don't really know. So I'll let my pictures do the talking. Sorry for the photo dump, but be grateful you aren't being treated to all 5 million pictures I took on my trip to Arizona.
1) Welcome to the definition of urban sprawl, aka Phoenix. This was my view as I landed at Sky Harbor Airport last Friday afternoon. Get the picture?
Recently Phoenix edged out Philly to become the fifth largest city in the U.S. and the quickest-growing city in the nation. The end results are swaths of brown homes fading into the brown desert -- plus highways that are moving parking lots.
2) After landing I picked up my rental car and headed straight to the race expo at Riverview Park in Mesa.
Note: My Airbnb was in Tempe, the race was in Mesa, I preached on Sunday in Phoenix, and I taught on Monday in Scottsdale. Not that you would know you were in four different cities. Like I said, the Greater Phoenix Area is now one huge megalopolis, much like L.A. is (and I don't mean Lower Alabama). At the expo I was a bit shocked to find out that they had somehow misplaced my race registration and so there wasn't a race bib waiting for me. Not exactly a good way to start your marathon experience. Thankfully, the race director personally made everything right (that you, Darrell!), and I finally got a race number, which was a very close call because the event had sold out a week before I arrived in Phoenix.
3) By now I was starving and needed to fill my tank before heading to my home-away-from-home to get to bed on the early side. After all, I had to get up at 3:00 am the next morning. Fuel is a key ingredient for a successful run. Like gas is to your car engine, so food is to your body. I decided to stop by the Olive Garden and fuel up with some high-octane gas.
I needed to replenish my stores of carbohydrates, and I find that spaghetti almost always fits the bill.
4) The next morning I devoured two pancakes and downed two cups of coffee at Dennys before driving back to Riverview to catch a bus to the starting line. The Phoenix Marathon is a point to point race with no runner drop-offs at the race start, so everyone has to ride the bus. Traffic, parking, and the lines for the busses were nightmares, so I'm glad I got there early. I stood in this line for 50 minutes before finally boarding my bus.
5) Upon arriving at the start 45 minutes later, there was another long line for the porta-potties, but after 35 minutes or so, I was finally ready to head to my place in the pack.
6) At 6:30 sharp we were off.
The weather was perfect for a marathon -- in the 40s with overcast skies. I probably didn't need to wear as many layers as I did, since your body temperature increases while moving, but I knew that I could always throw off a layer or two along the course if I needed to (and thus help Goodwill at the same time).
7) Once you get going you really come alive and your heart is beating and your legs are churning and you are beginning to enjoy the race and the natural beauty all around you.
Despite the overall downhill nature of the course, I wasn't expecting to accomplish anything memorable at this race. My goal was to finish well under 6 hours, and to do this I adopted a run-walk strategy of 1:1 (30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking). I didn't want to run continually as I normally do for the first half of a marathon. By using the walk-run method, I was able to endure the impact of the constant jarring on my knees and to complete the race without pain. I discovered that alternating running and walking made the time go by quickly.
8) I began to really enjoy the "feel" of the Arizona desert and the sense of accomplishment that marathoners have when they find themselves out there on the course.
9) I managed to get to mile 13.1 (the halfway point) without any cramping and discomfort in my feet. I was pleased with my first half split even though I had taken time to get fluids into my body at every aid station.
10) At one point I began to wonder if I would ever complete the whole distance. During every marathon you reach the place where you think running 26.2 miles is impossible. The key is to break the distance down into bite-sized chunks. When you do that, the race doesn't seem so hard. In the end, the goal for every racer is to take that one last step across the finish line.
11) As a volunteer hangs a medal around your neck, you realize that you actually accomplished your objective of finishing the race strong and unassisted.
As I sit here tapping at the keys of my computer, thinking about my first marathon only two and a half years ago, I can feel the hair on my arms stand up. In one single step across the finish line at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in 2017, my life changed forever. I may not be in the top tier of my age group, but I am fitter, better trained, and more disciplined than I was three years ago. Somewhere along the way, the Lord allowed me to discover the joy of running, and I haven't looked back.
12) Sunday morning arrived early for me (there's a two hour time difference between the East Coast and Arizona), so I decided to attend two different church services before I was scheduled to speak at Mercy Hill Church. As you know, I'm writing a book called Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk, which is about what the kingdom of God should look like as well as about various manifestations of the kingdom through church history and in different expressions of Christendom. I started my day at the local Episcopal Cathedral, and then I stopped by New City Church. Eventually I made my way to Mercy Hill where I met up with some of the finest elders you'll ever know.
13) My message to the congregation was a simple one: We're in this kingdom thing together. It's time we as followers of Jesus minister, disciple, preach, pray, teach, evangelize, love, care, sing, and sacrifice together.
I was preaching to the choir! Mercy Hill (in cooperation with St. Mary's Food Bank) distributes food to over 1,500 people every week, and its affordable housing units offer 20 apartments for seniors and others in need of transitional housing. What is there to do, church, but to open our doors to the needy all around us? It was such a great honor for me to have met the people at Mercy Hill. I like being with these kinds of people because they are following so closely to Jesus and that's simply contagious.
14) That evening I was eager to meet the owners of the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant in Tempe. The food was incredible, and I was able to leave a copy of Becky's book with their daughter Fasika.
15) Arizona, oh Arizona. What would you be like without cactus? Before I flew out on Tuesday I made sure I got in a good long walk in one of the state's many desert parks.
16) Arizona has a wide diversity of plant and animal life, including more than 11,000 insects, 4,000 plants, 475 birds, and 90 reptiles. Vegetation alone consists of Joshua trees, creosote bushes, barrel cactus, prickly pear, agave, and saguaros. Suffice it to say you really need to visit this place.
17) After my hike it was time to drive to Scottsdale where I had been invited to speak at Phoenix Seminary.
18) Here's Phoenix's Dynamic Duo -- John Meade (Old Testament) and Peter Gurry (New Testament).
19) Peter was so gracious to give up an hour in both his Greek class and his New Testament class for me to speak. Just an amazing group of students.
So there you have it. My Arizona adventure. I get asked a lot: How do have time and energy to do all you do? My answer is always the same. Stop being a baby. Don't overthink everything. Just get out there and DO. I realize that I'm the type of person who always likes to be active. But I'm not always the wisest in knowing what to do and when. The bottom line is that I'm committed to being as healthy as I can be for as long as the Lord allows it. I think the absolute worst thing is to just not do anything. So, while I do have aches and pains from all of the exercising I do, I keep my eye on the prize: the ability to maintain enough strength and stamina to teach and write and travel and do all the things I believe God wants me to do before He's done with me.
Friend, I hope you do something you love every day. No, it may not be running. It may be something else. But we all need to do something to keep ourselves active and engaged.
Great rest of the week to you all!
Friday, February 8
4:58 AM Off to run the Phoenix Marathon tomorrow, Lord willing. It'll be a piece of cake. (Sarcasm.) Sunday I preach. Monday I lecture at Phoenix Seminary. Busy, busy, busy. And yet I crave activity. There is nothing like it. Getting to the starting line of a marathon takes a lot of planning and preparation. But the actual race is always a shot in the dark. My philosophy? Be kind to yourself on race day. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the event. Give it your best effort. And if you don't achieve your goals, it doesn't mean that your race was a failure. In the end, the race matters only to yourself. Sure, your family and friends are supportive. But they'll be proud of you regardless of when (or even whether) you cross the finish line.
Thursday, February 7
12:15 PM Just finished my final pre-race run. Tomorrow I'll give the old legs a break. I'm eager to start the marathon. This is one activity I LOVE.
P.S. Running is good for you. Who knew?
6:45 AM Did Jesus forbid all anger, or only unrighteous anger? Common sense tells us that what Jesus says should trump what we think about the matter. Let's discuss this today, just like we did in my NT class yesterday. Our text is Matt. 5:22. Either Jesus is saying," If anyone gets angry with their brother or sister, they will be liable to judgment," or "If anyone gets angry with their brother or sister without a good reason, they will be liable to judgment." See those words "without a good reason"? The Greek here is actually a single word, eikē. The former rendering has a kick-you-in-the-teeth quality about it. "Anger? Never!" The latter reading has a bit more nuance to it, wouldn't you say? "If you do get angry, make sure you have a very good reason for doing so."
Let's examine the evidence for and against this little adverb eikē. Newsflash! There's no consensus today among New Testament scholars as to the best way of resolving textual variants. I'm exhausted just thinking about the possibilities! I personally like the approach that asks us to examine both the external evidence and the internal evidence. So let's start with the external evidence, that is, the evidence provided by the Greek manuscripts, the ancient versions, and the early church fathers. Take a look-see:
I've got two takeaways here:
1. Both readings are early.
2. The disputed word eikē has greater geographical distribution. I might summarize the evidence as follows:
As for the internal evidence, that is, the evidence provided by considering such matters as an author's style or a scribe's propensities, here's what Bruce Metzger wrote in his Textual Commentary:
Metzger's conclusion has been followed by a great many commentators, including Don Carson (in both his book on the Sermon on the Mount and his Matthew commentary). Do I agree with them? Yes and no. I agree in the sense that the word eikē could have been added in order to soften Jesus' statement. But here's the problem I have with that suggestion. A change in the exact opposite direction is also possible. If so, then why isn't this second alternative mentioned? It most certainly should be. Let's assume for the moment that the word eikē is in fact original. How then would we account for its omission? This is a no brainer. A scribe could have easily omitted the word because it made Jesus appear to be too soft on anger. In other words:
After a 45-minute discussion, I felt I could make the following argument with my class:
1. Examine the textual evidence for yourself.
2. Even if you do conclude that the shorter reading is more likely to be original here, be aware that some people in your congregation might be using an English translation (e.g., NKJV) that includes "without cause" in this verse.
3. Be thankful that we haven't lost a single word of the New Testament. It's just that we're not always sure whether the original reading is printed above the line in our Greek New Testament or below it (i.e., related to the textual apparatus).
4. Finally, if a Bible translation is going to refer to textual variants in its footnotes, it might be helpful to the reader to use less question-begging language. Saying "Some manuscripts insert" or "Other mss add" prejudices the reader against the longer reading here. In my opinion, it's far better to say simply, "Other mss read" or "Some mss have."
Let me close with a caveat: Despite the plethora of new books being published today on New Testament textual criticism, I don't think we're any closer to arriving at a consensus among scholars as to the best method for resolving textual variants. I am adopting the proverbial "We'll see" (or, for the Christian, "We'll pray about it") before concluding that the latest fad in textual criticism is really going to help the church. Exegesis, however, floats down a different river. My friend, you can't avoid textual criticism when you study the New Testament. Merely adopting the reading of whatever English Bible you happen to be using is so very un-Berean. For the love of Moses, get into the text yourself. If you need some help getting started, read my primer. If you'd like to go deeper into the text of Matt. 5:22, read my Novum Testamentum article. This means --brace yourself -- no more merely quoting an expert but actually digging into the text for yourself. My land, do we have far to go! But it's worth the effort. Why? Because God has given us His spectacular word, and we value it.
P.S. The answer to yesterday's question: Which step of exegesis is missing in each of these textbooks? Here's your answer.
Wednesday, February 6
7:52 PM Which step of exegesis is missing in each of these textbooks? Answer tomorrow!
7:45 PM The three steps in mastering a foreign language:
1. Learn the language.
2. Use it.
3. Keep on using it.
That's it. Simple but not easy.
7:34 PM I did it. I managed to get in a long (20-mile) bike yesterday. The weather was absolutely perfect. Who would have thought you could take a bike ride in early February in 70 degree temperatures?
I should have worn my snazzy cycling shorts.
Truth be told, I was in hog heaven. I mean, you could not have asked for a better day to get in some training. I really pushed myself, which I both hate and love at the same time. I hate not being able to breath. I love it when I look at my Garmin afterwards. What else did I do? Taught my four classes. Had a Bible Area faculty meeting. Had lunch with the director of our East Asia Leadership Initiative. Packed up some of my books to give away in a drawing at Phoenix Seminary on Monday.
Tomorrow I'll do a medium run to shake out my legs before flying to Arizona on Friday. I'm not sure what's harder on your body: running in a marathon or flying in airplanes. So now, it's on to my biggest race of 2019 thus far. I'm ready to get this thing started.
Oh, did I tell you the temp tomorrow here in Southern Virginia is supposed to be 76 degrees? This is crazy.
Monday, February 4
7:55 AM Please tell me I'm not the only one who obsesses about the weather before a race. Here's the forecast for Phoenix for the rest of the week, including race day (Saturday).
The Lord's been working overtime on the weather, as you can see. Conditions on race day are perfect for a marathon. I haven't seen what the humidity is supposed to be but, come on, this is Phoenix, right? Dry heat and all that. This week in the Forest of Wake conditions are just as pleasant.
Which means that I should be able to get in another training workout tomorrow. (Today is rest day.) I still pinch myself whenever I think that I'm actually doing this. What motivated you to start exercising? Why did you get involved in running, or biking, or mountain climbing, or hiking? I started running because I was looking for something to do to get my mind off of other things. I loved the challenged it posed, and I loved how great I felt afterwards. Running is me time, God time, time to enjoy fresh air and to work through stress. I keep running because I'm amazed at what this old body can do. Running has helped me to stay in shape. It's provided an avenue to help out some charities. Granted, I'm slower now than I used to be, but I can still go long. Fauja Singh ran the Toronto Marathon at the age of 100. He took up running when, at the age of 83, he watched his son be decapitated in a freak accident. He ran for the mental health of it.
I love the fact that anybody can be a runner. At almost every big marathon you see them: people of every size, shape, and talent level. They are part of the "second running boom," the first being limited to elite racers. Everyone is welcome today. Just hang out at a race and see for yourself who is running, walking, and crawling across the finish line. This Saturday will be no exception. There's nothing quite like the feeling of lining up at the starting line of a 26.2 mile race with no other goal than to make it to the finish line. Every mile that ticks away on your Garmin watch is another giant "No!" to all the "I can'ts" in your life. Don't believe me? Try it. Running doesn't define me. There are more important things in life. But running has built up my perseverance and reminds me that I don't have to fit into anybody's caricature of aging.
That is why I run. You?
Sunday, February 3
5:35 PM This week begins my taper before Saturday's marathon. However, that doesn't mean I'm idle. After church I drove to Charles City, hopped on my bike, and set off for a long training session. Unbelievably, the day was so warm I could actually wear a tank top.
The Virginia Capital Trail is nothing new to all of you. I've reported on it several times. It's mostly flat and fast. The conditions today were pretty good when you consider how badly hit this part of Virginia was during December's flooding. For the most part, things looked like this.
But there were some wet spots.
And in some places, the pines had fallen across the trail and had to be cut up.
Kudos to whoever takes such good care of the trail. I ended up doing 26.2 miles today. My goal was to try and beat 2 hours for biking that distance. That had never happened before, until today. I managed it, but barely.
That's all I've got time for right now since I have to cook my meals for the week. I am tired and a bit saddle sore but nothing a good night's sleep can't cure. In less than a week I have to run the same distance I biked today. I feel ready for it. All I have to do is keep on training and ignoring the logic of this ridiculous sport.
7:46 AM In his book A Touch of Life, Arthur Gordon writes about the time he stumbled upon an ancient cemetery in an oak grove in the Deep South. One of the gravestones marked the resting place of somebody's wife who had died of a fever in 1865. Beneath her name were these words:
The process of grief recovery begins when we realize that nothing can reverse what has happened. No one can bring our loved one back from the grave. What has happened has happened. So you simply move ahead. You let God be God so that you can be normal again and learn that He is there even in the dark times.
As I look back now, I see that all of my bewilderment after Becky's passing was pushing me inexorably toward God. At the same time, I can never forget what a blessing it was to have known Becky Lynn Black. Occasionally memorializing her life is something I'd like to do until I myself go the way of all flesh. Therefore, last year I commissioned a world class pianist and musical director to compose an arrangement of one of my favorite hymns -- For All the Saints -- in memory of Becky and in honor of the Savior she loved and served. Anybody who knew Becky will attest to one thing: She always sought the best, and more often than not found it. In the words of the hymn:
Last night I got the exciting news that the world premier of this hymn arrangement is set for May 12 in Dallas. I could not think of a more appropriate day for this event seeing that it's both Mother's Day and Becky's birthday. What a day of celebration it will be. My prayer is that it will fill all who attend with hope and gratitude. I want to preserve the heritage Becky passed down to her children and grandchildren and strengthen that heritage if I can. Since her passing I have found a life that is truly wholesome and good. I know that would make her happy. Indeed, her memory continues to play an important role in our family. Becky's death will always remain a dark chapter in my life. But I have a sense that the whole book will be a very good one in the end.
P.S. Here's the powerful version of For All the Saints that I listened to countless times after Becky went Home. If nothing else, it dares us to trust God and offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. Speakers up!
Saturday, February 2
6:20 PM I spent the morning at my daughter's house watching the boys put together an M1A1 tank model. Two thumbs up, guys!
Then I helped Nate and Jess load up another hay delivery before cooking supper.
Nice day for working outdoors.
As always, I labored under the watchful eye of Sheba.
Most Shelties have two floppy ears. Sheba has only one. No conformist is Miss Sheba!
Bruce Cameron once wrote, "When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason. They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude." I grew up in a world without dogs or cats or pets of any kind. Then I married Becky Lynn Lapsley. Before I knew it, I was caring for horses and donkeys and chickens and goats and sheep and angus. The dog is different, however. There are 900 million of them worldwide, 80 million of whom live in the U.S. One of them makes her home with me. If you've ever become best friends with a canine, you know how gratifying it can be. A walk with a dog makes the world seem right.
There you have it. Psychology 101. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to fill up Sheba's water bowl.
7:45 AM Already this month I've read four books. Two of them were good but two of them were meh. You can't win 'em all. Today I'm reading this massive tome (592) pages.
It's the author's doctoral dissertation at Macquarie University in Sydney. His goal is to unravel "the vexed question of the funding of Paul's mission." So far I'm enjoying it. I'll eventually turn my reading pleasure into a book review for Filologia Neotestamentaria. Every once in a while I remember to step back and count my blessings. This morning was one of those times. It's so easy to miss all of the blessings that are right before our eyes because we're so distracted by the gazillion things we have to do today. Giving thanks should be a regular part of our life. And I mean giving thanks even when the world is a jet plane in a massive uncontrolled dive. There are two ways to read a novel. You can either read the whole story from beginning to end, or you can turn to the last chapter and find out how the perpetrator is unmasked. The Scriptures predict a departure from faith in the last days. "They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to fables." Everything is being leveled in preparation for the revealing of the man of sin. A comfortable lethargy is an outstanding mark of this age. It's even possible to be doctrinally sound and sound asleep. The only answer to our apathy is an awakening, and this will not happen until we seek Him with the whole heart. I am the worst of sinners in this regard. How often do I honor Him with my lips but my heart is far from Him. How many times have I payed Him formal respect on Sunday only to live the rest of the week in my own way. How can I enjoy His creation without due regard for His nature? God despises ritual without reality. Profanity isn't just cussing. It's entering God's presence with a backslapping familiarity. During my days in the Jesus Movement (1960s), Jesus was our buddy and our pal. We called Him Jesus, not Lord. Then I read the Gospels. There I discovered that the people closest to Him never once called Him Jesus. For us Jesus freaks, the good (acceptance of Jesus as our Savior and Friend) became the enemy of the best (following Him in obedience and love). We majored on the minors when all along He was exhorting us to put first things first. Friends, let's not let the good become the enemy of the best. Conversely, let's not let the best become the enemy of the good. There's no perfection in this life. Like you, I have my ideas of what the church should look like. I call it my paper perfect church. But the fact is, it's a dangerous thing to move only in the abstract. We can't rejoice in the ideal church and not serve the local church. If we wait to join the perfect church before we do His will, we'll never do His will. God's will is done perfectly in heaven. But it's done imperfectly down here. So let's cut each other some slack. This is no excuse for not doing better, but we don't start out serving the Lord perfectly.
I'm so ready for Jesus to come back. Only the return of our Lord will make things right. Until then, let's be clear. Politics holds no hope. Neither does religion. You can't carve a brotherhood of man out of the putrid wood of unregenerate humanity. Let's "fight the good faith, finish the race, keep the faith" (2 Tim. 4:6). Paul wrote those words and then walked out to his execution on the Appian Way. Let's keep sowing good seed. Then, in due time, we will reap.
I know I'm a broken record. But the Lord's soon return should remind us not to waste time. Let's make sure we're loving and caring for those around us, starting with our families. If you see a need, help out if you can. Make things right with others if you need to. Major in the majors, like doing small acts of kindness every day. Call Him Jesus, yes, but don't forget to make Him Lord as well. Coming to Jesus makes the believer. Yielding to Him makes the disciple. We are not true Christians if the first step fails to become a daily walk.
I'm sorry for this unbelievably disjointed post. When I started this blog back in 2003, it was kind of on a whim. I thought I'd have fun with it for a few years. When Becky died, the blog became my therapy. Today I'm not really sure what it's morphed into. So thank you for reading it even when it doesn't make any sense.
Friday, February 1
7:20 PM Any time I go some place new I do tons of research beforehand because I don't want to miss out on something good. So after my 10-mile bike this morning I came home and began researching cool places to visit while I'm in Phoenix. It's not like I'm completely unfamiliar with this city. I must have been in Phoenix at least 10 times in my life. As for the State of Arizona, I know it pretty well since Becky and I lived next door in California for all those years and we'd often take our vacations in the Grand Canyon State. In case you might be making a trip there someday, I list here my 10 favorite places to visit in the great State of Arizona.
10. Lake Powell. This lake serves as water storage for several states, including California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Camping on the shore is wonderful because when the weather gets hot you can always "go jump in the lake."
9. Hoover Dam. Be sure to take the tour of the inside of this concrete dam located on the Colorado River.
8. Canyon de Chelley (pronounced Canyon duh shay) is probably the least known State Park in Arizona but it was always fun to camp here, though you do have to watch out for flash floods in the valley.
7. Petrified Forest National Park. This park is famous for its petrified wood. I can think of no more beautiful and colorful park in Arizona except for the Grand Canyon.
6. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This is a great place to camp during the summer because of its elevation. Be sure to explore its cinder cone.
5. Tombstone. Yes, that Tombstone. The original courthouse is now a museum.
4. Kaibab National Forest. We always camped here when visiting the Grand Canyon. If you're willing to rough it, primitive camping is allowed.
3. Winslow. This ghost town is located on historic Route 66. We stopped here every time we drove through Arizona to get a feel for what the old days must have been like (and because it's mentioned in the Eagles' song Take It Easy). Be sure to eat at the Falcon Restaurant.
2. Meteor Crater National Natural Landmark. This park is privately owned but is open to the public. Take a tour and explore its rim.
1. Grand Canyon. No words can describe your first visit to this mother of all National Parks. Both rims offer lodging options.
As you can see, Arizona is chockablock full of interesting places to visit with strange names (my spell check just went bonkers). Who other than a Creator could have been responsible for all of this natural beauty? You may ask, "What's it like to live in Arizona? How do people handle the heat from May to October?" I don't know since I've never lived there. Overall, though, I love this State. I've even got the Rim-to-Rim run at the Grand Canyon on my bucket list!
7:44 AM Today, what with the warmer weather, I'm going to try and get in a long bike. What do I think about when I'm cycling for miles and miles? What do you think about when you're exercising? I usually think about my short terms goals (write the introduction to our collection of papers from the linguistics conference, read a doctoral prospectus, pack for Arizona, check up on my sick grandson) and about my longer term goals (plan my trip to the Alps, arrange another fund raiser for UNC Cancer Hospital, plan my race schedule). This year I'll see my 67th birthday Lord willing. It will be a time to look ahead to what God has in store for me in the future. This week someone asked me, "Dave, where do you see yourself five years from now?" I replied without skipping a beat, "Teaching, if that's what God wants." But birthdays are also times to look back, for deep introspection. The last thing I want to do is become so focused on the future that I forget all of the blessings of yesteryear. Life offers so many rich and varied seasons. So, for what it's worth, I'm going to sit here at my pooter and try and give you a succinct account of the seasons of life that God has allowed me to experience in my teaching career. I know, succinct I am not, but I'll try.
As I look back on my teaching ministry, the one thing that stands out is the way I have always sought to find new channels to express my passion. I've discovered a "new self" through the years. These years have witnessed, perhaps, three major phases.
The first began when I graduated with my D.Theol. What I loved most about being a freshly minted doctor from Basel was serving the academy. I began doing all the things young scholars are expected to do -- write book reviews, publish journal articles, and produce books. Becky was my greatest cheerleader.
With the enthusiastic backing of my mentor at Biola (Harry Sturz), I published my first journal article in the Grace Theological Journal in 1983, the year I graduated from Basel. That led me to begin writing for other evangelical journals (JETS, CTR, WTJ, etc.). Then I began pushing into a new culture, that of the international peer-reviewed journals such as Novum Testamentum, New Testament Studies, and Biblica. That was an exhilarating change for me: I had neither planned not precipitated it. It was, I suppose, my preemptive strike against sameness and burnout, breaking out into the broader scholarly world without leaving, of course, my evangelical roots. If you continually introduce new learning situations into your life and put yourself at some risk, even mid-career scholars can sprout new foliage and make new connections. What's more, if you're going to be invited to lecture here and abroad, it's probably a good idea to reach out and make new friends. And so I became ever more attentive to ways I could serve the scholarly community, whether by writing, lecturing (Oxford, Leeds), or being involved in scholarly societies (ETS, SNTS).
Gradually, something happened to my life. I seemed to be entering a new phase of my teaching career. The older I grew, the more passionate I became about identifying and shaping young talent. As I told my friend the other day, this is one of the reasons I went to SEBTS in 1998. Becky and I weren't unhappy living in La Mirada, CA. I had, in fact, made my residence there for 27 years. I was content teaching at Biola/Talbot. Eventually, however, a couple of east coast institutions began contacting me about joining their faculties, and I began to ask myself, "If I'm going to make a move, where do I really want to go?" I learned that the president of Southeastern wanted me to come out and explore the possibility of teaching there. What attracted me to SEBTS, at least initially, was the fact that it had just started a Ph.D. program. This was important to me because I had decided that if I ever left Biola it would have to be to teach in a seminary where I could mentor doctoral students. (At that time Biola did not have a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies). And so off we went to the tobacco fields of Granville County, NC, bringing the horses and goats to our new ranch near Oxford. My days were full of firsts again. I felt young. And I noticed something else. I noticed that the focus of my publications was beginning to change. I was writing less for the academy and more for the classroom. I began to be approached by publishers to write textbooks. This started a whole secondary line of publications, including a beginning Greek grammar, an intermediate grammar, an introduction to Greek exegesis, a "solution" to the Synoptic Problem, a primer on New Testament textual criticism, and two books I co-edited with David Dockery on how to interpret the New Testament. I noticed something else too. My books were becoming shorter. Anyone who's published a book knows that writing goes through stages, from the amoeba stage to the bloated manuscript that needs shrinking until it says what it was meant to say without any unnecessary verbiage. I am indebted to my editors at Baker Academic for allowing me to put my thoughts on the bottom shelf for my students. Thus the road I had begun at Biola had turned a sharp 90 degrees. Of course, transitional periods are often unsettling, and there were some bumps in the road to be sure. But eventually I settled into my new life as teacher-mentor to hundreds of students and, thankfully, I never felt that my batteries were wearing out.
That brings me to the third and final phase of my teaching career. If the first stage focused on the academy, and the second focused on the classroom, I believe the third stage can best be described as an attempt to impact global Christianity. A crevice seemed to fall open, one that I could not get out of. And that was the happy crevice of serving Christ's worldwide church. A new model of personal existence -- post-American man -- was in the process of forming. It's not that I hadn't already travelled fairly widely in my thirties and forties. But invitations began coming my way from the most unexpected of places. Youthful exuberance was being replaced by the conviviality of shared experience. I began to tap into springs of meaning, love, and self-sacrifice. I was making a leap into 21st century discipleship -- a global partnership with the church universal. This is my serving zone, I said to myself. How could I pass up offers to teach in South Korea (6 trips), East Asia (13 trips), Ethiopia (17 trips), Ukraine (3 trips), Armenia (3 trips) and so forth when the churches there felt I had something to contribute to their life and growth? I readily admit, I didn't always have this global perspective. My own identity as a Great Commission Christian was shaky at best. But when I realized that I could serve beyond the borders of the U.S., I discovered a real passion.
As I've gone through these three phases of my teaching career, I've come to realize that much of life is learning how to exercise parts of yourself that were ignored earlier. It's absolutely essential that we assume the humble role of learner if we are going to retrofit ourselves as the years go by. Perhaps the best approach is not to cut yourself loose suddenly from the previous stages but rather to open a parallel track as you develop new roles that allow you to contribute to the church and to society. Since Becky died, I've had to ask myself, "What new projects and activities could replace the challenges and satisfactions of marriage?" I don't want someone to give me a higher handicap just because I'm stepping onto the 16th green. No one has the right to smother someone else's passion. As I previously stated, the secret in negotiating the passages of life is finding your passion and pursuing it. The more you let go of the past, and the more you let your imagination soar, the easier it will be to find satisfaction in the changes that come with aging. When I started running four years ago, I had no idea that today I would have finished 12 marathons, 17 half marathons, 4 triathlons, and a 31-mile ultra. For me, aging has released a new energy along with a renewed commitment to improving my health for the long haul. When I lost Becky, the sadness was so searing that it took months before I could sleep though the night. I was brokenhearted. But Becky had given me the kindest of gifts. "After I'm gone," she said, "you'll still have someone to care for: our children and grandchildren." She was so right. Life today is full and secure. I follow the same disciplined work ethic as always, but I am intentional about spending time with family. Personal disappointment cannot deprive me of purpose.
Jonathan Swift once wrote, "Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old." Today, at the age of 66, my mission is to explore every new frontier God places before me. Americans today are living well past 70, and more and more of them are remaining healthy, frisky, and optimistic enough to face the trials of life with resilience and a stalwart faith in God. If and when I "retire," I don't want to be comfortable. I want to be active, useful, engaged, and thinking about how to pursue my passions tomorrow. I will continue to write because God has called me to this ministry, but writing is not, in fact, something I place as the highest priority in my life. Man does not live by brains alone. Each human being is imbued by the Creator with a soul that has a unique ability to relate to other souls. My mentoring responsibilities are not done. Neither are my duties as a father and grandfather. To me, life as a 66-year old means integrating all the serial identities that have served me so well through the years of early and middle adulthood. I am who I am. And so are you. It's never too late to pour new meaning into your life.
Paul said, "To me, to go on living is Christ." I could not have expressed it as well as he did, but I share his confidence as I look to all the tomorrows of my own life.
Thursday, January 31
7:04 PM A year ago I did this Via Ferrata climb in West Virginia.
You should try it. One can never have too many fun challenges in life. This was only the second Via Ferrata I've done, the first being in the Alps in 2016. It took me about 3 hours to finish. I'm not great at vertical rock climbing but quitting is never an option. I enjoy challenging myself physically and mentally. I have a dream of doing this into my 80s. If I get enough recovery and rest days, I just might be able to.
P.S. I hired a mountain guide through NROCKS Outdoor Adventures. I'm sure glad I did. They were great.
12:10 PM Hey folks. Just helped Nate and Jess load the hay trailer.
Before that I had a great workout at the gym. Right now I'm washing and ironing my clothes. Then it's Chinese stir fry for lunch. I might get a run in this afternoon if it gets over 30 degrees. Trust me, I need the exercise.
6:55 AM Odds and ends ....
1) My thanks to Stan, Stephen, Randall, Thomas, Mike, Rob, Con, Jonathan, Michael, Nicholas, and Steven for their willingness to participate in our April conference and open several cans of worms at once. Incidentally, the conference fee goes up tomorrow (from $50.00 to $75.00), so register today.
2) Shout out to my hardworking Greek 2 students. This week they finished the indicative mood. Next week we'll have a thorough review. Then it's on to the participle, infinitive, subjunctive, imperative, etc.
One of my three sections of Greek 2 taking their weekly quiz.
3) My training stats for January:
Not exactly earth shattering, I know. But praise the Lord, I still managed to get in over 100 hours. I wanted to run today but it's too cold outside. So the Y will have to do.
4) Lord willing, a week from tomorrow I fly to Phoenix. My cynosure right now is the marathon there. I'm using this time as an excuse to eat. Which is fine as long as you maintain a proper ratio (protein/carbs/fat). While there, I'm scheduled to speak here:
Really looking forward to getting back to the desert of Arizona. My hugest, biggest, most gignormous goal for the marathon? To return home healthy and injury free.
5) Quote of the day (Peter Gurry):
6) Lunch yesterday with two of the best encouragers you'll ever meet.
That's it for now. I'm a schedule kind of guy, and on my schedule right now is to eat breakfast and then get in a workout. After that, who knows. In the meantime, I'm setting manageable life goals and working my tail off to achieve them. One of those is to tell at least one person each day what I appreciate about them. Another is to not sweat the small stuff in life.
What are your goals for 2019?
Monday, January 28
6:10 AM I woke up this morning to the soft lowing of the neighbor's cattle. I can't translate "moo" into English, but it sounded to me like a mama was looking for her baby. That's right. Mama cows and their babies can recognize each other's voices. I thought to myself, "God's creation sure is full of wonderful surprises." Birds communicate through calls and songs. Foxes have 20 different vocalizations. A gibbon's system of communication has 3 subsystems, one for signaling danger on the ground, another for signaling danger in the sky, and a third for signaling danger in a tree. The animal kingdom turns out to be a noisy place indeed. Just ask my donkeys, who bray every time they see me with a carrot in my hand. We humans have roughly 6,500 spoken languages. (The most widely-spoken is Mandarin Chinese.) I happen to teach one of those languages, and this week will be a watershed in my classes because we will finish the entire active voice in the indicative verb. That's right: unlike most Greek classes, we cover the entire indicative mood before touching any of other moods in Greek. We also cover the entire active verb before dabbling in the middle and passive. We study the second declension before the first declension because it's easier and because most New Testament nouns belong to the second declension. Make sense? This week we've only got one new morpheme to learn. I call it the passive voice morpheme and it's marked in dark yellow in the paradigm below:
Let's look at the first person plural form, eluthēmen. This word has four morphemes (just like "unfriendliness" is comprised of un, friend, li, and ness).
Hence the translation, "We were loosed." Easy cheesy!
The one thing my beginning students must absolutely come to grips with is the fact that the word is not the minimal unit of meaning in language. The morpheme is. That's why I think it's valuable to teach basic morphology even in a beginning Greek class. I find that when you understand how something works, it stays with you longer. When I was trying to learn Mandarin a few years ago, I was told "Ni hau ma" meant "How are you?" Okay. Got it. But the way my mind works, I wanted to know what every word/morpheme in that sentence meant. And here's what I learned:
This became very helpful to me when I encountered the word "good" (hau) in other contexts. If you're learning Spanish, breaking a word down into its morphemes can be very helpful. For example, nouns that end in -dad tend to be feminine (e.g., felicidad). In German, on the other hand, feminine nouns tend to end in -heit, -keit, -schaft, and -tät. Of course, German nouns resist being grouped into neat little categories. Still, patterns do emerge.
Ditto for Greek nouns. For example, the case-number suffix -os is frequently masculine in Greek (as in nomos, Christos, apostolos), but hodos and erēmos are feminine. That's why it's vital to learn the article (the word "the") with every noun you're learning in Greek so that you can tell its gender (ho nomos versus hē hodos).
When speaking German, I sometimes have to think about a noun's gender before saying it. That never stops me, of course, from conversing in the language. After all, I've got a one-in-three chance of getting it right. I tell my students who are learning French or German for their doctoral programs: Learn to speak, not just read, the language. Sure, you'll make plenty of mistakes. But you'll learn from your mistakes (Germans are happy to help you out and correct your grammar). Who knows, maybe in time German nouns will become standardized (as they are in English) and grammatical gender will become a thing of the past. Until then, be sure to learn the gender of your nouns.
And never forget your morphology!
Sunday, January 27
1:45 PM Been a great day so far. Church. Grocery shopping. And a nice long walk on the Ringgold Rail Trail -- a 25-acre trail system built on an abandoned railroad bed.
A red caboose sits at the western end of the trail.
I had to drive about 45 minutes west on Hwy. 58 to get there. As you can see, the trail was real crowded today.
I used to bike this trail, but that was a few years ago. Today I noticed several improvements. One is that the trail now has mile markers.
Another are these historical markers every mile or so.
Be aware that parts of the trail are in disrepair owing to the major flooding we had last year in Southern Virginia. This was an especially bad part of the trail.
Otherwise, we're talking about a safe, seamless, and scenic pathway through some of the most beautiful parts of Virginia.
There's only 13 days left until Phoenix and I've got to keep putting miles on these old legs of mine if I want to do well in the marathon. I plan to do 60 miles of training this week, including walking, biking, and running. Not bad for a skinny kid from Hawaii who used to do no exercise at all except for surfing.
Wish me well!
6:10 AM Good day to you, fellow Jesus freaks. My study this morning was in Gal. 5:16-25, "The Works of the Flesh Versus the Fruit of the Spirit."
Here in Galatians, Paul has been teaching Christian liberty. But he's aware of the tendency to exchange true liberty either for legalism (5:1) or for license (5:13). The question is: How can we avoid fleshly living? And the answer is the Holy Spirit, who enables us both to fulfill the Law of God on the one hand and who causes the fruit of righteousness to grow in our lives on the other. When Paul refers to the "lusts of the flesh," he's not referring to sexual sins alone. Here "flesh" refers to the fallen and rebellious sin nature we inherited from Adam that is perpetually antagonistic toward the Holy Spirit. Paul then lists the "works of the flesh." I might paraphrase them as follows:
The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit then follows. What struck me today was the non-inclusion in most of our English versions of the word I translated "murderous" in my above translation. The word is spelled phonoi in Greek. The word just before it is spelled very similarly: phthonoi. So the question is: Was "murderous" part of the original/initial text of the New Testament or not? I think most New Testament scholars would answer no. One author writes:
You'll notice that the reasoning here seems to be based mostly on what scholars call internal evidence, that is, matters having to do what a scribe would more likely have done with the text. But we also have to look at the so-called external evidence, that is, the evidence provided for us by the Greek manuscripts, the ancient versions (e.g., Latin, Coptic, and Syriac), and the early church fathers. And here, it seems to me, the preponderance of the evidence clearly favors the inclusion of the disputed word phonoi, unless one is inclined to automatically follow the early majuscules Aleph and B. As for the internal evidence, the omission of phonoi can probably best be accounted for by what scholars call parablepsis -- a jump from one set of letters to similar (or identical) letters further along in the text.
So why am I mentioning this? For two reasons. In the first place, we'll be discussing the art and science of textual criticism in all of my classes this semester. As we can see here in Gal. 5:21, this step in exegesis can't be avoided if we are to teach the Word with integrity and credibility. Secondly, I think that this verse is a good example of the two basic approaches to textual criticism among evangelicals today. On the one hand, we can speak of the Alexandrian Priority view. This is the approach followed in the standard Greek New Testaments in use today, including the UBS5 and the NA28. (Here I would also include the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament since its text is largely the same as the text found in the standard texts.) On the other hand, we have what might be called the Byzantine Priority view, one of the chief defenders of which is my colleague Maurice Robinson. You'll notice that here in Gal. 5:21, the shorter reading is an Alexandrian reading, whereas the longer reading is a Byzantine reading.
There's a third view I'll expose my students to, since it happens to be my own. I'm not persuaded that we should follow either the Alexandrian text or the Byzantine when deciding between variant readings. I tend to move more in the Sturz circle. Harry Sturz was my teacher and eventually my colleague in the Greek Department at Biola. (You can read about Harry Sturz here.) He believed that both the Alexandrian text and the Byzantine text pushed into the second century, arguing that the latter text was unedited in the Westcott-Hort sense. He therefore preferred the reading that was the more geographically widespread. Moreover, he often found that the Byzantine text least often stood alone. It usually sided with the Western text against the Alexandrian text, or else it sided with the Alexandrian text against the Western. Gal. 5:21 is a good example of this. Personally, I don't prefer the longer reading here because it's supported by the Byzantine text per se. In other words, I am not a Byzantine priorist. It's the consensus of witnesses -- the Greek manuscripts, the ancient versions, and the patristic evidence -- that has me convinced that the longer reading is probably the original/initial text.
The key question (or at least a key question) today, therefore, is this: How shall we treat the Byzantine text? And that question will occupy a good deal of our time in Greek class this semester. I hope you'll follow our discussion on this blog in the coming months. In the meantime, here's one of the Power Points I'll be using in class. I hope you find it interesting.
P.S. Southern Seminary's Rob Plummer, who is one of the speakers at our linguistics conference in April, has posted an excellent review of the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament. I hope you'll watch it. Rob recommends that you acquire this Greek text and use it alongside your UBS/NA Greek New Testament. Also, Dirk Jongkind's An Introduction to the Greek New Testament: Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge will prove to be extremely helpful when it's published in May. (I just wrote a strong endorsement of the book for Crossway.)
Saturday, January 26
6:12 PM It was 7:00 am this morning. I needed to make up my mind. I had paid good money to compete in today's 5-mile trail run. Would I cash in on it? Good grief. The morning was freezing. "Don't think, Dave. Just do it." So I drank the Kool-Aid and figured, "Why not just go for it?" I made it to the race venue about 10 minutes before the 9:00 am race time. I found myself surrounded by a bunch of ridiculously fit people telling stories of their races. Then we were off.
I said to myself, "I'm not nearly as experienced as these guys but that's not going to hold me back. I'll run as hard as I can." Did I say "run"? How about slip, slide, slosh, slither, skid, and slink. I finally got into a rhythm at about mile 2, where I fell in behind some 30-somethings who paced me to the finish.
By having them do the pacing and me the running, I could keep my eyes on the trail without having to find every odd turn as the course meandered through the forest. The last mile was brutal. But finally, the finish.
Truth be told, I'm kinda glad the trail was muddy.
I'm trying to learn to take whatever the course throws at me. Still, it's really hard climbing on a single track with tons of people. You're either passing or being passed, sometimes by the same runners. But I'm so thankful that I finished the race without any major incidents (or accidents). Once I left the house this morning, I knew I would push through to the end. It's my temperament, I guess. The most important thing was to keep moving forward without losing your concentration.
So, another race in the books. Thanks for joining me, you guys. Now go and sign up for a trail run near you.
P.S. Finishing times out of 195 runners:
6:44 AM This week in NT 1 (my Gospels class) we're slated to begin our discussion of New Testament Christology as a subset of the doctrine of the Trinity (or, better, "Trinunity," German: Dreieinigkeit; Korean: sam-wi ilche).
I'll begin with a question: Is our theology balanced? Specifically, if we have a doctrine of the Son (Christology), and if we have a doctrine of the Spirit (Pneumatology), why isn't there a doctrine of the Father? We can't use the word Patrology because that term is used for the study of the church fathers. Some have suggested "Paterology." I like that term even though it really doesn't work because the formation needs to be based on the genitive (not nominative) of patēr. Nomenclature aside, I propose that we stop viewing Paterology as an afterthought. It deserves a category of its own instead of being subsumed under "Theology Proper." Here's one attempt to do just that. I think it's a very interesting approach.
P.S. I love this quote from Bonhoeffer:
6:20 AM Martin Luther:
I can think of nothing truer. Its meaning is unpacked here. So this is my dream for my students. Follow God, not man. Serve others sacrificially. That's about it. If you follow God and His word and love and serve other people in His name, everything else will fall into place. Students, I believe in you. I am so excited to watch how God will use you this semester. When I am 90 years old I will look back on my teaching years and say, "I had such a good time."
6:12 AM My favorite rendition of this great worship song.
The story behind it is unbelievable. Dear kids. You're missing out on so much. Music like this comes around only once every century. I hope you will rediscover it.
Friday, January 25
7:22 PM Hmm ... ya think my toenails need clipping?
Yes, this is the look all professional athletes aspire to have. My toes never cease to amaze me. Earlier, I had a short 10-mile bike ride.
I stopped after getting nearly frostbitten and hypothermic. I have better things to do than freeze to death. Still not sure about whether or not I will run 5 miles around Lake Harris tomorrow morning. The race director emailed me today to say the race was a cross between a mudder and a trail run. At least he's being honest. There are some things I don't like, and one of them is slipping on a trail. Here's a few others:
I'll stop there lest you think I dislike more than I like. If I do head down to Raleigh tomorrow I plan to stop by the REI store in North Hills to try on a pair of new climbing boots for the Alps this summer. A guy named Nick talked me into it on the phone today. He promises me that he has something for my 13-wide boot size. I'll believe it when I see it. I am becoming really picky about what I put on my feet now that I'm a runner. At 66, I know my body pretty well. I've learned that if your feet aren't happy, nothing is.
In the meantime, time to wind down and get a good night's sleep.
7:20 AM Up early this morning reveling in the Word. Thank you, Greek New Testament. Your ability to excite and convict takes my breath away, literally. If we were having coffee together this morning, here's what I'd share with you based on my morning meditations. Steve Runge, in his outstanding work Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, has a chapter titled "Metacomments." "Metacomments look forward to what is coming," he writes, "commenting on it in a way that does not substantially contribute to its propositional content." His first example is Rom. 12:1-2. Here Paul could have commanded his readers as follows: "Present your bodies as living sacrifices," omitting the preceding metacomment, "I urge you, therefore, on the basis of the mercies of God ...." Instead, Paul chose to use a mitigated form of command, as if to say, "Look, because God has been so merciful to you, you should, in response, present your bodies as living sacrifices to Him. Make sense?" The appeal seems to be directed more to his readers' mind/logic/reason than to their will.
I've noticed this kind of mitigation throughout Paul's writings, but especially in Rom. 12:9-21. Notice how often the Greek imperative mood (in red) is mitigated by the imperatival use of adjectives (green), participles (blue), and even infinitives (yellow):
Let's take a closer look. At first, Paul doesn't use a single verb in the imperative mood, and yet each of his propositions has an imperatival force: "Love must be sincere ... Abhor what is evil ... Cling to what is good ..., etc."
All this changes in verse 14. Here we find Paul's first explicit commands (red), and we even find the infinitive mood being used imperatively (yellow), along with imperatival participles (blue):
Finally, Paul ends the chapter with the use of direct commands (red):
What should we make of these mitigated commands? And how can we indicate their significance in English? Neva Miller once suggested that the adjectives and participles in this passage contain the idea of "You should." That is, Paul is appealing to his readers' sense of logic. The infinitives, on the other hand, appeal to his readers' sense of moral duty or obligation: "It is necessary to ...." And finally, Paul uses the imperative mood per se when he wants to appeal to his readers' volition. Logic, duty, volition -- it's all here. Neva came up with a fabulous means of expressing these distinctions in English. See if you don't agree.
Now here is what struck me. Once again we see that Paul is keen on coupling doctrine with duty, belief with behavior, creed with conduct. He insists on the practical implications of his theology. Without doubt, the theme of "love" dominates this passage. "Your love for one another must be genuine," says Paul. Yet, ironically, the very first thing that love involves is hatred. Love abhors every kind of evil and clings like glue to every form of goodness. It's a great mistake to suppose that we can walk in love, actively and purposefully, without first crucifying everything we know to be sinful in our lives. We must take our old sinful nature, with its lusts and desires, and nail it to the cross. In the words of Jesus, we must take up our cross daily. If there is a secret to loving one another unhypocritically, it's the decisiveness of our repentance. And so we must repudiate, daily, what we know to be wrong in order that we might be able to love other people as we should. Our task is to take time each day to tell the flesh, "You are crucified; you are nailed to the cross where you belong," and to tell the Lord, "I belong to You; Your Spirit indwells me, and so I shall this very day set my mind on the things of Your Spirit and walk according to His rule from moment to moment."
Well, that was my main takeaway from my time in the Word this morning. (Sorry it took me so long to get to my point). To love sincerely, we must forsake all of our other "loves." It won't be easy. (See also 1 John 2:15-17.) But it's a choice that true love demands that we make.
P.S. In case you're interested, my Power Point on Rom. 12:9-21 can be found here.
P.P.S. The day is absolutely gorgeous. Hope to get in a long bike today.
P.P.P.S. Steve Runge, whom I quoted earlier, will be one our speakers at our linguistics conference. Why not come and hear him in person?
Thursday, January 24
12:42 PM To run or not to run. That is the question. This Saturday's 5-mile UGTB Trail Run at Lake Harris takes you along the lake shore through a variety of habitats including pine stands and oak hardwoods. I know how tough this course is because I ran it 2 years ago in good weather. The winning time was 33:54. The last place finisher clocked in at 1:24:40. My time was 1:03:56. This year the conditions will be wet and soggy. The race will require sacrifice from every runner. There will be risks. No one is guaranteed not to fall or stumble or grow weary. In other words, the race will be a lot like life. But off we go because we weren't made to stand still. We were created to run, each one of us. When I ran this race 2 years ago I felt lost. The course meanders and unless you're familiar with it you can forget covering the distance at any speed. Thankfully, about 2 miles into the race I fell in behind a guy in his 40s who had competed on the course several times. He paced me the rest of the way and we finished side by side. I realized how important it is in life to have a coach, especially when you're facing new challenges. There's only 16 days before the Phoenix Marathon and I could use some trail running to complement my running on asphalt and crushed gravel. I hate to trot out another tired cliché, but I'm just going to listen to my body and my common sense and make my decision tomorrow night.
Earlier today I saw my dental hygienist and then cranked out a 1-hour workout at the Y. Tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine again and I'm hoping against hope to be able to get in another long bike. Right now I'm voting "yes" for Saturday's race, but if the conditions are too wet I'll probably stay at home since I really can't afford to sprain an ankle (or worse) less than 2 weeks before Phoenix. So it's all a bit unclear.
7:55 AM Language lovers, gather 'round. Let's have a little fun in the text this rainy morning, shall we? Look at how the Hebrew New Testament translates Matt. 28:20. Instead of "I am with you always" it has "I am with you all the days."
Look at the bottom line.
I'm impressed. That's exactly what the Greek has.
Of course, when I memorized the Great Commission, I memorized "I am with you always." But when I did the base translation for the ISV New Testament, I demurred. It puzzled me why the English versions had "always" when the Greek had "all the days." Could it be because "all the days" isn't an English idiom? That's possible. Or perhaps the Greek pantote and the Greek pasas tas hēmeras were considered synonymous (and they may well be). On the other hand, check out these versions:
So in the ISV, we ended up going with the English idiom "each and every day."
There's something so "daily" about the Christian life, isn't there? It's easier, I think, to meet God on the mountain top or in our extremity, but it takes a lot of grace to handle the ordinary, day-by-day grind of life. Perhaps that's why the New Testament has a lot to say about the "daily." Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily. The earliest believers met daily as a group in the temple. The Lord added daily to their number. Paul said, "I die daily." We are called upon to exhort each other daily. Our prayer is "Give us today our daily bread." And, as we see in our text, Jesus promises to be with us "all the days" -- day after day after monotonous day. I don't know about you, but I need God's grace daily.
There is meaning in the mundane, folks, and grace for the grind. I'm grinning right now. Hope you are too.
Wednesday, January 23
6:36 PM I'm not sure I know why I'm feeling so tired tonight except for maybe the fact that I taught three classes back to back (almost) and had constant meetings on campus. By far the best part of my time on campus was meeting new students, or at least students I hadn't had in class before.
Welcoming new students during convocation.
Overall, it's been a great two days at school and a reminder that:
I know I'm spoiled. But really, I am. It's all grace, of course -- nothing but undeserved blessings from the hand of the Giver of all gifts. If ever there was a time to be excited about teaching, it's today. Students are open and questioning and challenging and kindhearted and just plain super. Yes, my work may get tiring sometimes, but it's the price you pay for doing what you love.
P.S. These were on my desk when I arrived at the office yesterday.
I can't thank my good friend Jesús Peláez (of Córdoba, Spain) enough for sending me his new book on lexicography. Andrew Bowden was the translator. Andrew is my former personal assistant. Right now he's in Germany getting his Ph.D. in New Testament. So grateful for the work you are doing, Andy.
Off to read a good book and then sleep for 10 hours.
Tuesday, January 22
6:10 AM Let me tell you why I teach Greek. It's simply this. God has a plan for individuals. And He's communicated this plan to us in His Word. Our God is a communicative God, and He has made known His will to us through those who penned the Scriptures. Biblical truth is just that: truth that is communicated in and through the Bible. It's truth that is at once "inspired by God" and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." What all this implies is that if we are to move from the classroom to real life we will have to prize what we learn and view it as a life skill and not merely as an educational attainment. Of course, this isn't easy. Almost all of us feel tremendous ambivalence as we wrestle with the question of just how to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. Yes, knowledge of Greek is essential if we are to have a firm foundation upon which to build our exegesis of the New Testament. On the other hand, I must say forcefully that facts, no matter how brilliantly taught or diligently acquired, are nothing more than the raw building blocks of life. How we put them together, and for what use (and whose glory), is another matter altogether.
It will be an exciting week in Greek 2: the aorist middle plus the imperfect middle/passive. I'm convinced that my calling in life is not to be just a Greek teacher (or even a just Greek teacher) but to be a Christian. In that spirit, I'm praying hard for my Greek students. Theirs is a daunting task, but God is able!
Monday, January 21
6:55 PM I finally got in my 5-mile run tonight even though it was freezing. An undershirt and four layers did the trick, however. But just barely. Spring is just around the corner, right?Sometimes I don't feel like running, but not today. The sun was shining, my Garmin was charged, the animals were scattering hither thither and yon, and I knew I needed to get in a good run if I was going to compete in a 5-mile trail run in Raleigh this Saturday.
If only I could lay my grubby hands on that groundhog or his shadow!
12:24 PM Tomorrow the new semester kicks off with convocation and my first class. Today I was able to get to the Y (yes, it was open) for a workout. Afterwards I planned on running but it was too cold (20 degrees). Yes, I wimped out again. Maybe I'll try again when we reach today's expected high of 29.
Earlier I spent an hour or so at Bojangles sipping coffee and working on a lecture over Matthew. God in His providence has given us a fourfold portrait of Jesus. There's still only one Jesus, but He's viewed from 4 different angles. There's one fabulous diamond with four brilliant facets, one person with four faces. This is why "Redaction Criticism" is so very valuable. It helps us to see that the authors of the Gospels weren't merely compilers or biographers or diarists. They were theologians in their own right. Each had their own theological emphasis they wanted to convey. So we had better ask ourselves, "What are the particular emphases of the four Gospels?"
For Matthew, the key word seems to be "fulfillment." Matthew portrays Jesus as the personal embodiment of centuries of Old Testament expectations. Rather than destroying the Law and the Prophets, Jesus brings them to completion and fulfillment in Himself. Matthew has meditated long and hard on the life of Jesus on the one hand and the Old Testament Scriptures on the other. And he has found a remarkable correspondence between the two. Jesus didn't see Himself as another prophet. He presented Himself as the fulfillment of all the prophets. That's one reason Matthew is placed first in the New Testament canon. Matthew forms an indispensable bridge between the Old Testament and the New. That's why we can never unhitch the Old Testament from the New Testament. If you don't understand the Old Testament, you don't understand the Scriptures, and if you don't understand the Scriptures, you will never understand who Jesus is. It's as simple as that. Thus Matthew traces Jesus back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. As the seed of Abraham, Jesus is the one through whom God's promises to Abraham and his seed come to be fulfilled. The Old Testament is the story of the covenant family of God. And Matthew insists that Jesus is the seed of Abraham -- the posterity of Abraham -- in whose person God's promises are fulfilled. The real descendents of Abraham, therefore, are those who share his faith, including the Gentiles as well as the Jews -- people like the Magi who came to Jesus and offered Him their worship as harbingers of millions of Gentiles like ourselves who are the children of Abraham by faith and not by blood. And through the Gospel, God's kingdom of shalom is on the move, day by day.
For the sake of this Gospel, I'm praying that Jesus might get hold of my students as never before. We are on a mission together, men and women, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, homeschoolers and government schoolers, joining in God's great rescue mission. Our misguided hierarchies have no place in this kingdom. If the Sovereign Redeemer is moving in a downward path, then we must move in the same direction.
"Aslan is on the move," wrote C. S. Lewis. Won't we join Him?
Sunday, January 20
6:42 PM I feel pretty good about my mileage for the week.
Never mind. Who am I kidding? This is peanuts compared to most of the runners I know. Still, my workouts ran me into the ground today, or least into my bed for a nice long nap. So I took the day off from any form of exercise whosoever save for my mandible.
Right now I'm watching the blood wolf moon rise. The real fun starts at 10:00 pm. It's already too cold to sit outside so Sheba and I are enjoying the view from the library window. She hasn't started howling yet but I expect her to begin any minute now.
1:28 PM This and that ....
1) I get tons of questions from my readers, but no topic comes up more frequently than questions about textual criticism. Probably because I'm no expert on the subject, nobody hangs on my words. Occasionally I'll drag you, my reader, into a conversation I'm having in my own mind, like this one: "Why in the world would the editors of my Greek New Testament make a chapter break here of all places?"
The French call these mots crochets (or something like that). Having all that white space, plus a new chapter number, kind of ruins the connection, don't you think? While we're in John 2 (where we were in this morning's sermon at church), I noticed something I had never seen before, and that is Mary's command to the servants at the wedding at Cana: "Do whatever He tells you." I said to myself, "Self, this is the entire Christian life in a nutshell. You just do whatever Jesus tell you to do. You go wherever He tells you to go. You say whatever He tells you to say." I've read John 2 a billion times but that statement of Mary never struck me before. If Jesus says it, why in the world would we not want to do it anyway?
2) What an eerie photo I took this morning.
It's certainly not your normal sunrise picture. I think the sky was in a funk today, not knowing whether to rain or to clear up. And sure enough -- it started to rain not long after I snapped this picture, and then the day cleared up beautifully. Which is a reminder that the weather in Virginia is bonkers. We've had tornadoes, winter storms, tropical cyclones, torrential rains, nor'easters, and even an earthquake. One day it's warm and pleasant, and the next day it's freezing cold. Today's high will be a comfortable 51. Tomorrow's high will be a mere 30 degrees. Wild, weird weather seems par for the course, but it sure makes life interesting.
3) If you were the first to top out on Everest, wouldn't you want the world to know it?
Not so with Hillary and Norgay.
"It's amazing how much can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit" (attributed to Harry Truman but who really knows?). My mind goes to the anonymity of Hebrews. Of course, I believe Paul authored the book (regardless of who the penman may have been), but if he did -- or whoever did -- it takes an awful lot of humility to omit your name in the opening. Edgar Allan Poe originally published his Tamerlane and Other Poems anonymously. Mary Shelley did the same with Frankenstein. The Federalist Papers were originally published under the pseudonym "Publius." And can you tell me who authored Beowulf? Nope. I have not accomplished anything in my life -- not one single thing -- without the help of some really wonderful people. You know what I love? Working together as a team. I love team-teaching our LXX class. I love co-organizing our linguistics conference with one of my colleagues. I love working with my publishers. Of course, working together with our brothers and sisters in Christ isn't always easy. I can't think of a group that requires more grace. But at the end of the day, it really is amazing how much more we can get done if it doesn't matter who gets the credit for it. So thank you, 5th grade Social Studies teacher at Kainalu Elementary School, for turning me on to Spanish. Thank you, Ms. Sarenchok, for allowing a Kailua High School flunky to organize an assembly. Thank you, Eurocorps Brass Team, for letting me play trumpet with you for 3 months in West Germany. And thank you, Becky, for being a partner with me in the Gospel for all those years. Although I've been on this planet for 66 years, I still have a lot to learn about team work. So thank you, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, for showing us the way.
7:30 AM Here's my Power Point on the Leading Solutions to the Synoptic Problem.
I also co-edited with David Beck a book called Rethinking the Synoptic Problem that came out of a conference we had on campus in 2000 called Symposium on New Testament Studies. Contributors are Craig Blomberg, William Farmer, Darrel Bock, Scot McKnight, and Grant Osborne. You can see that I think this is a pretty big deal. It is sacred work and it counts very much. So here is my invitation to establish your own SGRC (Synoptic Gospels Research Center), and I'm even willing to help. I'm doing a drawing for a free copy of Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. Be sure to send me your mailing address when you write. I'll contact the winner tomorrow at this time.
And remember: Ad fontes.
6:58 AM It's taken me decades to come to grips with the difference between the Gospel and the American version of the Gospel. That's why I'm eager to begin another section of NT 1 this Wednesday. In this class, we cover the Four Gospels. For me, the Gospels have become my biblical benchmark. If it can't be corroborated by Jesus, then it probably isn't true. I noticed this when I read the book of 1 John this morning in its entirety before even getting out of bed. John the apostle wants everything he says to match the life and character of Jesus the Messiah. "Whoever says he remains in union with God should live just as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6). This is perhaps one of the most difficult verses in Greek that you'll find in 1 John, but its meaning is plain. We either look like Jesus or we don't. Ah yes, the Jesus paradigm. Good reader, I don't mean to vilify your attempt to live the American Dream because I share your desire to live comfortably. Rather, I want to loosen some of the chains we bind ourselves with. In many ways, the perception of American evangelicalism is that it's a calling to a life of luxury and privilege, authenticated by a 501c3 and a nice salary. Hence we value education and financial stability. We go to work, and we try to be the best workers we can be. And that's certainly part of our calling, because the Gospel is perfectly demonstrated through the daily grind of working and parenting. The Gospel is rarely big or famous work. Our generation is so hamstrung by the notion of bigger, better, and more famous. What a tragedy. It's time we learned how to celebrate ordinary life, to live in the present and joyfully, to say yes to the kingdom through perfunctory kingdom acts of goodness and meekness.
This is what the Gospels, I hope, will teach us this semester. It'll be a whirlwind of a course. Here's our weekly schedule:
Introduction to the Gospels.
The Synoptic Problem.
Backgrounds to the Gospels.
The Four Gospels.
Jesus' Birth and Galilean Ministry.
Jesus' Judean Ministry and Final Week.
The Message of Jesus.
For our basic textbooks, we're using Strauss's Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels and my The New Testament: Its Background and Message.
The work of teaching isn't just disseminating information. It's shaping future dads and moms and professionals and disciples. It's noble work with the potential for mega outcomes. Jesus is the only Person we can follow. So let's give students Jesus and trust Him to lead them into all truth even if we don't see the results for years. Unfortunately, progress in the Christian life is always uneven, like the mountain trail I biked yesterday.
There are lots of ups and downs. But if you wait until everything is perfect in your life to begin pursuing the downward path of Jesus, you'll likely wait the rest of your life.
Saturday, January 19
7:30 PM Today I swapped out my road bike for my mountain bike and drove 2 hours to the Pocahontas State Park near Richmond, which is famous for its numerous biking trails. I rode 5.38 miles and had a blast.
As I rode among the trees, I contemplated the passages of life -- how throughout the years we see the grace of God revealed even in the midst of difficult circumstances, and how He delights in taking saplings and transforming them into weathered and beautiful trees. He is doing that for me, and for you as well, but the transformation is still ongoing and will continue to unfold until His work is complete. Yes, Lord, I will love You completely. I will surrender my will to Yours. I will relinquish the mask that shields my deepest emotions and hurts. I won't try to mold You into my image. I will seek Your highest calling for me until Your work in me is done.
7:24 AM This is the place where my interest in Gospel studies began. It's the Theologisches Seminar at the University of Basel.
The last thing I ever intended to do upon arriving in this beautiful city on the Rhine was to study the Synoptic Problem. My interest was in Paul. But my Doktorvater had specialized in the Gospels, and I greatly admired the work he had done on synoptic origins. I could see the value in synoptic studies, but I had no idea it might be for me. Later on, however, I found myself being drawn inexorably towards the Synoptic Problem, especially as my interest in the Greek of the New Testament grew.
This morning I was rereading Mark's account of the temptation of Jesus.
As I read, I remembered that Stan Porter, in his book Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament, had a chapter called "Verbal Aspect and Synoptic Relations." So, what had Stan said about this problem? I'm certain I wasn't expecting what I found. For Stan actually seems to be defending Markan posteriority in his discussion of Jesus' temptation -- a view I espouse in my book Why Four Gospels: The Historical Origins of the Gospels.
I was curious to see that he took the shift from perfective to imperfective aspect as possibly pointing to Mark's account as being later than both Matthew's and Luke's.
Of course, I imagine Stan would be the first to admit that such evidence is not probative. This is exactly what I tell my students. The Synoptic Problem, in my opinion, will never be solved on the basis of the internal evidence alone. Which is why in my book on the subject I devoted an entire chapter to the writings of the church fathers, providing my own fresh translations from the original Greek and Latin. I'm struck by the unanimity of these ancient writers that Matthew was our earliest written Gospel. I'm less infatuated, however, with arguments for Matthean priority based on the internal evidence. The latter is simply far too subjective for my liking. But that a scholar with the stature of Stan Porter should suggest that the Markan priority position might be wrong, at least in this one instance, bodes well, I think, for the future of our discipline. The more important matter, as I see it, is the way the external evidence is ignored by scholarship in general. This is frankly disastrous. So is the absence of competent grappling with Greek grammar, as Stan notes in his essay. I am intrigued to note that our own doctoral students, when taking their comps, are frequently asked questions about the order of the Synoptic Gospels, and in giving their answers they more often than not seem open to solutions other than the consensus view. This revolution has not come about because those in authority have told them to change their minds, but because they began to examine the primary data themselves. There is real value in such an effort, as I discovered long ago in a 13th-century building on the Nadelberg in Basel. No wonder I'm optimistic about the future of New Testament studies. In my classrooms I hope to inculcate a disposition of respect for the evidence, all of the evidence. Such is the position I adopted from my earliest days of teaching. I've not had occasion to regret that decision.
P.S. You can hear Stan Porter in person at our upcoming conference Linguistics and New Testament Greek.
Friday, January 18
6:36 PM Today I got on my road bike. It was definitely nice to be outside again. It got up to 58 degrees. Felt almost like summer. Cycling is easier than running. You can go much farther, too, with less energy expended. Today I biked 26.2 miles.
I love cross training. I love my bike. I think getting into triathlons was the best thing to happen to my running. Afterwards I "rewarded" myself with a trip to KFC. I can't believe I'm admitting that.
Biking on a day like today is so much fun. It helps me forget about all the stupidity going on in our nation today. For me, the best combo in the world is family + teaching + travel + ministry + exercise. That's one reason why I'm really praying about going back to the Alps this summer to celebrate my 67th birthday. I will say, though, that surfing in Hawaii in August will be almost as enjoyable. You may have noticed that the older I get, the more my Wanderlust kicks in. Okay, maybe I've always loved to travel, but knowing that your traveling days are numbered gives you a sense of urgency to get out there and be active. I would love to compete in marathons into my golden years. Who knows, maybe I'll even outrun my grandkids.
Here's to a long life of running (or whatever you're passionate about)!
Thursday, January 17
7:42 PM Confession: I love to lift weights in the gym. Yes, I also love to run and bike and swim and climb, but there's nothing like a good workout at the Y. I go to the Y instead of a fancy health club because:
I am cheap.
It has all the equipment I need.
The use of trainers is free.
I don't go to the Y to meet people necessarily, although I've met a number of great individuals there through the years. It's simply too easy to waste time chatting when you should be exercising. If you don't believe me, go to gymhappyhour.com, a website that doesn't exist. The only exception, of course, is taking selfies. That is perfectly acceptable.
I like to get in, work hard, and get out. I like to move quickly from one workout to the next instead of lollygagging. Then, when I'm done, I can go back to whatever I was doing before and feel like my time at the Y was efficient and beneficial.
After my workout today I mulled over a question that had been nagging me all morning ever since I read John 8 in my new Hebrew New Testament. Here's the section I was reading.
And here's what Jesus says in John 8:58.
Why, I asked myself, would the Hebrew translators have Jesus saying this? Let's see. The French versions have "Je suis." The German reads "Bin ich." And the Spanish? "Yo soy." Here's the Greek.
I've been discussing this with a couple of my Hebrew teaching buddies and I look forward to more interaction with them. Here's the rub for me: Either this verse is an allusion to the Divine Name in Exod. 3:14 or it isn't. If it is, I'm okay with the oddball rendering (using all caps) "I AM." The good news is that the future of mankind does not depend on me solving this puzzle.
Today, by the way, I neither ran nor biked. I'm trying to take my own advice and rest between workouts. Many fitness websites tell you that cross training is essential. So tomorrow I'm going to try a long bike. Actually, although I'm not very good at it, I enjoy bicycling. I enjoy triathlons as well. Well, I've only done 4. But they were great fun. Be honest. Are you getting enough exercise? I believe there's a way to push yourself without going overboard or sacrificing your health. I know one thing. I am my own worst enemy. I either train too much or I train too little. Sometimes I stare at my Garmin when I should be listening to my body. There seems to be a fine line between hard and too hard. Even with my fair amount of experience, I still make stupid mistakes. I think it just takes time to figure out what your body can do and what it can't do. But it's definitely hard to find that balance.
Oh man, I totally want to learn how to do this exercise thing!
\6:20 AM Today I'm giving this book to my horse-loving granddaughter, whose family has both a horse and a pony on their farm.
This book is an all-time children's classic. I found it while rummaging around in my office this week. It's narrated by Black Beauty himself so we get to see the world from the perspective of a horse. The author, Anna Sewell, said she wrote the book to awaken love and sympathy for animals. Although the book depicts the cruelty of man, the story has a happy ending. Throughout his struggles, Black Beauty maintains a positive and persevering spirit. I love how the author tries to get into the mind of her animals. I'm pretty sure that's what I've done with the goats and sheep and horses and donkeys and cattle and dogs I've owned through the years. I actually try to see life from their point of view.
As an equestrian and an educator, I can say that this book is truly an amazing work of fiction. But here's what struck me the most. This was the only book Anna Sewell ever wrote. And she composed it while she was an invalid and could hardly get out of bed. She died a mere 5 months after it was published but providentially was able to see its success. Today, over 50 million copies of her book have been sold worldwide. Heartrending and educational, it's one of those books I think most every child could benefit from by reading it. It preaches without being preachy, if you know what I mean. I hope it will have pride of place on my granddaughter's bookshelf for many years to come.
P.S. A movie was made based on this book.
Wednesday, January 16
7:25 PM Random musings after a very full 3 days of teaching:
1) This was my view this evening as I completed a 5-mile run at the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston, VA.
And this was my view as I completed a 12-mile bike yesterday at the Neuse River Greenway in Raleigh, NC.
I am slowly introducing my body back into marathon training and it's going surprisingly well. I've enjoyed some really peppy workouts and anticipate a few more before I leave for Phoenix in 3 weeks. The concept is simple. Get outdoors and enjoy this great big world that God created for us to enjoy. As for tomorrow ... well, I hope to lift at the Y, have lunch with my daughter and her family, and then rest up before attempting a 26.2 mile bike on Friday.
2) After I ran this evening I decided to eat at a Mexican restaurant that Becky and I used to frequent before she got too sick to dine out. I hadn't eaten here in over 5 years, but I decided that tonight was going to the night to rectify that omission. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, memories swept over me. I could visualize myself opening the car door for Becky and I could see us, hand in hand, walking into the restaurant. She would order what she always ordered -- chimichangas -- and I would usually order arroz con pollo -- which, by the way, just "happened" to be tonight's special.
Becky loved Mexican food, and she would often cook burritos and tacos at home. I think she drew inspiration from her Texas background. Odd isn't it, how food soothes our souls. Tonight, as I ate alone (no -- the Lord was with me), I felt a sense of peace sweep over me, touching the anguish of my soul and giving me comfort and rest. I was reminded of how Becky's death changed the trajectory of life in so many ways. It's not surprising to anyone who's experienced a painful loss to find themselves inspired by that loss to dedicate themselves to some worthy cause or greater purpose. I'd have never climbed the Alps for charity or started running for various causes had I not experienced the loss of my wife. I find myself thinking more than ever about what the new heavens and the new earth will look like -- how life will be for the whole creation when Jesus comes back and sets everything in order again. In the meantime, you and I have our own stories to live out, our own traditions of faith and virtue to pass down to our children and grandchildren. We find meaning in loss even as we affirm life in the midst of death. All this -- and much more -- occurred to me while I chomped down on my rice and chicken. Hope is so much more than a passing feeling. It's the light in the deepest darkness, the unwavering promise that no matter how bleak things may appear to be, He is always near. Is it any wonder Jesus calls Himself the light of the world?
3) This book came today.
It's an absolute treasure. This particular edition is extremely attractive.
The Hebrew text was translated by the great Hebrew scholar F. Delitzsche, and a new English translation has been provided that is a vast improvement over the version that used to accompany the Hebrew text.
I always find it interesting to compare the Hebrew with the Greek, especially when I'm in the Gospels. Don't you?
So there you have it. Right now I have nothing else to say but a prayer of thanks to God for giving me such a fantastic Greek class for J-term. Students, you were terrific. It's a privilege to be truth-telling and to do some exegetical rabble-rousing with each of you.
I am so grateful.
See you next week!
Monday, January 14
5:10 AM N. T. Wright addresses the issue of church and state (i.e., the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world) in this YouTube. I link to it because much is being said these days about why evangelicals should become involved in political activism. I am not against activism per se. I do have some concerns, however. I will probably not support a so-called "conservative Christian" political agenda if its proponents:
1) Give the impression that they are more "moral" than other people. If Paul could consider himself "the very worst of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), it will not help your cause if you pit "moral people" (like us) against "immoral people" (like homosexuals, prostitutes, and abortionists, etc.). Jesus' holiness did not repel sinners. He did not go around promoting "faith, family, and freedom." He attracted tax collectors and prostitutes while the Pharisees kept their distance.
2) Think it will "bring America back to God." America has never been a Christian nation.
3) Identify the church with any human institution or political party. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Please do not suggest that agreeing with your particular political position is a precondition to belonging to the kingdom of God. It is not.
4) Fail to submit to God's reign in every area of life, including Jesus' command to love sinners. Nonconformity to the world means more than opposing social evils such as abortion; it includes a humble, peacemaking, servant-like, self-sacrificial love. It means revolting against everything in our lives that is inconsistent with God’s kingdom, including the temptation to grab Caesar-like political power.
5) Claim that their position is the only "Christian" position out there. We must always be on guard against the seductive lure of a kind of hubris that implies that all "sincere" and "godly" evangelicals share the same view about controversial political actions. They don't.
6) Imply that "inalienable rights" and "the pursuit of happiness" are biblical concepts. They are not. I love democracy. I'd much rather live in a democracy than in a dictatorship. But nowhere is democracy or political freedom elevated to a virtue in the New Testament.
The Gospel is a beautiful and powerful grassroots kingdom movement. No, it does not rule out political activism. But the truth is that the kingdom does not look like the thousands of social movements abroad in the land today. The heart of Christianity is simply imitating Jesus. What is needed, then, is to develop a Christian mind on these matters and that means informing ourselves about contemporary issues, pouring over the Scriptures, voting in elections (as the Lord leads us), sharing in the public debate (to the degree, again, that we are led to do so), giving ourselves to public service if that is our divine calling, etc. At times the church may be led to go beyond teaching and deeds of mercy and take corporate political action of some kind, but we must not do so without making every effort to study an issue thoroughly and seeking to reach a common Christian mind.
Sunday, January 13
5:30 PM I've got the rice boiling while I prepare my dinners for the next few days on campus. My body is here in Virginia but my mind is in Phoenix, where I'll be running in a marathon in less than a month. I truly believe that there's hardly a person on Planet Earth who couldn't run a half or a full marathon if they decided to do it. Every person is already a potential long-distance athlete. It comes down to tenacity more than talent. I should know. Entering my first 5K as a 63 year old male was a turning point in my life. I had switched from running for recreation to running as a racer. I took whatever God-given talent I had (not very much), trained as hard as I could, and then went out and raced. At first, 3.1 miles seemed impossible. Since then, every new distance has seemed like a milestone. 6.2 miles. Then 10 miles. Then 13.1 miles. Then 26.2 miles. Then 31 miles. The marathon has become one of my top life experiences. It has challenged me like nothing else. Of course, I've had a lot of encouragement along the way. (Thank you, family.) But when you get to the starting line, you're on your own. Nobody else can take one step for you. It is you and you alone who has to make up your mind to keep on going. Like Greek scholars, long-distance athletes are made, not born. When I completed my first marathon, I walked away from the finish line knowing that I could accomplish anything in life. I've learned that with everything in life, tenacity is more important than talent. I see that same tenacity in my Greek students. Some have an aptitude for languages, others don't. Yet there they are -- mastering a very difficult language in a very short period of time. Everyone can learn Greek, and everyone can become a long-distance runner. For me, racing is not about setting new PRs. It's about starting a race and then finishing it, knowing that it was the Lord who gave me the strength to do both. Let's face it. I'm just hard-headed. But without determination, how can you accomplish anything that's worthwhile in life? Like studying Greek, you've got to be all in, dude.
And so it goes. I've got a marathon to run in 3 weeks. My students have a Greek class to finish in 3 days. I think most people -- runners and students alike -- would say they do what they do in order to become better people, people who can make a positive contribution to this old world of ours. We like the sense of accomplishment it gives us when we finish a tough race or ace a Greek exam. Whenever I think to myself, "Dave, you're crazy to run in marathons," I remember that running has made mentally tougher, more determined, and so grateful to God for the blessings He gives me each and every day.
If you have a passion like that in your life, thank God for it. It's a pure gift from Him.
1:44 PM Just did my weekly grocery shopping at Food Lion. The weather has improved greatly even though the ice storm just to the north and west of the farm caused numerous power outages, as you can see from this outage map.
The trees in South Boston were covered with ice, but ours were ice-free. The difference a mile or two can make! Because of the good road conditions, I was able to get to church and hear a message from Luke 3 on the baptism of Jesus. Again, I noted a first-class textual variant. Did the Father say "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased," or "You are My Son, today I have become Your Father"?
Thankfully, I had immediate access to Wieland Willker's online textual commentary and so I could read what Augustine had to say about this variant. The rest of this afternoon I've been making preparations to visit a couple of my kids and their families during Easter break. Matthea's husband is pastoring to the east of Birmingham and Karen's husband is stationed at Fort Benning, so I know I can make this work. This means that so far in 2019 I've booked trips to Phoenix, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Honolulu. I'm also working on another mission trip internationally. My motto whenever I travel is "Pack lightly and keep it simple stupid." I love running when I travel. It's great to run in a new place with new scenery. And the food? I'm definitely looking forward to having some excellent sushi in Phoenix!
7:45 AM Here's a picture of our weather conditions in Southside Virginia and North Carolina.
In Raleigh they're getting rain, while we're experiencing freezing rain and further north they're getting snow. These conditions are supposed to last until late today and even into the wee hours of Monday morning. So today, other than reading and studying my Bible, I'll be trying to get some writing done, beginning with this blog post. I just realized that although I've often spoken to you about why I think studying overseas is such a great experience, I've never described the cultural differences you encounter when living in, say, Germany or Switzerland. Since I lived in the former country for 3 months and in the latter country for a much longer period of time, I'm hoping I can offer a few insights for any of you who might be thinking about doing your doctoral studies in Europe.
People often refer to "culture shock" when living in a strange and foreign land. After living abroad, I think the term "shock" may be a bit of an exaggeration. The first thing you must realize when you travel abroad is this: When you live in a foreign country you can't expect everything to be just like it is at home. A different country is just that: a different country. Some things you will like very much. Other things you will not like so much. But I was never "shocked" by what I saw or experienced while living in Europe. In fact, I would say that one of the strongest reasons Becky and I decided to live abroad was because of the differences we knew we would encounter. We would sometimes tell our Swiss friends that we wanted to live in their country "um Land und Leute besser kennenzulernen" (to get to know your country and people better). Now I hasten to add that if you live in Basel you can find plenty of opportunity to spend all of your time with American expats. You can speak English, attend an English-speaking church, and associate with people who are (for the most) just like you. I suppose this is what it's like if you are stationed on an American military base in Germany, for example. In Basel, I met several Americans who didn't even try to learn German. They didn't need to. Becky and I decided our approach would be the opposite. Yes, we had American friends with whom we spoke English. But the great majority of our friends and acquaintances were German-speaking Swiss. We faithfully attended, week in and week out, die Baptistengemeinde Basel (the Baptist Church of Basel), and there I was privileged to preach in German on several occasions. At the university, German was the official language, and all lectures were held in that language. Of course, even if you're able to speak quite good German, this doesn't guarantee an ability to detect all of the subtle nuances that are hidden in a language. For me, this meant that I was always learning how to improve my spoken German, not just my High German but my Swiss German as well. Americans are often considered arrogant by Europeans, and I think there's some truth to that perception. The philosophy that Becky and I adopted went something like this: We need to try and fit into the country where we're living and not the other way around. Because of that philosophy, I can say that our stay in Basel was, for the most part, a joy and a delight. We were stretched to the max culturally, of course, but that's one of the reasons we wanted to live there in the first place.
So now on to the things we noticed about life in Basel:
1) You'll do a lot more walking than you do here in the States. The entire infrastructure is designed for pedestrians and cyclists. Becky and I would maybe take the train or the tram or the bus when we needed to go long distances, but mostly we would walk to church, to the uni, etc.
2) We found that most supermarkets close early in the evening and are closed completely on Sundays, though this was not universally true. If you needed something, you could go to the SBB (train station). But as a rule of thumb, stores closed early so that people could go home and rest and be with their families. Also, the stores are very small as compared to our grocery stores, but this is perfectly understandable when you realize that the Swiss generally buy their food fresh and almost daily. As for shopping bags, we discovered that there aren't any free ones, but you could usually purchase a shopping bag from Migros when you shopped there. Then you simply reused that bag on your next visit. I would say that food quality was higher in Switzerland than in the U.S., at least when we lived there. But that was back when we didn't have Whole Foods or Sprouts.
3) I recall that Basel was basically a cash economy and that we hardly ever used a credit card when we shopped or dined out. I think, though, that this has changed. When I spent 8 days in Zermatt two summers ago, I used my credit card to pay for everything, from my hotel to my meals to my lift tickets. Still, it's probably a good idea to carry a wad of cash wherever you go.
4) When we lived in Basel, I remember that there was a lot more cigarette smoking than what we were used to. It was tough to adjust to that, especially when you had to endure secondhand smoke in restaurants and even in my seminars at the uni. I well recall taking a seminar with Markus Barth. I'm sure I was the only non-pipe smoker in the room!
5) No refills on your coffee, and you can forget about getting ice with your soft drink. Free water is definitely not the norm, though if you begged and pleaded for "Leitungswasser" (tap water) your waiter might be kind enough to indulge you. I got so used to going without ice that even today I ask my server to "hold the ice" when ordering a soft drink. By the way, eating out was much less common in Basel than it was in California (where B and I were living at the time). Dining in a restaurant was considered something of a luxury (prices were very high), and the fast food craze had not yet caught on (there was only one fast food eatery in Basel and it was the MacDonald's on Barfusserplatz in the middle of the city).
If you do eat out in Europe, don't expect your server to hover over you. It was expected that if you wanted something, you'd call your server who was never far away. Otherwise, I think the idea was, "Let's leave diners alone to enjoy their meal and their conversation."
6) Public politeness was pretty much taken for granted in Basel. Before engaging with someone you would usually say "Hello" rather than just blurting out whatever you wanted.
7) Most people behaved as though they lived in a very safe environment. I don't remember there being much of a drug problem in Basel at the time, and schools were completely open and the children were free to leave campus and take their lunch breaks at home. Becky and I also noticed how independent the kids were and how friendly they were. We would often see them playing with each other with no parents in sight.
8) Loud conversations did not take place in public. Children were expected to be controlled. Even in restaurants you couldn't hear the conversation taking place at the table next to you.
9) What about housing? As I recall, about 99 percent of our friends in Basel lived in apartments (Wohnungen). There was only one family at our church who could afford to live in the country (he was an engineer). Becky and I were stretched financially so that at the time we could only afford a one-room apartment. We couldn't control the heat for our room (it was controlled by the landlord). We weren't permitted (by city ordinance) to take showers or baths after 10:00 pm. We had a teeny tiny bathroom and an even smaller kitchenette. But our happiness didn't depend on physical furnishings. We had youth and we had vigor. Most of all we had the Lord. Of course, my professors enjoyed a lifestyle commensurate with their status. The first month I lived in Basel I stayed in the three-story house of my Doktorvater Bo Reicke while I was looking for an apartment for Becky and me to live in (she was still in California at that time). I felt like I was living in a mansion. Why, they even had a "garden." At first I thought they grew their own vegetables, but the German "Garten" simply means back yard. When the Reickes spent a week at their chalet in the Alps, I was asked to mow the "Garten" with their electric lawnmower (the Swiss have always been pretty green).
10) What else? Oh, cleanliness. The Swiss must sweep their streets 40 times a day. You will never see trash ever. That's a huge contrast to where I live currently.
Okay, I should stop for now. I hope you have a better idea of what it's like living abroad when you're earning your doctorate. Of course, just because I lived in Basel doesn't mean I understand what it's like to live in Switzerland at large. It's like someone saying "I know German culture because I know Bavarian culture." You couldn't be more wrong. Or it's like saying "I know America because I've lived in New York." The one thing I'd like you to take away from this blog post is this: Don't be afraid to live in a different culture. Sure, there will be differences, some of them huge, like when I ate donkey meat in China or dog meat in Korea. Generally speaking, however, what we call "culture shock" is usually just bad preparation. With Dr. Google, all the information you need is at your finger tips.
The young Doktorand and his bride in 1980 in front of the city cathedral.
Saturday, January 12
4:26 PM Interested in questions of Bible translation? Here's the page from our Greek Portal on that topic. This essay caught my eye: Why the English Standard Version (ESV) Should not become the standard English Version.
11:45 AM There are no excuses not to exercise. You're never too busy. You're never too overweight. You're never too old. It's never too cold or too hot. Then again, there are always exceptions. Today I planned on biking 20 miles but quit after 10.
Both my hands and my feet were frozen solid, plus my circulation had stopped. It's not that I hadn't dressed appropriately: two caps, four layers of uppers, heavy pants, wool stockings, inner and outer gloves, and a thick fleece neck warmer. The problem was the temperature. The cold literally penetrated to my bones. I feel proud and grateful for pushing through to 10 miles but I feel like a wimp for quitting before reaching my goal of 20 miles. Suffice it to say, the weather beat me today. Hawaii/California guy here so I guess that should be expected from time to time.
Here's how dismal everything looks.
The ice is expected shortly, followed by snow and rain. I do hope I can make it to campus on Monday. That might be wishful thinking at this point, however.
Stay warm and dry wherever you are.
7:48 AM Sweet, sweet time in Gal. 5:13-15 this morning.
I read the text. Then I meditated on it. Then I consulted Stott's commentary.
He outlines the paragraph as follows:
As usual, his summary hits the nail on the head. The freedom for which Christ has set us free (5:1) "is freedom not to indulge the flesh, but to control the flesh; freedom not to exploit our neighbor, but to serve our neighbor; freedom not to disregard the law, but to fulfill the law." As for me and my house, we will try and put this into practice.
Off to bike in the cold. Yes, I can be slightly insane.
6:12 AM Haddon Robinson was one of my favorite preachers. He wrote "the" textbook on homiletics as far as I'm concerned. (Only John Stott's Between Two Worlds can match it.) I heard Haddon Robinson preach many times in Dallas at Grace Bible Church, where Becky and I were married in 1976. He is famous for asking, "Some people preach for an hour and it feels like twenty minutes, and some preach for twenty minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is?"
Well, I think Dr. Robinson answers his own question in this commencement address he gave at DTS.
His words have a glow to them. Clarity and crispness are in every sentence. It is a fine-honed masterpiece of conciseness. He makes every second of his sermon count. Clearly, Haddon Robinson had mastered the art of delivering truth in a creative and compelling way.
I once heard a homiletics professor say that the three greatest sins of preaching are lack of truth, lack of content, and lack of interest. Even if you're sinless in the first two, you can still drop the ball in the third. I get so tired of hearing myself and others making excuses for our boring sermons. Preaching, like anything else, is a decision. If you're going to do it, do it well.
Sermons to put you to sleep?
Friday, January 11
7:10 PM What a crazy week it was. I taught two chapters from my grammar today. Ditto for yesterday. This is the new reality -- an 11-day J-term instead of the 15-day session I'm used to. Still, the students seem to be handling it well and I'm so proud of them. Then, the registrar asked me to add another section of beginning Greek to my schedule for the new semester that starts on Thursday. That means I'm teaching 3 sections of baby Greek in the same semester -- something I haven't done in a very long time. That makes my total course load for the spring semester 5 classes, which of course I'm happy to teach. I love researching and writing, but my heart is in the classroom.
After I had returned to the farm and done my chores, I drove into town to get in a workout at the Y and a run at the track. There were long lines to get gas and groceries -- yes, we're expecting another snow/sleet/ice event this weekend. It was a frosty 36 degrees while I was running this afternoon and I had to really layer up. Admit it, you think of a warm fireplace when you're out braving the frigid temps. Is it spring yet???!!! Tomorrow I'm bound and determined to get in a long bike before the weather sours. You know: heart racing, legs burning, sweat dripping. The wind in your face. The sun beating down. This is what I live for. To be out there enjoying the great Creator's handiwork. I have never done a run or a bike and regretted doing it. I can even put up with my ugly toes because I know I'm working on a goal that I will never attain. But if you know me (as I think you do), you know that I'm not one to give up very easily. I am nothing if not persistent. I am thrilled beyond words to be an amateur athlete. I hope you will join me on this journey! There's no substitute in life for hard work, as I told a student I had lunch with today. Pick the hardest Ph.D. program out there, not the easiest. Study in a foreign language if you can. Yes, your fears might say "no," but you can't entertain that thought. You can and will do this. And He will be with you every step of the way.
Thursday, January 10
5:05 AM Here's a question being asked: How long should a sermon be? The question, I think, is irrelevant. If you're an interesting speaker, people won't even look at their watches. But you've got to know your stuff. Which means speaking without notes and maintaining eye contact with your audience.
Wednesday, January 9
6:30 PM My doctoral students can take heart from this statistic:
Unbelievable. I completed my doctorate in 3 years, but that was B.C. (before children). Still, I don't think I could have lasted 13 years. In fact, I know I couldn't have lasted 13 years.
2:22 PM Chores are done. Helped Nathan load a trailer. How much fun. #threegenerationsoffarmers.
12:52 PM Did you hear about the race between a lettuce and a tomato? The lettuce was ahead and the tomato was always trying to play catch up. Bad, I know. Fact is, I've got racing on my mind again, mostly because in exactly 30 days I'll be running in the Phoenix Marathon, Lord willing.
The course, as you can see, is mostly downhill, which means a lot of people will qualify for Boston.
I won't be among them, but I'm still hoping for a good finish time. For training, I biked 15 miles yesterday at the Neuse River Greenway in Raleigh.
(Disclaimer: I am a slow cyclist. An average speed of 13 mph on a bike is nothing compared to "real" cyclists. In fact, I was passed numerous times. I'm also a slow runner. Personally, I don't think "slow" runners ruin marathons. But I also don't think there shouldn't be cut off times. Most marathons have a generous 6.5-7 hour cut off time. Phoenix has a 6. I'm a plodder, but I'm going to do my best. I don't care if you run, walk, or crawl, if you finish the race within the cut off time, you're a marathoner in my book. I'm 100 percent behind anybody who wants to participate. Honestly, I would probably drop dead of shock if I did a sub-5 hour marathon.)
This will be my 13th marathon in the past 3 years. I'll let you know how it goes. Unbelievably, the temp yesterday was 68 degrees. And they're calling for snow this weekend. Go figure. Right now I have to get caught up on my farm chores.
Monday, January 7
5:55 AM Henry Neufeld has written a thoughtful post called Why Not to Tithe. Henry says he's always been against tithing in a legalistic sense, even before he published David Croteau's book on the subject. (Croteau is a Ph.D. graduate of SEBTS.) Yet he was afraid to tell others he didn't believe in tithing. He was afraid that people would give less than 10 percent if he did. As it turns out, I share that fear. If I were to teach pure grace (as I indeed do teach), people might assume that I didn't think giving was all that important. Actually, grace giving ought to be the easiest type of giving of all, but instead it can be the most difficult. It takes maturity to know when to give, how much to give, to whom to give. Giving is an abstract subject. There is no black and white. For when Christ enters a person's life, it is always on the level of grace and never on the level of legalistic morality. Tithing reduces all decisions to one simple decision, and there is no struggling with the Holy Spirit. When, however, we come to understand and accept the place of grace in our lives and love relationships, it becomes easier for us to grasp the theological doctrine of grace giving. Somehow we must learn to love as God loves and give as He gives. Our giving should be watered with tears and bedecked with affection. For now is the time to give, now is the time to be generous, before the opportunities have passed and it is no longer an option.
5:46 AM Three quotes for your reading pleasure:
"The Bible was never intended to be a book for scholars and specialists only. From the very beginning its was intended to be everybody's book, and that is what it continues to be." F. F. Bruce.
"Missions is ravenous in its hunger to please God. It knows no other purpose for its existence. It lives for the single pleasure of hearing God say, 'Well done, good and faithful slave' (Mt 25:21). You have told the truth in a false world, you have turned the iron key of liberty in the steel door of hell, and the captives are freed (Lk 4:18)! For this liberation you have been called 'missionary.'" Calvin Miller.
"My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed." Anne Sullivan, referring to her student Helen Keller.
Sunday, January 6
5:42 PM From time to time I'll visit churches pastored by former students. Today I was at Clearview Church in Henderson, NC, where my former personal assistant, Abidan Shah, pastors.
His message was titled "Resolved" and it was based on the story of Caleb in Josh. 14:10-12.
You'll recall that Caleb was the 85-year old who refused to believe he was old. "I'm just as strong today as when I was 40," he exclaimed with a heart full of faith. Abidan brought out three points:
Have you ever asked yourself the question: In a world without mirrors, would I be old? I am as young as I ever was.
It's only when I look in a mirror that I feel old. Regardless of chronology, we can still serve the Lord, we can still pray, we can still be active, we can still develop our physical strength. My health has never been better. Even more importantly, I have a new zest for living. As Abidan put it, "Don't let your children tell you you're old!" (I won't, and they don't.) The body I have, whatever length of time it's spent on this earth, can still push and coast, reach for new peaks and lie down in peace and security. Whether you're 6, 16, or 66, you can't live your life backwards. If we are to outwit old age, we've got to learn how to outwit youth and middle age as well.
Afterwards I got in a 20-mile bike.
By doing so, I am slowing the toll on my body taken by time. By how many years? Only the Lord knows. But daily I demand performance of myself. And not only physically. My brain is no more a passive instrument of God's grace than my body. "I never knew an old man," wrote Cicero, "who forgets where his money is hidden." We put our effort into what we value. At the Bible Hub website there's a sermon by A. Maclaren called "Caleb -- Youth in Old Age." Maclaren says of Caleb's life four things. It
"The buoyancy, carelessness, hopefulness, cheerfulness of youth," he writes, "are not far away from the aged heart, which lives by faith, and therefore dwells at ease, and is glad and secure, though the shadows of evening be falling."
Sometimes we older people say, "We've earned this rest. Let others do the fighting." Caleb said, "I've earned my spurs. I'm still a warrior to be reckoned with. Don't even think of mustering me out of the ranks." The major campaigns in our lives aren't over with yet, regardless of one's age. We have yet to face many of them.
At the age of 60, British author John Powys wrote, "My life's about to begin." Today and tomorrow hold the opportunity to be better and become more. We only need the faith of Caleb -- and His God.
6:12 AM Sorry for another language-y post this morning. This one concerns the so-called Semitisms/Septuagintalisms in the Greek of the New Testament. These include:
Generally speaking, the more foreign a form is to Greek, the more difficult the expression will be to translate. At times, a word-for-word rendering of the Greek original can misrepresent the meaning of the underlying Semitic idiom. In this case, it's appropriate to translate the Semitic idiom into a suitable idiom in the receptor language (as NEB's "He began to address them" for "He opened His mouth" in Matt. 5:2; cf. my essay The translation of Matthew 5.2). At other times it may be best to leave certain words or expressions untranslated, as with the introductory "and" (kai) in narrative discourse, where it simply indicates the beginning of a new sentence (much like the capital letter with which an English sentence begins). But we must be careful. Frequently the verb archomai ("I begin") is used redundantly in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 1:45; 5:17; 6:7), but it's clearly not redundant in a passage like Acts 1:1 (the book of Acts continues what Jesus literally began to do and teach).
It should be obvious that a translator with a knowledge of the biblical languages, including Hebrew, has an advantage over one who has no training in Hebrew or Greek. That's why I encourage even my students who concentrate their efforts on the New Testament to study Hebrew. Some excellent Hebrew grammars are:
If I were teaching Hebrew, I'd probably use the latter textbook. But I'm not smart enough to teach Hebrew.
P.S. I own two Hebrew New Testaments which I purchased when I was studying in Israel. This one is by Delitzsche. Which reminds me: I need to read Philippians again in Hebrew.
Saturday, January 5
5:50 PM Here's why I don't ask students to memorize the vocative case in Greek.
The vocative is almost invariably set off by commas in our Greek New Testaments. Examples include, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" and "Teacher, what should we do?" I see no need to memorize a form that is obvious. Besides, with many Greek nouns, the forms of the vocative and the nominative are identical. So when it comes to teaching grammar, sometimes less (memorization) is more. Here's another example. If you're learning the present and future tenses in Greek, you may as well learn them side by side.
I never ask students to memorize the future of luō for the obvious reason that the only difference between the present and future tenses is the future time morpheme sigma. This is just another example that if we are deliberate, we can accomplish more with less. The German expression is:
"Less, but better."
Working harder isn't always the best way to go about learning a foreign language. Working smarter always is.
2:14 PM Today I drove to LaCrosse, VA, to get in a 10-mile run.
It was a beautiful morning. This is what my drive there looked like.
And here's the lovely trail.
However, my body was not itself today. I had a cramp in my left calf almost the whole time. I never have cramps and I don't recommend it. I get impatient when something messes with my running, but I think my body was trying to tell me to slow down a little bit. Today a cramp may have derailed my ambitious plans, but that's okay. I'll be fine tomorrow. A bad run is still better than no run at all.
Of course, I didn't run the whole way; walking was a necessity for part of the distance. Yesterday I brought this book home from the office.
I think I bought it in 1987 but I hadn't read anything in it in years. The book "just happened" to feature an essay by Robert Banks called "'Walking' as a Metaphor of the Christian Life: The Origins of a Significant Pauline Usage." Straight up: This is a great essay. Banks calls Paul the "walkabout missionary" and concludes that Paul's use of "walk" to describe the Christian life is more than a sidelong glance at Jewish Halakah terminology. To wit:
Like Paul, I do a lot of walking. And not just down memory lane either. I use walking as part of my cross training. And I use walking as a break when I'm running a race. Many runners report significantly faster times when they take walk breaks during their races. When you shift back and forth between walking and running, you distribute your work load over a variety of different muscles, not just the same ones. I often tell myself during an event, "Only one mile to go until your next walk break," though I'm not usually locked into a specific ratio of walk breaks. I adjust as needed and usually discover that I recover more quickly that way.
People should never feel guilty about taking walk breaks. Never. I think the same thing can be said about the Christian life. Sometimes life is a stand. Sometimes it's a walk. At other times it's a run. We stand in grace and in the liberty with which Christ has set us free (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:1). We walk in newness of life and in a manner worthy of our calling (Rom. 6:4; Col. 1:10). And we run the race that is set before us so that we may obtain the prize (Heb. 12:1; 1 Cor. 9:24). I'm just beginning to embrace the liberation that only exists in knowing when to stand, walk, and run. It doesn't matter how slow or how fast you are. Be as patient with yourself as God is. The one thing you and I must never do is become complacent. I need to obey God when He says press on, stay the course, never give up to discouragement, and never give in to sin. All told, Paul's concept of "walk" offers a pretty good perspective on life. If we're not careful, we can miss the metaphor by translating the Greek term "walk" (peripateō) as though Paul had used the word zaō ("live") instead.
So for now, I'm going to kick my feet up and take a nap and then get back to my daily walk with the Lord. Correction: Napping and resting is part of my daily walk with the Lord. And I hope that I've learned that the daily victories and defeats I have out there on the trail are only as important as I make them out to be.
7:02 AM 5 eyes. 5 arms. 4 legs.
Welcome to Congress, gentlemen.
6:20 AM Did you know that some ski slopes in Switzerland now have speed limits? The hope is to reduce the number of skiing accidents (some 60,000 each year).
However, I'm a bit confused. "Keep the speed of 30 km/h" is not exactly the same as "Versuche 30 km/h zu fahren."
Both languages imply that the speed limit is 30 kilometers per hour, but neither language actually uses the word "limit." In fact, you could also interpret the sign as meaning, "30 km/h is the minimum speed limit on this slope." As a skier might put it, "Wenn alle gleigh schnell fahren ist der Verkehr am Flüssigsten."
All of this goes to show just how difficult translation can be. That's why I politely turn down requests like this: "Dr. Black, will you please give me the Greek words for _________ for my new tattoo?" I well recall the story of NBA star Shawn Marion. He thought his Chinese tattoo spelled out "The Matrix." It actually means "Demon Bird Moth Balls." Not good. Automated translation software is hardly the answer.
Yesterday in Greek class we discussed the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20. How should we translate the Greek for "Make disciples" (mathēteusate)? Does the participle "Going" (poreuthentes) carry imperatival force? And how about the idiom "All the days" (pasas tas hēmeras), normally rendered "always"? The teacher's fallback line "The context will decide" very often works, but not always. Genuine ambiguity can slow down or even disrupt the translation process. An English example might be "Flying planes can be dangerous." I'm not saying that we can't know what a speaker means. Any American who's studied German knows exactly what is meant when a native German speaker says to his waiter in English, "I am here since an hour. When do I become a fish?" I do wonder, though, whether we as Bible translators should work harder at recreating the ambiguity in the original text. An example might be "You can learn writing." The question here is a basic one of grammar: Is "writing" a gerund or a participle? Is the idea "You can learn to write" or "You can learn while writing"? A New Testament example might be the adverb anōthen in John 3. Did Jesus mean "You must be born again" or "You must be born from above"? Clearly Nick heard it as the former. Was Jesus being intentionally ambiguous here? In fact, was He even speaking in Greek at all? If not, does the word play work in Aramaic? Personally, I struggle to make my own translations properly ambiguous. (Can you spot the ambiguity in that statement? It was intentional on my part -- in which case it's called equivocal language.)
These kinds of questions about translation can help keep your Greek classes fun and interesting. After all, why take the plaisir out of language learning? Why not let yourself enjoy the learning process? If you go at your own pace and saveur every moment, you'll probably find yourself wanting to spend more temps with the language, whether it's French or German or Spanish or even Greek.
Happy language learning!
5:55 AM Enter a drawing to win a free copy of Wheelock's Latin grammar. Please send me your mailing address when you write. I'll contact the winner tomorrow at 6:00 pm.
Friday, January 4
5:50 PM I haven't done any exercise for 3 days and I'm feeling it. Lethargic. Energyless. Apathetic. I feel like a couch potato, you know, the kind who says "Running isn't good for your body" or "You can die doing a marathon." In fact, fit men are half as likely to die of a heart attack than unfit men. I think what we're really saying is "Exercise is too hard" while we're filling our shopping carts with sodas and processed foods. I hate excuses for anything in life. Anyhoo, it's back to running for me tomorrow if the rain ever stops. The biggest risk in running is doing too much -- a problem I haven't had in the past few days. The tradeoff has been the joy of teaching these wonderful students, shown here taking their quiz over the present and future active indicative.
Wow, they're doing good. I told them that learning Greek is like running a marathon. I said, "Set your goal to finish and take the time to enjoy every step." Each step they take is new. But if I can go the distance, so can they. It's like anything in life. Aim to progress gradually and you will attain your goals.
I'm not going to blog in depth now because I have too many chores to get caught up on, but I did want to confess that this week I darkened the doors of a Panera Bread restaurant for the first time ever and discovered -- Man, I've really been missing some great food. I decided to try it out because someone had sent me a gift card, and I've already been twice. I will forever be grateful to that friend. I had two of the Pick Two combos.
The service was superb and the place was super clean. The staff was friendly and the food came out hot and tasty.
There was a little bit of a wait but that's because I was there at the height of the lunch hour rush. Let me reiterate: I'm not a health food junkie. You will never hear me talk about the latest fad diet. I don't think my diet is too bad but I can always do better. Plus, what's not to like about homemade soup and fresh sandwiches? Problem is, I also have a sweet tooth, and Panera looks like they've got some amazing pastries. I really need to try that awesome looking Bear Claw.
Tonight I'm rereading this little book I got in Basel years ago.
It's amazing how a book written in 1675 can be so relevant today. I'm finding it to be an easy read and super well organized. Spener isn't interested in winning arguments. Like all Pietists, he emphasized a personal (rather than merely a scholastic) relationship with God and evangelism of the lost. The emphasis on missions has a resounding echo in my own heart.
This is awesome.
So what's in your secret book drawer?
Do you like to read books on Pietism?
Would you rather watch TV or read?
Wednesday, January 2
5:58 AM As I begin a new Greek class this week, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about education. You should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who's looking for the "Seven Keys" to successful teaching. Jesus alone is the Master Teacher. But, for what they're worth, here are the rules of the road I strive to follow.
Christian education is likeness education. We teachers impact our students more by our character than by our communication. Isn't it true? People learn best by example, not by direct instruction. "Actions speak louder than words." This is how the Savior taught – He chose 12 men to "be with Him," then He poured His life into them. As a teacher I must move from being a mere dispenser of information to a mentor and organizer of the learning process.
My job is to serve my students, not vice versa. My goal is to meet my students' needs, not for them to meet mine. Effective teachers understand their pupils and discern what causes their difficulties. Now this has several important implications, not least that we should be more student-oriented than subject-oriented. Classes must be interesting – each and every one of them. As someone once put it, "There's no such thing as a boring teacher. If he or she is boring, they're not a teacher." Students have a right to want to come to class, to be dismissed on time, to have their papers graded by their prof (and not by a proxy), to get their work back promptly, to be trusted with take-home exams, and to have teachers with open door policies.
Strive for life change, not just knowledge. The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation – every word, everywhere. Let's focus on learning and not just on teaching.
Less is more. How true this is! We can "talk much" and "teach little." If this is so, why not concentrate on the essentials? Far too many of us teachers engage in "content dump." Even Jesus said, "I have many more things to say to you, but they are too much for you now" (John 16:12).
Emphasize relevance over rote memory. Much of my studying in seminary had one goal: to pass the next test. As soon as the test was over, the information I had "learned" was quickly forgotten, of course. There's nothing a student hates more than busywork.
Challenge students to think for themselves. The fill-in-the-blank approach to learning tends to produce students with simplistic answers to complex questions. In my own college and seminary experience I was, more often than not, taught what to think rather than challenged to think for myself. A wise teacher gives students the tools necessary for their own personal reading and study of the Scriptures.
Above all, students need to see in us "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:1). The key to effective teaching is an incarnational model, based on Phil. 2:5-11. May we let Christ's mind be our own and in humility count others as more important than ourselves. Whenever we teach let's keep in the forefront of our minds the infinite worth of our students and the tremendous privilege it is to serve them.
The Magi said, "We have seen His star." But they also did something about it. They came to where He was. Likewise, we must come to Him – all of us, whether teacher or student – in repentance and faith and love. Just as the Wise Men worshipped Him, so we must bow down before Him and confess Him as Lord and give Him our very best gifts – academic and otherwise.
Tuesday, January 1
6:24 PM Got to see 9 of my grandkids today. #happygrandpa. Off to bite into my burrito.
6:55 AM Remember when you decided to do something really simple like replace the air filters in your house and, voila, they're done? No problem. I wish everything in life was that simple. Tomorrow it's back to the classroom for me, the Greek classroom of course, where I've been busy teaching nouns and participles for some 42 years now. What I've realized after all these years is that there's nothing easy about teaching -- or learning -- Greek. Sure, the subject matter is relatively straightforward, depending on your teacher and textbook. Greek makes sense. It's absolutely logical. The grammar has mathematical precision, as do all languages. Even the exceptions have explanations. (Why does the future of echo have the rough breathing mark? Easy!). The challenge is how to meet all those unexpected twists and turns you encounter along the way. You know, like how the Greek verb works. (Hint: It doesn't work like an English verb works.) Or how about third declension nouns? (Torturous, to say the least.) And whatcha think about that crazy learning curve, which just seems to get curvier and curvier? Fortunately, a good textbook (and a few extra hours of study) are usually sufficient to overcome despair. Still, no matter how much you "plan," there will always be seemingly impossible hurdles to overcome. There are so many factors at play when you're trying to learn a foreign language. I recall arriving in Basel in 1980 thinking, "Good thing I already know German." Ahem. High German, yes, but except in the classroom everyone was speaking a completely different language called, well, German. (Swiss German.) Who woulda thunk? This is the point at which you go to a local bookstore and buy a Basel German grammar (which I did). "Nicht mehr" becomes "nümm," while "etwas" becomes "öbbis." Rather than saying "Ich ging," Swiss German has "Ich bi gange" or even "I bi gange." Oh, did I mention that German (both High and Swiss ) has two completely different ways of speaking depending on whether you're talking to someone you know well or someone you don't know so well? ("Thanks, don't mind if I 'Du'!") And did I tell you that German has a singular "you" and a plural "you"? (Hey y'all!) Then there are some verbs that have a vowel change when you make a command (the stem of essen is ess- but the command is Iss!).
But back to my subject. Once you know you are really interested in learning how to read New Testament Greek, you don't just start shoving information into your brain haphazardly. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. (I made that up but I'm sure it's true.) Whatever your big audacious goal is, you have to break it up into chunks. In my textbook, we have 26 chapters. (Think of a marathon.) That's 13 chapters per semester. We do, on average, a single lesson each week. After a while you get into the rhythm. But it takes time. "I can do it quick." "I can do it well." Which one do you want? Now, I'm not saying that my textbook is for everyone and for every situation. What I'm talking about is facing something you think is overwhelming with a systematic plan of action. Proceeding methodically will make things go much quicker and more efficiently. It's pretty simple. Just cut the elephant into big chunks.
Students, as we begin our Greek studies tomorrow, may I ask you to please take time to pray? Ask God to help you. For many Greek students, things go well for a few days or weeks. But as soon as a little difficulty comes our way we say, "Forget it. This is impossible." That's when we need to go to God in prayer. John wrote, "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer is our lifeline to God and our only source of strength. So let's take advantage of it. Those of us who want to master the Greek language must grow constantly in our knowledge of grammar. If we're going to learn Greek we're going to have become a perpetual student of the language. I'm sorry, but there simply aren't any shortcuts, no easy solutions. We can't skip third grade and go right into high school. To master Greek means to be patient with yourself. You put one foot in front of the other. It's a steady gait, not a sprint. As I said above, the only way to get the job done is to stick with it.
I know that Greek can be tough. If anyone ever experienced a sinking feeling while studying this language, it was me. I dropped out of my beginning Greek class at Biola after only 3 weeks. (Sometimes life just knocks the wind out of you.) Thankfully I went on to take Moody Bible Institute's correspondence Greek course and, by God's grace, aced it. I needed an awful lot of help, and guess what? God supplied it.
Remember what Peter's problem was when he was walking on the water? He took his eyes off the Lord. And that just about says it all.
To all: Happy New Year, and Happy Greek Study!