restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations




about dave

on the road

the book box

columns & essays

reading room

contact dave



December 2014 Blog Archives

Wednesday, December 31 

10:40 PM Listened tonight to the debate between James White and Bart Ehrman. White's arguments, in my view, are well-nigh impeccable. He argues that most New Testament variants are both non-meaningful and non-viable. Of those variants that are both meaningful and viable, White argues that these number only between 1,500 and 2,000. Again, I concur. (I've argued in my book New Testament Textual Criticism that the number is around 2,000.) Finally, of these variants that are both meaningful and viable, White argues that the majority are errors of sight or hearing, that is, they are not purposeful changes but accidental variations. White's conclusion is clear: We have not lost a single word of the New Testament text. He says it's like having, instead of 1,000 pieces of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, 1,010 pieces in the box. Or he can frame the problem like this: It's not that we have only 95 percent of the New Testament. We have 101 percent. Some scholars believe that the original reading is printed above the line that separates the text from the textual apparatus, while other scholars argue for the originality of the readings that have been printed by the editors below the line. Of course, many of these variants "matter," as Ehrman points out. I myself have examined several of these variants in detail, including essays published in such journals as Novum Testamentum, New Testament Studies, and Filologia Neotestamentaria (go here and scroll down to find these essays in doc. form). But, argues White, the original is either to be found above the line or below the line; it has never been "lost." Thus White concludes that "... the mere presence of textual variations does not substantiate Dr. Ehrman's repeated assertion that we do not know what the New Testament originally said." Ehrman argues that if God could inspire the text, why could He not have preserved the text? White's answer is a simple and logical one: God has indeed preserved the words of Scripture in the existing manuscript tradition.

I think this debate is an excellent resource for textual criticism. It is fascinating, as White points out, that on the same dais you have two speakers who are looking at the exact same data and yet who come to completely different conclusions. Indeed. This debate would make a good entrée into the field of textual criticism for anyone interested in the history of the transmission of the New Testament text. The art and task of New Testament textual criticism is a vitally important subject both for scholars and elders/pastors. Before we can obey what Scripture requires of us, we must understand what the New Testament says. And before we can understand what the New Testament says, we must do our very best to determine what the New Testament authors wrote.

But is that even possible? Ehrman says no. White says yes. What say you?

8:14 PM "It is my constant hope and prayer that we will adopt a big-hearted and grace-awakened approach to kingdom work without legalism, traditionalism, manipulation, negativism, bitterness, and perfectionism."

Read Howard Marshall on Christian Harmony

8:10 PM A recent exposé on the Bible has become the butt of ridicule from many pundits. The number of errors in his column are, as one pundit has put it, shocking. This is the kind of world we live in today. Biblical illiteracy plagues our culture. Tragedy has been turned into comedy. Fools mock God, but God is not mocked. Let's be sure we know what we believe and why we believe it, for we can sure that our beliefs will come under attack.

7:26 PM Yesterday I got an email from a long-time friend whose mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. He told me that he had been reading Becky's book and that it had helped him to understand the love of God in and through his own family's suffering. Who among us has never known the confusion of pain? There is no question in my mind that God can use our experiences of suffering to help others along the pathway of pain. After teaching class today I was joined my my friend and colleague Edgar Aponte and his father-in-law Edgard, who hails from the Dominican Republic.

Edgard had in his possession a well-worn copy of Becky's autobiography in Spanish, La Historia de Mi Vida. I don't suppose I can ever forget how Edgard spoke of the transforming power that this little book had had in his life. I asked to look at the book. When I opened it, I could see that Edgard had nearly worn it out rereading it.

Thus Becky's life continues to multiply -- but only because the seed fell into the ground and died. One of my former professors would often remind his students that light is shed only when the vessel is broken. How true. And if I, who am in nearly perfect health, am tempted to worry about a little chest cold, what of my email correspondent whose mother is suffering from cancer? Can Christians continue to fulfill the will of God on a sickbed? Indeed they can. His arms hold us even when we are too weak to speak or even pray. As I reflect back on the year 2014, I realize that life for me seems like a big family, a beautiful web of cells. If this family of mine ever had a family reunion, I suppose it would be quite a sight. Students, colleagues, old friends, publishers, disciples of the underground church, sons and daughters and grandkids -- the list is endless. The apostle Paul once told the Philippian Christians that they were his joy and crown, the proof that he had not run his race in vain. I thank God, on this last day of 2014, for the crowns of joy He has so graciously brought into my life. Every time God brings pain into our lives He desires also to give us Himself and, with Him, a vision to see His glory in our daily lives, whether in small things like a pleasant meal in a restaurant, or bigger things like career and family. Suffering is always meant to bless someone else. And that's what I think Becky's book has done, is doing. I'm reminded of the life of one of Becky's favorite heroes of the faith, Amy Carmichael, who was an Irish missionary to India. For the last 20 years of her life she was confined to a sickbed. But she wrote more than 20 books during those years, books she probably would not have written had she not been sick. Becky likewise discovered in the midst of her own sickbed the fundamental principle of existence -- that death is the gateway to life. Like my dear friend whose mother is suffering from cancer, and like my lunch partner today who has marked up Becky's book as if he were preparing for an exam over its contents, I am one of those souls who has been touched by Becky's surrender and sacrifice. Death is never meant to be the end of story but only its beginning, as it is in nature. The sun must set in the west if it is to rise in the east.

So once again, it's time for contemplation, a time to ask ourselves how we can become Christians again, a time to ponder anew how we can make the Jesus way of life accessible to people who have never even heard His name. I pray that we will have the integrity of a Becky Lynn Lapsley Black, who saw in her illness a tremendous responsibility to learn what death is about -- and to take up the cross and willingly accept the will of God, nay, wholeheartedly embrace it, painful though it may be. Amy Carmichael herself once expressed it this way: "A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly jarred." Look, my friend, for the good purpose that God has in store for you in 2015, embrace it, and say with the Psalmist, "I will run the course set out for me in Your commandments, for they gladden my heart."

Tuesday, December 30 

5:12 PM "We spend our years as a tale that is told" (Psalm 90:9). Another year is gone and a new year begins. Sounds like a good time for a bit of reflection!

2014 was another year of God's faithfulness, and His goodness filled every day. Loss may seem to be random but that is only an appearance. Every event in our lives fits into a scheme that far surpasses what we can ask or imagine. The past is bringing about a better future because I know that "God intended it for good," regardless of how Satan may have intended it. This year I turned 62. I can't expect to live another 62 years, which means that I've now lived for more than half of my life span. It's a sobering thought to think that time is slowly running out on you. Just as a person has to spend his or her money all the more carefully when they have less of it, so we need to invest wisely in what remains of our days. The casket of things past can't hold us back from greeting a new year and a new chapter that God is writing in our lives. No wonder Paul said that he wanted to finish his race with joy (Acts 20:24)!

What, then, are some of my goals for the new year? I want to be there for my kids and my grandkids as they negotiate the sometimes treacherous waters of life. I want to spend the rest of my days helping others fulfill God's will for their lives. I want to continue to challenge status quo thinking that says "Everyone should head toward missionary service until God stops them" or "No one should become a missionary if they can be happy doing anything else." I don't buy into the basic premise behind these statements. Whom does hold responsible for world evangelism if not you and me? Is it the duty of only some Christians to make the greatest possible impact for Jesus Christ on this generation? I don't think so. Should we stop defining "missionary" as someone who serves overseas and gets paid for their service? I say yes. The goal of my teaching in recent years has been to question these notions of "missionary." I am convinced that we must recapture the New Testament vision and thrust for world evangelization through those He commissions for the task of extending His kingdom, and that is all of us.

I am eager to publish more books in 2015. We can expect a Spanish edition of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.

We can also look forward to a Chinese edition of My Life Story by Becky Lynn Black. It has already been translated and just awaits printing.

"Be done with lesser things," says the old hymn, and that too is my desire for 2015. The chief plague of old age is triviality. We are so busy puttering around, dashing here and there, helping the dead bury the dead, while our main responsibilities escape our attention. Those who work hard at minor activities will never get around to the bigger business of the kingdom of God. I want to be about the Father's business this year as never before. My first international trip is planned for the end of January, and I'm hoping that's just the first of 4 or 5 trips in 2015 to the far corners of the globe to help the emerging church. I will also keep on blogging. My message won't change much probably. Politics holds no hope. As Will Rogers once said about a disarmament conference, "They could get together if it wasn't for human nature!" Thus the basic philosophy of my blog won't change (see Why I Blog). I also want to do better at resting in 2015 than I did in 2014. Resting is part of work. I need to take a break now and then. At the same time, I want to keep busy for the Lord. By constantly resting in Him and trusting Him always to meet my needs, I can live with an "inner vacation" though the times be turbulent outside. Most of all, I want to begin to deal with my ego. Someone once said that a cross is an "I" crossed out. In some areas of my life, the "I" has never been crossed out. It is the big "I" that causes the most trouble in my relationships. I am dead with Christ and alive to God -- and I want to live that way in 2015.

Finally (for now!), I want to continue to invest in and sponsor as many native missionaries as I can in foreign countries. There's a vast difference between living as a native missionary and living at even a modest Western standard. The result is that Western missionaries often need 30-40 times more support than native missionaries do. I believe the quickest way to help churches in places like India become self-supporting is by supporting the growing native missionary movement. As for me, as much as I would love to live abroad, I will continue to be an NRM -- a non-residential missionary -- living and working here so that I can see trained and gifted co-workers raised up as modern-day "Timothys" in the work of the Gospel in places like Asia and the Middle East.

I am gratified to see what the Lord has accomplished in 2014. There were many tears and yet there was also a great feeling of Christ's presence. This is still a painful time for me. I will be glad when it is over. But I need to be faithful to God's call on my life regardless of my circumstances, and I will continue to do all I can to share the vision of Asia's lost souls with my affluent Western Christian brothers and sisters who have it in their power to help.  

Let's all keep thinking, praying, and serving.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 29 

7:08 PM Photo update:

1) Just finished reading Jennifer Dines' The Septuagint. Good book, but not as good as Jobes and Silva.

2) The eleventh and twelfth days of Christmas ....

6:26 PM Here's an excellent YouTube on the differences between classical and ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation. As we mentioned in Greek class today, I am puzzled by the use of ecclesiastical or "church" Latin in the movie The Passion of the Christ. Moreover, Pilate would have spoken Latin with his fellow Romans but Greek with foreigners. And Jesus would have spoken Aramaic with his fellow Jews but, again, Greek with foreigners. So why the scene where Pilate and Jesus are speaking Latin with each other?

At least I hope we can all agree that Jesus wasn't speaking English.

5:44 PM Mother Teresa: 

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it. 
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow,  overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it. 
Life is life, fight for it.

5:35 PM So grateful to my colleague Edgar Aponte for his endorsement of my grammar in Spanish:

Aprenda a Leer el Griego del Nuevo Testamento es una obra que combina la lucidez de un gran erudito del  Nuevo Testamento y la pasión de un piadoso seguidor de Jesucristo. Dr. David Black es un gran maestro. Le doy gracias a Dios por la publicación de este texto en español. Aproveche el recurso que tiene en sus manos y aprenda a leer en griego la dulce y eterna Palabra de Dios revelada en el Nuevo Testamento.

1:04 PM Just taught the first of 14 classes this J-term. That's quite a task when you're not feeling well. But the Lord gave me extra grace and our first day of class went off without a hitch. Today I had my students learn the Greek alphabet and begin mastering the contents of the first chapter of our grammar.

Right now I'm cooking some stir fry and rice for lunch and then I'll crash and burn for the rest of the day. While at the office I saw that this journal had come in the mail.

I am so proud of two of my former mentees for their entries. Mike Rudolph (former Ph.D. student) examines the relationship between textlinguistics and New Testament studies, while Andy Bowden (a former Th.M. student who is currently working on his Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of Munich) publishes a portion of the work he did for me in James.

Kudos, gentlemen. One thing I've discovered in 38 years of teaching is that our students are ready and raring to start publishing provided they have a little incentive and help. So I'm very proud of these former students and I am praying for continued success in their writing in the years ahead. One must NEVER underestimate the potential of the students God places in our care.

Sunday, December 28 

10:46 AM Sitting here watching planes fly over the farm.

OK, so I'm bored.

10:40 AM I think I just set a new world record for continuous sneezes. I hope to God I'm over this tomorrow when I'm scheduled to teach. Oh well, to quote Iago in Shakespeare's Othello....

How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Thou know'st we work by wit, and not by witchcraft;
And wit depends on dilatory time.

Saturday, December 27 

10:34 AM I love reading! Which is a very good thing, because when you're sick there's very little else you can do. Yesterday I finally got around to reading the latest issue of JETS in which a doctoral student from Aberdeen published an excellent piece called "New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon." His main point is that, while pastors are generally not expected to become experts in this field of study, there is still much to learn and discover by examining the textual variants in the New Testament for yourself. Case in point? That great "prince of preachers" and Baptist pastor, Spurgeon. The author makes three points in the conclusion to his essay about Spurgeon's practice when it came to textual criticism.

1) Spurgeon made up his own mind about variant readings. He was "an independent, critical thinker, knowledgeable in the discipline of NT textual criticism, and he weighed the evidence and made his own judgments, rather than taking the word of any one individual."

2) Spurgeon was reluctant to discuss textual variants from his pulpit but he did so when these issues were important.

3) Spurgeon felt that "NT textual criticism was merely a servant to the gospel."

Earlier in his essay, the author noted: "Spurgeon appreciated textual criticism because of his high view of Scripture."

So then, why bother with textual criticism if you're a busy pastor? Simply because you can't teach from a text before you are certain of what the text is. In my book New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, I noted that there are about 2,000 significant textual variants in the New Testament that affect both translation and interpretation. My message to you pastors was (and still is), in a nutshell, this: as much as you can, make up your own mind as to which variant is the original one. Not in a prideful sort of way, of course, but simply as an acknowledgement of the precious gift God has given you in the Scriptures. Be daringly independent on all matters in which the interpretation of the text depends on your own careful study. I believe you'll be a better person for it, and your congregation will be blessed.

Okay, that's it for the textual criticism issue, but not for the broader issue of pastors and their Greek New Testaments. I heartily recommend that pastors keep up with their Greek or, if they haven't learned it yet, to "take up and read." Acquire a good beginning Greek grammar and study it on your own. In this light, I just got this book in the mail: Griego para Pastores.

I love that title! This is the sort of book that will help you jump start the process if you need a healthy push or will help you begin your Greek studies. Now, I'm frankly not sure how this author handles such topics as verbal aspect, deponency, etc., but I plan on reading it soon and will get back to you on whatever light it sheds on these fascinating subjects. But even a brief glance at the contents tells me that this is as good as primer as any I've seen in Spanish to get you started. More to come about Spanish grammars.

In the meantime, I was blown away by something I heard on NPR this morning. It's absolutely something I never thought I would hear in a million years. First, some background. You good people know that I live in Podunk. That's one of the reasons we moved to this farm about 12 years ago from our ranch in Oxford, NC. I was delighted and surprised to find a place that was as quiet, secluded, and conducive to spiritual retreating as was this farm. I live, literally, in the middle of nowhere. The closest little town (a bump in the road, really) is called "Buffalo Junction." This is where the post office is located and that's about it. It's located on Hwy. 49 about 8 miles west of the "big city" of Clarkesville, VA. Down the road from me is a town called "Virgilina -- as in VIRGInia-north caroLINA. Yep, it's right on the state line. Buffalo Junction and Virgilina. Towns you've never heard of, and towns I never heard of before moving here. So you can imagine my wonder and surprise when, this morning on NPR, the host Eric Westerveld ends up interviewing a country singer named "Boo" in, of all places, Buffalo Junction, VA. You can listen to his interview here. The program also features a "concert" played -- of all places -- at the Virgilina volunteer fire department. Now if I had known that Eric was going to be in my neck of the woods I would have invited him to have a cup with me on the front porch of Bradford Hall. Goes to show how small our world is becoming when someone from DC ends up interviewing your neighbor in the middle of nowhere.

Well, it's time to take my medicine and curl up in front of the fire place. Right now I'm plowing through a crazy-interesting book on Robert E. Lee called Reading the Man, based on his private correspondence. Thanks for your prayers. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26 

4:52 PM I've been coughing up gunk all day but I think that's a good sign. I'm so proud of myself. I'm following the strict orders of one of my daughters who is nursing me back to health. I've been drinking and drinking and drinking, and I also took my nap like the obedient father that I am. In the meantime, I see that Henry Neufeld has followed up with a response to my follow-up to something he wrote earlier on his blog as a follow-up to something he had read. (Man, this blogging business can get complicated.) He told me he wanted to "escalate" the discussion, and I do believe he has done just that (read So Why Don't We Do Something about It?). Who's been winning this intra-mural debate? Why me, of course! Just kidding folks. I'm really glad for the new direction Henry is taking the discussion. He writes:

It seems to me that we all know that “pastor” as a “job” is crazy. It isn’t working. We’re wearing out our pastors and we’re not accomplishing the work of the gospel. I find remarkably little disagreement with that.

So my question is this: Why don’t we do something about it?

Well, I obviously believe that we shouldn't just talk about our problems but try to do something about them, so I'm with Henry a thousand percent here. I guess this is one of the reasons I enjoy interacting with Henry so much. He just keeps getting practical on ya! It seems to me that the time is indeed ripe for action of some sort or another. The question is: What can be done?

I suppose a good place to start is with Henry's statement that the pastoral ministry, as currently conceived, is indeed insane. It's the elephant in the room. The evangelical subculture in North America defines and sometimes suffocates those who feel called by God to pastoral leadership. I have heard my share of platitudes from pastors I talk with casually, but I find that when I press them a bit further or simply allow them to elaborate, they freely admit to being burned out. And it's not just them. It's their wives as well. In fact, Henry linked to a study by my fellow Southern Baptist Thom Rainer called Seven Myths about a Pastor's Workweek. The essay is fabulous, but so are the comments. My favorite comment was this one:

In my opinion, Adrian Rogers said it best: “A pastor’s wife has to put up with everything the pastor puts up with, and she has to put up with the pastor, too.”

Touché! The really sad part of it all, at least to me, is that while we sloganize that "every member is a minister," we consistently fail to take this very biblical truth out of the slogan category. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers will remain a "paper tiger" until our misconceptions of the church and its institutional structures are modified to enable church members as disciples to put into practice their Christian calling. It was in 1972 that Hans Küng, a professor at Tübingen University, published his influential book called Why Priests? It is highly significant that he subtitled his work, "A Proposal for a New Church Ministry." And that is exactly what is needed today, don't you think? Küng spoke of the situation in Christendom as an emergency of catastrophic proportions and referred to the rediscovery and use of the church's total membership as God's intended work force. So to address the matter that Henry raised, it seems to me that there will never be widespread ministry of the so-called laity until the church changes its direction and does an about face. I dare say that my local church -- and yours -- can fulfill the basic mission of Christ if the church is willing to accept its biblical form as a ministering body in all arenas of life. In other words, the church can fulfill its mission as its teaching is directed at building up the entire body and creating a dynamic community in which each member pours his or her life out in service to the whole world. This will be a church that recognizes that the entire Christian community is to be active in fulfilling Christian ministry. The church that lives only in the traditions of the past in which the pastor is expected to do all the work of the ministry will only stultify progress. If we would take the Scriptures seriously, pastors would not be performing while others watch; they would help to stir up the ministry of the ordinary members. Negatively put, we must stop heaping upon our pastors unrealistic, unhealthy, and unscriptural expectations. All Christians perform the roles once performed by the Old Testament priests, for the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon the whole church the various gifts. In this body, the interrelationships of the various members are to be as complementary and cooperative as the organs of a human body. John Smyth, founder of the first English Baptist congregation, insisted that even in the absence of an "elder," a congregation has the power to preach, teach, and perform other functions of ministry precisely because the brethren jointly comprise the priesthood (see Cyril Eastwood, The Priesthood of All Believers, p. 155).

Henry says it's time our churches stopped talking about the problem and began doing something about it. As far as the local church is concerned, it might be time to acknowledge that no pastor can fulfill the ministry that God gave to each believer. This implies that all believers are to be known as "ministers." Each functions as a servant of Christ's body. Secondly, the unnecessary and unbiblical polarity between those who hold positions "above the people" and the regular members of the church must be done away with. All of the members of the church together have the same basic rights and responsibilities. As long as we continue to identify "ministry" with clergy status, our churches will fail to reflect the pluriformity, flexibility, and interdependence of the various Spirit-given charisms in everyday living. Finally, I think that pastors have an important role to play in this regard by serving their congregations as inspirers, by arousing enthusiasm for the Scriptures, and by liberating the hidden gifts and energies of their people. Unless and until the average church member has a sense of being called into ministry, he or she will be quite content to leave the work to the pastoral staff. In other words, let there be a revival in the apostolate of the laity. Keep in mind that, in the conclusion of Colossians, Paul can refer to Tychicus as a "faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord." He can call Onesimus a "faithful and beloved brother." He can call Aristarchus a "fellow prisoner" and Justus someone who "has been a comfort to me." He calls Epaphras a "servant of Christ," and Archippus is told to "fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord." All of these, though "laymen," were Paul's "fellow workers in the kingdom of God" (4:11). Peter summarizes it well for us when he writes, "Each and every one of you, as good managers of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he or she has received form God" (1 Pet. 4:10).

Let's summarize. Clearly, when we read the New Testament, all Christians are God's laity (laos) and all are God's clergy (kleros). Writes Elton Trueblood (Your Other Vocation, p. 113), "If in the average church we should take seriously the notion that every lay member, man or woman, is really a minister of Christ, we would have something like a revolution in a very short time ...." True discipleship, said Jesus, is service (Luke 22:25-26). Each member of God's body has been given a special gift. Christ ascended, wrote Paul, "to prepare God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:12). This does not call into question the vitally important role of pastors/elders. It does, however, call into question the unreasonable expectations placed upon them. The main function of pastors (Eph. 4:11-12) is the development of the whole congregation in the exercise of every Christian's God-given priesthood. Let pastors be teachers, yes. Let pastors be shepherds, yes. Let pastors be leaders, yes. But let pastors also be enablers. Let them seek a constant renewal of the faith and a ministry of enablement that not only inspires but equips for service. If the impression is given that only ordained clergy can do the work of the ministry, then let it be unlearned. Pastors are not called to be super-star performers while others watch. They are to be coaches in a well-coordinated and well-trained team.

The pastoral role in leadership is needed now more than ever! Pastors can either keep their people as submissive members on a church role, or they can make them member-ministers. The aim, as Henry so eloquently puts it, is belief that leads to action. Until this happens, I see very little significant change occurring.

12:28 PM Asked a friend this question today:

In reviewing the work being done on DTS (Descriptive Translation Theory) I was thinking about how important it is, in being able to study translations such as the LXX, to be able to apply this process of going from text to translation oneself in a modern foreign language. Just curious, then: which modern foreign languages are you fluent in -- that is, which modern foreign languages could you teach, preach, and pray in without notes?

11:56 AM Don't tell me!

My favorite!!

9:58 AM New Testament book titles are woefully inadequate when it comes to communicating the book's contents. I thought about that this morning as I contemplated the titles of some movies that are currently playing in theaters all across the land. "The Interview." That's the perfect title for this inane "comedy." Of course, it's also a teaser. One wonders, "What in the world happened during this 'interview'?" It sure beats "Sony Pictures Release # 127." Here are some other movies opening this week:

  • The Sniper

  • Unbroken

  • Selma

  • The Gambler

  • Into the Woods

I bet a lot of thought went into these play bills. So ... How might we retitle some of our favorite NT books? Might Philippians become Theology in Overalls? (Saints Who Serve might also work). Might Romans become The Right Stuff? (After all, the book is all about how God makes us right with Him.) Might Hebrews become The Greatest Catholic Priest Who Ever Lived? ("Catholic" in the sense of "universal.")

I don't know. I'm sitting here nursing a chest cold and I've got lots of spare time on my hands ....

9:02 AM To follow up on Henry Neufeld's insightful discussion of church leadership (Should Pastors Learn Textual Criticism?), I'd like to offer a brief word about the idea of "professionalization" and its bearing on eldership. I'll use an analogy from aviation -- an area of great interest to me seeing that I fly so much. The other night I watched a YouTube on the crash of Air France 447 in the Atlantic with the loss of all on board. That event, along with the crash of Asiana Airlines 214 in San Francisco and Colgan Air in New York, illustrated the need to retrain pilots to fly manually. There is no doubt that all three flight crews were sorely deficient in this area of training. In the case of Asiana 214, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the incident was the flight crew's mismanagement of the airplane's descent during a visual approach and their inadequate monitoring of airspeed. Contributing to the accident was the pilot flying's inadequate training in the planning and execution of visual approaches when the ILS (Instrument Landing System) glide slope was out of service, as it was on the day of the crash. In short, and as unbelievable as it may sound, the flight crew of Asiana 214 did not know how to manually fly a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) approach in perfect weather. They were frankly incompetent, and one of the reasons for their incompetence was their overreliance on automatics. Airlines have become so "automatics reliant" today that incompetent pilots slip into the system and are allowed to fly passengers whose lives depend on them.

I wonder. Could a similar argument be made when it comes to pastoring and teaching a local flock? Henry is probably correct when he asserts that a working knowledge of the biblical languages is an unrealistic expectation for a pastor today. Instead, the internet (automatics, if you will) has become the go-to source for knowledge about the biblical text. I have met many of my former students who, though they may have excelled in Greek 1-3, could not translate a single verse from their Greek New Testament today if their life depended on it. Proficiency is simply not expected. Many of us are content to run on "auto-pilot." Just as expecting pilots to be able to hand fly a visual approach is an illusion today, so expecting pastors to do their study in the Greek and Hebrew is a pipe dream. This is indeed what some argue. Mastery of the languages simply takes too much work.

Unlike the flight crew of Asiana 214, the NTSB hit it right on the money: Asiana pilots need to be retrained. In this case, the pilots were both low and slow -- a certain recipe for disaster. Flight Training 101 would have told them to apply power first. Instead, they pulled back on the yoke at stall speed without adding any additional thrust. The result? Three dead. And it could have been far worse.

Of course, I realize I'm showing my bias here. I love languages. I love studying languages. I love learning new languages. I work hard at keeping up the language skills I do have. At the same time, I don't face the daily pressures that your typical pastor faces. As an emailer (himself a pastor) put it to me yesterday:

The pressure on today's pastor is enormous to be all things to all people and be the best at that.  The congregation doesn't realize how they heap upon their pastor voluminous expectations of perfection and performance and then have the nerve to complain because the pastor didn't speak to them or visit them this week while deacons sit at home, content that they have hired a religious expert to do the work of the ministry.  "After all, that's what we pay him for!!"

In the end, each of us has to decide what we will do with the languages. It is a very personal decision. Perhaps, as Henry argued, the best solution is team-leadership. Those without competence in the languages can learn from those who possess those skills. I'm all for that. I do know this. If ignorance is unacceptable when it comes to piloting a modern aircraft, I fail to see how ignorance is acceptable when people's souls are at stake. Church and academy need to work better and wiser at training elders to "cut it straight."

Thursday, December 25 

2:16 PM My sweet daughter Kim and her family.

"Look Papa B, a star!"

Rachael's space station.

Loved my Christmas presents!

Read the Christmas story from Hebrews 2, then everybody risked their digestions on Papa B's home-cooked fare. The kids favorite part? The ice cream sandwiches for dessert, of course.

So thankful for this family.

10:14 AM How in the world did she know I needed more grading pens?

Liz, you rascal!

9:32 AM I'm about to put the ham in the oven. Wish me success!

So how am I doing on this, my second Christmas without Becky? Great! How can I not feel this way when I get emails like this one:

I often wonder how you are doing.  I do hope and pray that you are well physically as well as emotionally and spiritually.  I know this time of the year can be hard on anyone, especially those who have lost a spouse.  I hate it when people give me Christian cliches, so I won't.  I just wanted you to know that I love and pray for you and wish you all the best.  I am privileged to call you my friend.  Please let me help in any way that I can. You're good at Greek, I'm good at 'stuff '.

You all are the best. Human strength alone is insufficient for the task of recovering from grief. We need God, and we need others. I simply want to take this opportunity to thank my family and friends for standing by me. I've had so many invitations this Christmas I don't know what to do with them all. For the next three days, this house will be filled with family, grandkids, and laughter. I am no longer fatigued all day long. I get some sleep at night. It seems that the days when I would lie awake at night feeling the torment of the darkness are much fewer nowadays. In fact, somehow it seems like Becky never left home. Frederick Buechner once put it like this: "Maybe the most sacred function of memory is just that: to render the distinction between past, present, and future ultimately meaningless; to enable us at some level of our being to inhabit that same eternity which it is said God himself inhabits." I carry vivid memories of Christmas past into today's events, but there is no bitterness. I can only chock this up to God. Christmas reminds us that the Christian faith is the complete opposite of a do-it-yourself self-help religion. It is a reminder that life is put right, is made well and whole, through the advent of God's Son, Jesus Christ. The Christmas narrative that you and your family will read today provides ample clues for how we are to live and how to understand our own story of redemption. When I look back over the past 6 years I can now see that there was grace available for me, each and every day that I walked this painful pathway. I see grace revealed and experienced, even when I couldn't see it at the time. If I could, instead of asking you today, "How's your Christmas going?" I would inquire, "How's your redemption going?" Rehabilitation after a loss is a daunting task. But I stand here as exhibit no. 1 that God can take weak and broken vessels and still use them for His purposes.

On this blog, I offer vignettes of my life as reflections that I hope might be valuable to others who are going through a similar experience. But I am compelled to say that I'm still afraid of suffering every bit as much as probably you are. Becky's loss is as horrific and puzzling to me today as it was the day she died. I share my story with you if for no other reason than to show you how hard it is to face death. Nothing can efface the pain one experiences after the loss of a spouse whom you loved. The fact that God might bring great good out of it doesn't erase the tremendous burden of coping with the loss day after day after day. Becky's death was like the explosion of an atomic bomb. But giving into grief has proven to be not only healthy but absolutely necessary. If darkness has invaded my soul, so has Light. Indeed, this is the true meaning of Christmas. "This is the true Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to snuff it out." As in the new movie Unbroken, prisoners of darkness can transcend their circumstances, not by seeking to escape from them but rather by finding meaning in them.

My own loss is a constant reminder to me of the incredible, awful power of personal choice. I want to learn the secret of holding up that beam of wood. I want to learn to choose to face the darkness rather than run away from it. I want to discover the beauty of ugliness, the strength of weakness, the joy of grieving. You too, my friend, may one day be called upon to do the same thing. But it is in choosing to embrace the darkness that we take our first baby steps toward the sunrise.

Wednesday, December 24 

6:45 PM "Truth," I am told here, "is about doing." And the proof?

I am no Hebrew scholar, but this seems like a bit of a stretch. What do you think?

I got on this rabbit trail tonight while re-watching David deSilva's YouTube on the LXX (linked to below), in which he attempts to contrast the Hebrew emeth (which he glosses as "reliability") with the Greek pistis (which he glosses as "faith/belief/faithfulness"). I say "attempt" because I think he oversimplifies matters considerably. Indeed, the first series of glosses for pistis in my BDAG is "faithfulness, reliability, fidelity, commitment." I recall once reading David Hill's Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings. Like James Barr before him, Hill was wary about reading too much Septuagintal influence in the New Testament. Over a century ago H. A. A. Kennedy (The Influence of the LXX on the Vocabulary of the NT) concluded that while LXX influence on the vocabulary of the New Testament is indubitable, it is not to be exaggerated. Lexicography will, of course, be a huge part of our discussion in our forthcoming LXX class in the spring. Personally, I am much more interested in discussing syntactical Hebraisms than lexical Hebraisms. Here I think of Helbing's monograph Die Kasussyntax der Verba bei den LXX: Ein Beitrag zur Hebraismenfrage und zur Syntax der Koine. All of these questions are relevant to New Testament studies and indeed are the reasons why we are offering this course to begin with.

5:48 PM India update:

The Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Yet six of the 29 state governments have implemented laws forbidding “forcible conversions,” and other states are considering them. These laws, which are frequently used against Christians, make it illegal to convert someone “by force, fraud or allurement.”

Read more. Stay informed.

5:15 PM In case you'd like to know what my daughter Liz gave me on the eighth day of Christmas ....

My favorite! 

5:08 PM Joe Cocker may be gone but his songs -- especially "You Are So Beautiful" -- live on. Hubby, want to surprise your wife this year? Try whispering sweet nothings in her ear and then singing these words to her:

You are so beautiful, to me.
You are so beautiful, to me.
Can't you see, you're everything I hoped for,
You're everything I need, you are so beautiful, to me.

4:46 PM A year ago, I wrote down several New Year's "resolutions." I still like them. Well, most of them. Here's my revised list for 2015. What about yours?

1) I will stop producing long run-on sentences that are redundant, pleonastic, and superfluous or that use more words than are absolutely necessary to say what I want to say.

2) I will continue to put off doing what I know I should have done last year but didn't do because I lack the self-discipline to do it.

3) I will never again drink coffee after 3:00 pm unless I'm absolutely sure I want to stay up all night.

4) I will do everything I can to kick the ______ habit. (Wouldn't you like to know what that is?)

5) I will not expect perfection. When I fail, I will confess my sins to God, remembering the words of C. S. Lewis: "You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a very long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again."

6) I will not spend money frivolously, unless it is on my daughters.

7) I will relinquish my devotion to "having devotions." I will not feel guilty for not reading my Bible every day. My relationship with Christ is just that -- a living relationship, not a list of things to check off.

8) I will talk less about what it means to live as an obedient follower of Christ and will actually start living like one.

9) I will make no resolutions that I have no intention whatsoever of keeping.

10) I will make every effort to keep my future publications simple. (Albert Einstein: "Keep everything as simple as possible, without being too simple.")

11) I will be more understanding toward others, especially those who don't see things like I do.

12) When it comes to giving parenting advice to my children (who are now raising their own children), I am going to zip my lips, knowing that nobody cares as much about raising good kids as their own parents. At the same time, I will not confuse children with angels.

13) I will gleefully thumb my nose at the skeptics around me who think that change is both evil and impossible.

14) As much as I love and appreciate them, I will not abdicate my personal responsibility for global evangelism to professional missionaries.

15) Like Jabez of old (1 Chron. 4:9-10), I will ask God for bigger challenges and greater opportunities to serve Him in 2015, believing that I will get them.

16) I will do at least one magnanimous act every day.

17) I will say "I love you" to my family members more often.

18) When nobody is within ear shot, I will belch as loud as I can -- and enjoy every second of it.

19) I will not be anything but myself. I will enjoy my own special God-given personality and temperament. I will feel free to weep, to express my fears and doubts, to laugh until I cry. I will not wear a mask and try to appear controlled when I am freaking out. God made me -- down to the last scar.

20) In Luke 9:58, Jesus said to His followers (The Message), "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know." I will eagerly "rough it" for Jesus in 2015.

21) I will seek out friendships. (Dolly Madison: "Friendship doubles our joy and halves our grief.")

22) I will be more generous in 2015 than I was in 2014. (John Wesley: "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.")

23) I will banish that past mistake from my memory forever. (Don't ask.)

24) I may stumble, but I will run my race. Wrote Paul to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:1-2, The Message): "We'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running -- and never quit."

1:16 PM I guess this church has arrived

1:10 PM I once heard someone say that evangelists in the Majority World have more passion to spread the Gospel than most of us who are surrounded by all the comforts of Western living. I agree. I agree because I have been to India and Ethiopia and Asia and the Middle East and I have seen with my own eyes and have talked with these missionaries myself. They often put us to shame. Around the world today, God is breaking over African and Asian nations with a new outpouring of the Spirit, raising up thousands of dedicated simple men and women who are taking the Gospel to their own people. I got these pictures today from Mammen Joseph in Northern India.

He writes:

We have two-child development program that we run in two different villages. Our ministry adopted these villages ten years back and we continue to work in these villages. We run this programs through our local church.  These children come from broken homes and poor homes. We provide them free education and also provide them one time meal. We have a Christmas program every year in these villages and we invite the people of this village and the nearby places and this is an opportunity that we receive to share His love. I am attaching a few pictures of these programs.

This, my friends, is the native missionary movement in action, and it is a joy to see. Why God has allowed me to become a part of this astonishing spiritual movement is beyond my comprehension. But this is a blessing we can all enjoy. In Asia today, God is using the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. God has given me a clear message for today's church in the West: I cry out to my brothers and sisters in Christ on behalf of the lost millions in the Two-Thirds World. In India, the population is four times that of the United States. Only 2.4 percent of these call themselves Christians. There are still 500,000 unevangelized villages waiting to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. But -- praise God! -- native missionaries are prepared to carry on the work.

Are we prepared to support them?

8:12 AM "You needn't worry about not feeling brave. Our Lord didn't -- see the scene in Gethsemane. How thankful I am that when God became man he did not choose to become a man of iron nerves; that would not have helped weaklings like you and me nearly so much." C. S. Lewis.

7:55 AM At the same that John Wilkes Booth was putting a bullet into the head of the president, Lewis Powell was attempting to assassinate Secretary of State William H. Seward. Bedridden since a terrible carriage accident, Seward drifted in and out of consciousness in his second-floor bedroom a few blocks from Ford's Theater. Inside the room, Sgt. George Robinson, a wounded army veteran now serving as an army nurse, kept watch over the ailing Seward. As Powell entered the room, armed with a dagger, Robinson made the split-second decision to fight to the death before he would allow the assassin to murder the Secretary of State. He saved his life. Later, Congress would strike a gold medal in Robinson's honor, and he was awarded $5,000 in cash. The medal included these words:

For his Heroic Conduct on the 14 Day of April 1865. In Saving the Life of Wm. H. Seward.

Last night, as I sat quietly in front of a warm fireplace, I meditated upon the words of 1 Thess. 5:12-13. What is to be our relationship to our leaders as Christians? Paul, who always loved the "rule of three," describes leaders as those who (1) "work hard among you," (2) "lead you," and (3) "admonish you." He then describes the threefold responsibility we have toward our leaders (pastors/elders). We are to (1) "respect them," (2) "esteem them highly in love because of their work," and (3) "live in peace among yourselves."

Does your church have godly, humble, courageous leaders who watch over your souls? You are to bestow upon them honor and respect. Have you noticed how hard they work? Have you recognized their God-given abilities of leadership? Have you appreciated their willingness to admonish your congregation through instruction and correction? Pick a concrete act. Write them an encouraging letter. Send them a complimentary email. Buy them a gift for Christmas. Grant them a sabbatical. I know of no harder work than that of a pastor/elder. What a joy it is to share close bonds with them! Practicing pastoral care is made easier when we, the congregation, esteem godly leaders "most highly" (hyperekperissou -- a double compound). Leaders are not to work alone.

Do you know the blessing of sacrificial leadership? Then thank God for it -- and make sure your leaders know they are appreciated. 

7:32 AM Quote of the day (Harry Reasoner):

[Christmas] goes beyond logic. It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It's the story of the great innocence of God the baby-- God in the form of man-- and has such a dramatic shock toward the heart that if it is not true, for Christians, nothing is true.

Tuesday, December 23 

6:42 PM Sony Pictures has reversed its decision. I still won't go and see a movie I wasn't planning on seeing anyway. Tonight I watched this instead -- PBS's Secret State of North Korea. Very educational indeed.

This space station picture shows North Korea at night. South Korea has become an island. The spiritual darkness is just as real. Can the Gospel ever penetrate it? I've taught 6 times in South Korea and I can you tell you, judging from the attitude of the Christians in the south, that the answer is yes. One third of South Koreans now profess to follow Jesus Christ. They are strongly committed to world missions and are ready to carry the Gospel to the north. In fact, South Korea itself is a good example of how God can use persecution to grow His church. The Gospel is God's way of stepping out of the shadows and making Himself known. You think it's awful that the North Koreans are living in spiritual darkness? So does God, even more so. South Korean believers are noted for their gifts of evangelism and prayer. They are eager to preach the Gospel to their neighbors in the north. Would you join me in praying for them and pleading with God, that He would open a door that no man can shut?

1:53 PM "On the seventh day of Christmas ...."


11:50 AM Life is so hectic that getting ready for Christmas is just another item on our pressure-cooker list of things to do. NPR this morning aired a program about the stresses of the Christmas season. Many stresses are self-imposed, as was logically pointed out. I can understand why some wives and mothers, in particular, get burned out. Many work a "first shift," only to come home to work a "second shift" of cooking and cleaning and childcare. Christmas only adds a "third shift" to everything else. Husbands and dads, here's a thought. If your wife will let you, take some of the load off of her shoulders this year. Takes the kids out for a day and give her some time to herself. Insist on washing the dinner dishes. It's one thing to compliment our wives when they've set a gorgeous table. It's quite another to show them our appreciation by little acts of service and kindness. Stephen Vincent Benet once said, "Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways." Guys, we can do better. We must do better.

9:20 AM A close friend and brother of mine has just been diagnosed with cancer. In a fallen world, no one is safe. Life can be mean, difficult, unjust. Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. You have a good job. You have a wonderful family. You have a nice house. Then cancer erupts, unaccepted, unwelcome, devastatingly, frustratingly. When this happened to us over 5 years ago, your first reaction is "Why me?" Then you pause. You think. You ponder and before long you are asking yourself, "Why not me?" Every family is eventually touched by sin and death. Will your experience make you bitter or better? Becky chose the latter route. Her testimony became a constant source of joy to me, and to many others. As we watched her fight the good fight, her confidence in God somehow grew not only quieter but stronger. Grace was transforming her -- and us -- and it was wonderful to behold.

Good health is more than any of us deserves. It is a blessing -- a temporary, ephemeral one at best. Suffering can poison us or heal us, depending on how we respond to it. It forces us to address, again and again, the subject of God's sovereignty and love. No miracle can ultimately save us from death. Thankfully, for the Christian, as Luther once said, death is not our enemy; it is our friend. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is only to gain more of Him.

I once thought that I could dismiss my grief over Becky's loss as something temporary, abnormal, passing. Surely it would be nothing more than a brief interlude in what otherwise was a very happy life. Instead, today I'm learning to embrace my pain if for no other reason than that it allows me to empathize with fellow sufferers the world over. True, loss can make us less. But it can also make us more. The soul has the captivity to grow larger through suffering.

May it be so with my good friend and brother in Christ. May it be so.

Monday, December 22 

6:18 PM The show has started, but the spectators are angry. Why? Read A Gladiator Story: Santa Claus.

4:10 PM Just finished reading Markus Barth's discussion of marriage in his Ephesians commentary. It is by far the best part of a commentary that is known for its excellence through and through. One of the reasons Jesus came into this world was because God loved us so much that He wanted us to become His bride. He wanted to "marry" us, to alleviate our loneliness and alienation. God loves His people just that much. He is the Other with whom we, as believers, can know intimacy and a special relationship so dramatic and wonderful that human marriage pales when compared to it. There is really nothing else in this world quite like marriage. Marriage is like being in a place where love never sleeps. It can't afford to. So earth-shattering is this thing called marriage that it shakes us right down to the soles of our shoes. Clearly God planned, through marriage, to make us alive to the absolute wonder of loving another person. It is a way of living life with no other agenda than love. This is why death doubles the impact of the loss, for death is a more fearsome foe in a couple than it is in an individual.

All of these truths are richly spelled out in Barth's commentary, though he uses different words to describe what I'm talking about. His section called "Love her! Love her!" has nothing to compare with in commentaries on Ephesians. "To a wife," he writes, "a husband's love can become transparent for Christ's infinitely greater love" (p. 712 -- a page that also includes perhaps the most risqué footnote you will ever read in a biblical commentary; footnote #399. Be forewarned!). I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be married again. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if the roles were reversed and Becky were still here rather than me. I sometimes wonder about the tremendous disparity between the married and the single. I just thank God that each of us, regardless of our marital status, is equal before God. He loves us no more and no less if we are married or single or divorced or widowed. And someday very soon we will all, each of us, be asked to give an account of how we measured up to His standards for our lives.

The only thing that mattered when I was married is the same thing that matters today. That holds true for you, too. If you pay attention to the Guide Book, study it faithfully, and rely only on its Author, you'll come out on top. 

12:48 PM Here's a two-fer:

1) Christmas Day will be here soon. I'm ready.

Bradshers, be prepared to get stuffed.

2) Just did a double back flip. You would too if your adopted Indian daughter just met with the pope.

To explain ... this email just came from the orphanage in India through which Becky and I have sponsored our orphaned "daughter" Neeli for the past several years:

I also want to write about Neeli who was adopted by Becky and then you had continued to support her. 

There has been a opportunity that had Neeli got to visit Rome and which was sponsored by a non profit organization to represent her brother who was child trafficked and forced into child labor in a western state of India. Neeli has received an opportunity speak in front of the Pope. She was able to do so because she had a English education and because of your prayers with her. I am attaching a few pictures of her time in Rome.

I feel so proud that a child from our children home represented our country in an international venue because she was helped and sponsored by you and Becky to be at the home. If not then she would also have gone through a rough childhood. 

I want to cry I am so happy. Thank you, Father, for Neeli and for the fact that she is Your adopted daughter too.

9:50 AM Country breakfast this morning.

Farm fresh eggs and farm fresh pork sausage.

9:26 AM Phoenix Seminary announces an opening in Systematic Theology.

9:10 AM Take your Bibles please and turn to Luke 2:14  -- a Christmas verse if ever there was one. The critical text of the Greek New Testament reads as follows:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας

We might paraphrase this as:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of [i.e., who enjoy God's] goodwill.

What happened to "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth goodwill toward men"? There are two readings here in the Greek manuscripts, and they are very similar:

"of good will" (genitive case) = eudokias

"goodwill" (nominative case) = eudokia

The latter reading is represented by the KJV and the NKJV. The former reading has been adopted by most modern English translation. So which is it? What is the original text here? In his blog LXX Studies, John Meade has an excellent discussion of the variant. He concludes:

Thus the angels are pronouncing peace to men of God’s favor, not peace on earth, goodwill to men [indiscriminately].

I tend to agree with this conclusion. The external evidence for eudokias seems definitive. Meade takes it a step further and suggests that the reading is a Septuagintalism or Hebraism. This may or may not be the case. But his discussion raises several important questions:

1) If you are a pastor, can you follow this discussion? If you had to choose between the genitive or the nominative here, would you know what to do and how to proceed? If not, why not?

2) Assuming that a knowledge of Greek is necessary to be able to resolve this problem, what about textual criticism? Few students study this area of exegesis. Yet it is an essential part of our task as exegetes/teachers/pastors. In fact, the bottom portion of our printed Greek New Testaments (the so-called textual apparatus) sometimes takes up half the page, so important are textual variants in the study of the New Testament. Can you make an intelligent decision here, based on the textual evidence provided to us by the Greek manuscripts, the early versions (Latin, Coptic, Syria), and the statements of the early church fathers (the "patristic" evidence)?

3) Can the LXX shed light on New Testament Greek? I imagine John Meade would answer, "Much in every way."

As the God-man, Jesus presented the sternest challenge ever made to humanity. He demanded peoples' total allegiance and obedience. Here Luke reminds us that "peace" is available only to those who enjoy God's goodwill, that is, those who comprise the new humanity that Christ came to establish, the people of God. "Christmas, then," writes Meade, "is not an empty hope for world peace."

It is remembering [he continues] how God in Christ actually brought peace on earth to the people of his favor in the past, and that past historical reality is the ground for a certain hope that he will act in the future, that he will indeed come again to establish his justice and righteousness in the consummation of his kingdom in the new creation. “World peace” is part and parcel of why we cry, ”Come, Lord Jesus!” It is not a lament or a gripe to God, as if the first advent of Christ had failed. The first advent brought peace through the blood of Jesus’ cross. The second advent will fulfill or consummate what Christ’s first coming inaugurated.

It's worth thinking about.

8:50 AM Each year the University of Göttingen offers a course in the LXX. Last year's course focused on Isaiah. (For a report, in German, go here.)  The lecturer was Dr. Alison Salvesen, Lecturer at the University of Oxford. The program for 2015 will be announced in January. This is an excellent opportunity for all who are interested in honing their skills in the Septuagint.

8:26 AM Want to learn Spanish? Go here. For more, click here. Simple and fun. Try it!

8:24 AM The headline reads:

"Omnes sumus Americani." Dissolvitur glacies inter Cubam et Civitates Americae Unitas.

Yep. An online newspaper in Latin. How cool is that? 

8:19 AM Day 6. Sweet.

Sunday, December 21 

8:18 PM Almost forgot. I wanted to show you this picture:

It's one of the most fascinating photos I've ever run across in all of my Civil War research. It shows veterans of the war posing at Little Round Top during the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1888. In the front row are some of the major actors in that famous battle, including Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, Confederate General James Longstreet, and Union General Dan Sickles, who lost a leg there on the second day of fighting. As Longstreet and Sickles were reminiscing together, Sickles turns to his former nemesis and says, "You should apologize for shooting my leg off." Longstreet replies, "'Apologize'? You should thank me for leaving you one leg to stand on." Love Sickles or hate him (there seems to be no middle ground), he played a hugely important role at Gettysburg.

Following the reunion in 1888, the New York Times reported that the Yankees were "killing the Southerners with kindness." The Union men were eager for souvenirs. John Sonnet, a Virginian, gave away every badge and ribbon on his uniform to Pennsylvania veterans gathered on Cemetery Hill. Later Sickles gave a speech. His words are worth remembering today:

The conflict of 1861-5 was a war of institutions and policies.... And now that time and thought, common sense and common interest, have softened all the animosities of war, we may bury them forever, while we cherish and perpetuate as Americans the immortal heritage of honor belonging to the Republic that became imperishable when it became free.

Confederate General John B. Gordon added that Gettysburg should now be "a Mecca for the North which so grandly defended it, and a Mecca for the South which so bravely and persistently stormed it. We join you in setting apart this land as an enduring monument of peace, brotherhood and perpetual union."

150 years ago, corporal Anderson Boyd, the original owner of my Virginia farm, went to war. North and South arrayed itself against each other. The sons of Maine crossed bayonets with men who were reared under the orange trees of the deep South. To study the American Civil War is to begin a journey of discovery. The war is an ongoing discussion that we have with ourselves as Americans. But that's the point. We are all Americans. Should the old rub up against the new again, and should old frictions reemerge, I hope we will all keep that truth in mind.

P.S. I'll be attending the Raleigh Civil War Round Table on January 10. The one-and-only Ed Bearss will be speaking on the topic of the Battle of Mobile Bay (a site I've visited).

I heard the now 92-year old Bearss speak at the Dallas CWRT last year. He's a fabulous speaker and a veteran himself (he took a bullet in the Pacific in 1944). Care to join me in Raleigh?

1:34 PM I count myself blessed among men.

As I ate my dinner today, alone, I kept thinking about all the dinners Becky and I ate together at my table, this same piece of furniture, and I knew we would grow old and gray together and sit on the front porch and talk about all the things happening in the lives of our grandkids and thinking about all the adventures we still had left in life. Those days are no more, but I am not depressed. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat. I have a family who spends time with me. That's more than Saeed can say as he wastes away in a prison in Iran. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, despite the loss of Becky, I've got a song to sing, and it's my responsibility and joy to sing it. Life means giving it everything I've got. Loss is a road to bring us daily nearer to God. My life, my energy, my body, my finances -- here they are, for you, O Lord. Either God is in charge, or He is not. Either He loves His children, or He does not. "We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable," wrote Paul. "We have nothing to bless ourselves with, yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, yet in reality we have everything worth having."

The Lord has made His face to shine upon me, and has given me peace, and that is something for which to be truly thankful.

10:22 AM Must disagreement lead to disunity in a local church? Here are four helpful links by Alan Knox. Do read the comments too. They are also insightful.

10:03 AM "On the fifth day of Christmas ...."

It doesn't get much better than this.

By the way, if you're going to look at Christmas lights this week, why not find a widow at church this morning and invite her to go along? 

9:48 AM Good morning one and all! The weather of late has been displaying an alarming spilt personality, vacillating between periods of bright sunshine and days of cold and gray. I think today will be sunny again.

A few thoughts on language if I may:

1) As everyone knows, the NA 28 is now available both online and in print. The only changes are in the Catholic Epistles. Jude 5 now reads "Jesus" instead of "Lord," as in the NA 27. It's not that this is a new reading. In NA 27, "Jesus" was, of course, in the apparatus. So please don't place too much stock in yet another edition of Nestle-Aland. Any printed Greek New Testament is simply a repository for readings. Always check out the evidence for yourself.

2) In one week I'll begin teaching Greek 1 in J-term. It will be three weeks of sheer bliss and delight. (Yeah, right.) One of the challenges will be vocabulary acquisition. Here are 6 resources to help you in the process:

The first is a PowerPoint flashcard program using Bible Works vocabulary links. The vocabulary for my grammar is ready for download as .pdf and .ppt files.

The second resource is Jacob Cerone's Quizlet page, which has a set of flash cards for my beginning Greek grammar. The files for my book appear at the top of the section titled “Sets.”

The third resource is a complete list of vocabulary for all my Greek classes developed by Jacob Cerone. This includes the vocabulary for my Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Greek 1 & 2), Metzger's vocabulary (Greek Syntax and Exegesis), Philippians (Intermediate Exegesis), and LXX. Click here for the .zip file. These flashcards can be loaded onto the Vocab Pro application for iPod, iPhone, iPad. For a detailed explanation on how to install the vocabulary files to your Apple device and additional vocabulary files, go here.

The fourth resource is Danny Zacharias' Greek Flash Black Edition flashcard app (Mac). 

The fifth resource is audio for the Greek vocabulary from lessons 1-7 (excluding chapter 2). Chapter 1; Chapter 3; Chapter 4; Chapter 5; Chapter 6; and Chapter 7.

The sixth resource is a parsing guide for all the exercises in my Learn to Read New Testament Greek developed Jacob Cerone.

Go here for more.

Oxford currently has a record of more than 750,000 English words. It's been estimated that the average English speaker recognizes about 60,000 of them but uses only about 10,000 of them. My beginning Greek grammar contains roughly 520 lexical items which, when memorized, will enable you to read 75 percent of your Greek New Testament. So you see -- it's not that big of a deal after all.

3) Finally, let's practice our Latin this morning. Here's a Latin Vulgate reading over at YouTube: The Visit of the Magi. And here's John 3 in both Latin and English. Each language is beautifully read. If you want to listen to great sacred music, you will need to have a working knowledge of this gorgeous language. You say, "But Latin is dead!" Latina lingua, mi puer, non est mortua.

Saturday, December 20 

6:44 PM Checked the mail. (It's really a bird house.)

Took pix.

Enjoyed walking the dogs.

But the best part was dinner with Karen and her roommate.

They are now headed over to Kim's to spend the night before returning to DC tomorrow. I am so blessed.

Right now I'm reading Amos in Hebrew. Love that book. Love that language.

2:22 PM Read Christmas 1914.

1:14 PM LXX students: check out David deSilva's YouTube lecture on the LXX.

1:08 PM Snow flurries earlier. Just lit a fire. Nice day to stay indoors.

12:40 PM Could these be the key verses of Amos (5:14-15)? So far, they are my first choice.

ἐκζητήσατε τὸ καλόν, καὶ μὴ τὸ πονηρόν, ὅπως ζήσητε· καὶ ἔσται οὕτως μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ, ὃν τρόπον εἴπατε· μεμισήκαμεν τὰ πονηρὰ καὶ ἠγαπήσαμεν τὰ καλά· καὶ ἀποκαταστήσατε ἐν πύλαις κρίμα, ὅπως ἐλεήσῃ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ τοὺς περιλοίπους τοῦ ᾿Ιωσήφ.

The NET translators render these verses as follows:

Seek the good thing and not the evil thing, that you may live, and so the Lord God the Almighty will be with you, just as you have said, "We have hated evil things and have loved the good things." Restore judgment in the gates, that the Lord God the Almighty might have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

Questions: Why did they leave the first ta in verse 15 untranslated? Why did they translate periloipous as a singular noun? At any rate, Amos pleads with Israel to seek God in order that the people might live. Ritual can never replace ethics. Amos wasn't impressed with the "success" of the nation, economically, politically, or spiritually. Those who do not fulfill their covenantal responsibilities will not be spared on the Day of the Lord.

This is one reason I eschew the social gospel so vociferously. There can be no peace and joy until there is first righteousness. It is a great disservice to soothe unsaved people with a false peace and bestir them with an artificial joy when they are not right with God. Pain killers are not enough. The broken bones must be set first.

Boy, this is going to be a fantastic study.

12:08 PM "'God requires devotion, not devotions,' right more than rite." Shalom Paul.

12:02 PM P.S. We will cover the book of Amos in 9 weeks (since there are 9 chapters). That should be do-able in terms of translation (both the Greek and the Hebrew must be translated weekly into English). Amos has a mere 146 verses, which amounts to an average of 16.22 verses per week. Amos, of course, was from the village of Tekoa in the highlands of Judea. Have you visited that site? I have, and it was extremely interesting.

11:55 AM This came yesterday.

It's our main textbook for the LXX class in the spring. I enjoy the Hermeneia series.

11:40 AM Loved this:

11:33 AM In case you're interested, we're one step closer to getting Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism back into print. Please join us in praying that this happens, for the good of the church.

10:50 AM Good morning folks! My DC daughter Karen and her roommate are coming over today to cook me supper -- which, in my world, makes life totally wonderful. In fact, I am being completely spoiled. Here's my "fourth day of Christmas" present.

This will be a first for me.

I'm loving it!

Last night I stayed up late watching YouTubes of chorale music from Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, etc. Diaphonic music is beyond description -- haunting, breathtaking, lovely, otherworldly, ethereal, profoundly moving, bellísimo, muy emotivo. And cathedral choristers? They are so amazing. I'm grateful for YouTube and the videos found there. I'm alone for much of the holidays but these videos override my loneliness and bring me a lot of joy and happiness and fill my nights with a sense of being connected to the Savior through music. Nothing is too beautiful for our God. Praise the Lord! Hail! Deo gratias! Amen!

To change the subject completely (yes, I'm rambling), have you heard the ad on NPR about pajamas for your pets? We've gone off the deep end, methinks. Or have we? I recently read the bio at a website I stumbled upon. The writer and his wife claimed to have "two four-footed children." I get that. Especially now that I'm living alone. Well, I'm not completely alone. Last year I got rid of all my cattle. But I still have two dogs, two goats, and two donkeys. (I'm thinking of a name change: Noah.) In California, our kids' first pets were chickens. Then we got goats, a donkey, and horses. Eventually we became a "normal" family and acquired Shelties. One of our nanny goats once died in childbirth. Becky and I bottle fed her two kids. Boy oh boy. We were mommy and daddy from then on. When it comes to animals, I can anthropomorphize with the best of them. Yet some animals are food. We slaughter and butcher our own cows and goats on the farm. Yes, "Bert," whom we raised from a calf, ended up as steaks and hamburger meat in our freezer. Death is part of life on a farm. But I've never posted a picture of an animal we were "processing." After all, DBO seeks to be a family website.

A final thought before I head out to feed everyone. Seems I offended a reader yesterday with my comments about the president. He strongly opposes Obama's normalizing of relationships with Cuba and was upset that I had wished "Barry" (as he called him) Christmas greetings. The reader called me "clueless." Hmm. Then, after that, I received an email with a slightly different take:

I intended to email you earlier to say that I appreciate the fact that you always refer to the president with respect, though I know that you disagree with him on many things. I consider that very positive.

I have one set of friends who couldn't  say anything respectful about George W, Bush, and another set who can't speak respectfully of President Obama. While I don't think Romans 13 demands obedience to commands contrary to God's law, I think it does demand that we treat the office and office-holder with respect. In that way we keep the door open for our witness.

Sometimes, when you're blogging, it's difficult to keep things in perspective. Yesterday I lauded cathedrals in general and the Duke Chapel in particular. I can hear an interlocutor remonstrating: "Aren't you aware, Dave, that Duke was built with tobacco money?" Or how about this: "Don't you realize, Dave, that a cathedral was built to house the 'seat' (cathedra) of the bishop? Are you now a supporter of Catholicism?"

I suppose my response would be something along these lines: "Well, no, I don't support the tobacco industry. In fact, I think you're nuts if you smoke. And I'm certainly no fan of episcopalian hierarchy. But to go from 'I love cathedrals' to 'You support tobacco and Catholic theology' -- well, that seems like a bit of a stretch to me."

I replied as follows:

Your perspective is certainly an important one but it's not the only one. At any rate, a very Merry Christmas to you!

I'm reminded of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones encounters a scimitar-wielding assassin who bedazzles him with an elaborate display of swordsmanship. Jones then draws his gun and shoots him dead with a single bullet.

Pax vobiscum,


Friday, December 19 

3:44 PM For all 37 years of our marriage Becky's mom and dad would send her this deluxe fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery for Christmas.

A part of me asks, "Why should they continue to do this, now that Becky has gone Home?" But another part of me -- my stomach in particular -- is glad they are continuing the tradition. Thanks a million, mom and dad. 

2:20 PM As you all know, this evening, after his press conference, the president will leave for "my" beach in Kailua, where he will spend the Christmas and New Years holidays with his family. Michelle Obama once said of her husband, "You can't really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii," and I would say that's probably true of yours truly as well. In a sense, Hawaii will always be home for the president -- and for me. Of course, if you live in Kailua you will be aware that a portion of the beach has been declared a security zone. The zone begins at Kapono Point and extends along the shoreline to Kailuana Loop. Enter the zone and you're likely to be fined $40,000 and sent to prison for 10 years. Auwe! But it's really not that big of a deal folks. The surfing is lousy along that stretch of Kailua Bay anyway. Kamaainas, please try to enjoy your holiday. And to the president: A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Catch a big one for me, and watch out for the Portuguese man-o-wars.

11:58 AM Right now I'm reading through Gerald Hawthorne's commentary on Philippians. It is a model of exegesis and a superb guide.

11:52 AM Interested in the book of Hebrews? Here are some good resources from Paul Himes.

9:38 AM Apropos the recent discussion of employment opportunities in biblical studies, I have a thought. In 1 Cor. 12:4-6, Paul says that the Spirit grants to all the members of the body spiritual gifts (charismata). The Son, on the other hand, assigns ministries or places of service (diakonoi) to every gifted member. These are opportunities to exercise one's spiritual gifts in ways that edify other believers. Note that God does not give us gifts so that we might simply boast of or brag about them. God desires us to serve and use those gifts as the Lord Jesus directs us and in the place of His appointment. Finally, Paul says that God Himself grants us the energemata – the abilities – to use our spiritual gifts in an effective way.

Think of your calling in life as a funnel.

At the top is the matter of your gifting. What are your strengths? What interests you the most? What are you "good" at? Paul says that our gifting comes from the Holy Spirit. You don't ask the Spirit for your gift; you simply discover it and then develop it. This is the matter of what.

Secondly, the middle of the funnel is the matter of where. In what place of ministry am I to exercise my God-given abilities? Where shall I serve Him and others? Paul says that the place of our ministry is up to the Lord. Jesus Himself will appoint us to a place of ministry. Let's say, for example, that your gift is teaching. The only thing you want to do with your life is teach. But where? You can teach in a public school or a private school. You can teach in primary school or graduate school. You can teach in a secular school or in a religious school. You can teach in a Bible college or in a seminary. How to know? Well, in one sense, you don't have to bother trying to figure it out. The Lord knows exactly where He wants to "put" you. He knows the best showcase for your gifts. And He will open whatever door needs opening so that you can serve Him in that place.

Finally, at the end of the funnel is the matter of why. What do I hope to accomplish by exercising my spiritual gift in the place of the Lord's appointment? Again, Paul is clear. This matter has already been arranged by God. He is the one who "works all things in all people." Therefore we can leave the results to Him. We simply allow Him to produce in us those good works that He has already foreordained that "we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

So there are three steps in this process: discovering our gifts, discovering the place where we can best exercise those gifts, and discovering what God wants to accomplish though us as we exercise those gifts in the place of His appointment. (I realize that's wordy.)

1 Cor. 12:4-6 played a significant role in my life when I was in seminary. Once I figured out what God had created me to be (a teacher), the next question was where? Well, the Lord opened the door for me to teach Greek at Biola College while I was taking classes at Talbot Seminary. The Lord made it clear to me that my field of teaching was to be at either the college level or the seminary level. Subsequent to that revelation, it was then a matter of acquiring a doctorate (which was and still is a prerequisite for teaching at this level). As for the results, I have watched in amazement as God enabled me to teach and write and publish. Yes, I set personal publishing goals (one book every five years and one journal article every year), but I never sweated about any of this. I just taught and wrote and published as God enabled and led and provided and opened doors. You know, when you truly come to grips with Paul's teaching here (i.e., that the results of our ministries are up to God), it is so liberating. You are free from ever having to compare yourself with anyone else. You will never be jealous that another New Testament scholar has, say, written more books than you have. There's no need for that. The energemata are, after all, up to God, who works everything in everyone -- and therefore gets all the glory for anything we may have accomplished.

My point? If you feel that God is calling you into fulltime college or seminary teaching in the field of biblical studies, I say go for it. Don't sweat the job market. I know this may sound very simplistic, but I really believe it. If this is God's will for your life, He will open the door and produce the results. Why, then, worry about it? I can tell you example after example of my doctoral students being placed in teaching positions, some immediately upon graduation. This is a God thing. But that's Paul's point!

8:50 AM "On the third day of Christmas ...."

8:38 AM I love languages. I also love cathedrals. The two have much in common. A cathedral has nouns, all sorts of them -- arches, aisles, naves, bays, chapels, organs, flying buttresses. And verbs? A cathedral has the entire system. Tense: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Voice? Listen as I make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Mood? Exuberant and jubilant. It has syntax -- "words" lean on each other in a sort of equilibrium, much like a house of cards. It would take a lifetime to learn and understand all of the architecture and art of a cathedral. A cathedral, like a language, is something you admire. It stands there, quietly, while you stare at it. All of the great cathedrals were built as places of worship to the glory of God. They never fail to evoke in me a sense of awe, a sense of another world -- some taller than the pyramids of Egypt, as heavy as the Statue of Liberty, and able to contain the entire Empire State Building.

Last night I visited the famous Duke Chapel -- I'll call it a cathedral.

At least it's probably the closest thing to a European cathedral you'll find in this neck of the woods. I felt like I was back in Notre Dame in Paris or the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

Carved from a hundred million pounds of stone, soaring effortlessly atop an intricate pattern of masonry, the Duke Cathedral is a marvel of human achievement. You think: There's arches and bright stained-glass windows God is building in me. He's the great cathedral builder, after all.

The North Carolina Boys Choir did a fabulous job.

O Magnum Mysterium was sung flawlessly. There was congregational singing as well. I loved singing Once in Royal David's City, especially the final verse:

Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by, we shall see Him, but in heaven, set at God's right hand on high, when like stars His children crowned all in white shall wait around.

Prior to the concert I decided I wanted some Ethiopian food, so off I went to the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill.

The owner and cook Friesh and I reminisced about the times Becky and I would eat there.

One of us made the comment (I forget who), "Becky is not dead. She is more alive than either one of us." I had to swallow hard just then.

My heart was filled with song last night. I'm home and yet I'm not Home. Parts of my heart are a billion miles away in glory with Becky. A cathedral will do that to you. So will good Ethiopian cuisine. Most of all, you think of heaven when you're flanked by people whose priorities are eternal.

Blessed Advent,


Thursday, December 18 

1:40 PM Tonight's concert by the NC Boys Choir at the Duke Chapel features O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen.

Can't wait. People will be singing this hymn for hundreds of years if the Lord doesn't return first. Praise God for the Great Mystery of the incarnation!

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum
jacentem in praesepio.
Natum vidimus et choros Angelorum
collaudantes Dominum. Alleluia.

Quem vidistis, pastores, dicite,
annuntiate nobis, quis apparuit?
Natum vidimus et choros angelorum
collaudantes Dominum, Alleluia.

O great mystery
and wonderful sacrament
that even the animals saw the new-born Lord
lying in a manger.
We saw the new-born, and a chorus of angels
Praising the Lord. Alleluia.

Whom did you see, shepherds, say,
Tell us, who appeared?
We saw the new-born, and choruses of angels
Praising the Lord. Alleluia.

1:22 PM Bible study.

11:56 AM A major North American publisher is coming out next spring with a new primer to New Testament textual criticism. I just submitted an endorsement to them. I am very impressed with this book. In case you might be interested, here's what I sent Eerdmans today:

Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is an excellent treatise on a vitally important subject. The authors sought to produce a textbook that falls midway between Bruce Metzger's The Text of the New Testament and my own New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. In this they have succeeded brilliantly. Not only is every major area of textual criticism covered, but each section of the book ends with "key terminology" and an up-to-date bibliography. The book concludes with an extremely useful guide to the text and apparatus of the latest editions of the Greek New Testament. The authors' careful research deepens our understanding of the role of textual criticism in exegesis, and I am confident that their book will be widely used both inside and outside of the classroom.

11:46 AM Millions want to know: "What did you get from your daughter, Dave, on the second day of Christmas?" A picture is worth a thousand words.

Oh my!

11:38 AM Leland Ryken, formerly professor of English at Wheaton College, is interviewed here about his new book, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible. I am all for a literary reading of the Bible as long as it doesn't replace the historical-grammatical method. Personally, I think Ryken goes too far when he says that "form is meaning." Marshall McLuhan repeated a similar axiom: "The medium is the message." I agree with neither statement. The medium is a huge part of the message, however. Evangelicals tend to underestimate the importance of literary style in exegesis. So I do hope that Ryken's latest work will be well received by careful exegetes.

10:28 AM It happened at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg -- the single bloodiest day of a very bloody war. Union forces had just gotten a foothold on the opposite side of Burnside Bridge and began to move north to roll up the Confederate line. The men of the Federal IX Corps were allowed a few minutes of rest prior to the assault. Today on the battlefield you will find a monument to one of the Union soldiers who served here. He was a member of the commissary of the 23rd Ohio, and he served here with coffee instead of a gun. The soldiers who drank from their tin cups no doubt appreciated the efforts of William McKinley, future President of the United States.

The God of the universe once took a towel and washed His disciples' feet. From majesty to meniality! Grace must never be unwilling to take the form of a servant. Christians should not only stand but serve. Sadly, it's possible to enjoy saving grace without very much serving grace. Of course, serving is not enough. The trouble with the social gospel is that it is no gospel at all. I was in a church recently where much was said about the 2.4 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day. Not a word was said about the Gospel. My heart broke. As much as we may want to see hundreds and thousands of people delivered from poverty, our battle is not against flesh and blood or symptoms of sin like poverty and illness but against Lucifer and countless demons who work day and night to see that souls enter a Christless eternity. A spiritual battle must be fought with spiritual weapons, and this is why we must insist first and foremost on evangelism and discipleship. (I say that as someone who started a health clinic in Ethiopia.) When all is said and done, the best way of serving a lost world is by teaching them about the Lord Jesus Christ. The true fulfillment of the Great Commission must be at the heart of every one of our endeavors to minister to the needs of humanity. We must see that "the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5).

Wednesday, December 17 

6:40 PM "Christmas is a son away from home." Norma Alloway.

6:36 PM "In worship, it is God who gives, and it is we who receive. The miserable idea that God should in any sense need or crave for our worship like a vain woman our compliments or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him is implicitly answered by the words from Psalm 50:12: 'If I be hungry, I won't tell you.' Even if such an absurd deity could be conceived he would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures to gratify his appetite." C. S. Lewis. 

4:48 PM Well, my daughter Liz has done it again. (You remember her, don't you? She's the one who is committed to soiling -- er, spoiling -- her dad.) Well, her package arrived today from New York. It contained 12 gifts for the 12 days of Christmas.

Can you believe it? Let's see ... what's in the first package?

Well, there goes my excuse for not drawing!

To Liz, Matt, Caleb, Isaac, Micah, and Mercy Magdalene -- a thousand thank yous from Papa B!

12:44 PM I love the panorama feature on my iPhone camera. How many contrails can you count?

It was a gorgeous day to have visitors on the farm.

Jacob Cerone (blog) is my former personal assistant and my current Th.M. student. He and his family currently reside in Washington State but are in Cary visiting with family.

So great to share a meal with them and get caught up. What a sweet family.

Right now I'm planning on taking a long walk on the farm to work off all the calories I've ingested in the past week. Don't want to end up like this!

11:32 AM Quote of the day (Thom Rainer):

... I have had to learn that there are certain people in churches and other organizations who have the spiritual gift of complaining. And they will exercise that gift frequently and with vigor.

9:53 AM Excellent thoughts here on getting a teaching job in biblical studies. 

9:35 AM Here's what I'm reading over the break. How about you? 

9:18 AM Quote of the day (Frank DeFord on NPR today):

Why do we call a man who shoots dumb animals a "sportsman" and a man who plays first base or offensive tackle an "athlete."

8:20 AM Last night I was having a discussion with someone about Paul's use of the Greek word nomos in Romans 7 and Romans 8. On the one hand, the term refers to the capital L "Law," that is, the Law of Moses. This is the Law that was "weakened" through the flesh and thus could not provide what God had to provide through the sending of His Son (Rom. 8:3). On the other hand, Paul can use the term to refer to a certain type of "power" or "principle" at work in the believer's life, as in Rom. 8:2: "The power [nomos] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power [nomos] of sin that leads to death" (so the NLT). Paul seems to be employing here the law of contrasts, if we can call it that. The righteousness of God is for Paul a noun of action. It is His power in relation to men and women who do not do what is right and who violate the rights of others in self-righteous aggression, as we saw yesterday in Pakistan with the horrific slaughter of school children and their teachers. Humankind robs God of His rights by smacking Him down in their pride and religious hubris. God's righteousness is the power to disturb our status quo, to shatter imprisoning conventions and traditions, and to break into new paths of freedom. Where this imputed righteousness through Christ is not able to do its work freely, God then uses the instruments of "law" (small "l") -- including threats and punishment -- to achieve justice. Luther once referred to this latter law as God's opus alienum, His "strange work." As we saw in Peshawar yesterday, there is a deep perversion in man. Our aversion to the righteousness of God assumes the form of preventing the future of others by seeking to use them for our own present good and security. God uses the pressure of law to get us heading in the right direction, in the direction of justice. He uses the law to cause us to serve each other rather than abuse each other.

Thus God works under contrary signs -- law and Gospel. He is secretly and hiddenly working "behind our backs" as it were, and even the greatest tyrants of history can be made to do His will. The law is universally present as a pressure to drive us to do what is right, to give others their due, but this law is not the statement of an eternal will but an instrument on the way to the goal of God's universal rightness kingdom.

Today the Pakistanis -- indeed the whole world -- is asking, "How could God have allowed this to happen?" This question has a theological basis. When God declares His righteousness, it takes the shape of a searing and searching light. It reveals the demonic powers at loose in the world, gripping it to keep it the way it is. It points us to the unconditional righteousness and love that were mediated into the world only through Jesus Christ. The church exists as an eschatological community of hope for the world. It declares that a new world -- Godworld -- is coming into being through the power of Christ's death and resurrection. The church does not exist for itself. It exists as a sign of hope for the world for which Jesus died and rose again. Christians can neither separate themselves from this world nor merge with it. We cannot separate ourselves from the world because in one sense Godworld is already present in Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot merge with the world because then we would lose our distinctive calling as a light to the nations, as the new humanity foreshadowing the future universal kingdom of God. Any dimming or diminution of this eschatological consciousness results in the relaxation of our missionary existence in the world. The church exists as God's eschatological mission for the world. When, therefore, the church becomes preoccupied with its own religious needs, when it becomes ecclesiocentric, it can no longer be authentically Christian.

The tragedy of our times is that the situation in the world is desperate (as we were reminded again yesterday) but the saints are not. If we were as desperate as the situation, something would happen. Times of emergency call for responses of urgency. A Laodicean complacency will accomplish nothing. So I urge us not to be alarmed at evil tidings, for our hearts are to be fixed on the Lord. But the times call for measures that are suited to the crisis. Just read Tit. 2:11-14. This is what we are here for. By life or by death, by what we do and by what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, our business is to glorify God by counting our lives as His and "losing what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose." The Lord has much to say to us in these trying times. In the hour of extremity I urge us to live Spirit-empowered lives that place the Gospel first. Getting out among the "issues" and dragging in Scripture to support this or that "cause" is something else altogether. Don't create "issues." We have one already. Christ is what matters, and everything else -- even the world's greatest tragedies -- are to be judged in the light of Him.

Tuesday, December 16 

6:40 PM Everyone is talking about it. The "it" being Jeb Bush's potential candidacy for president. Can he get the conservative vote? I deal with the topic of conservative politics in the book I'm currently writing, which, as you know, I'm calling Godworld. Godworld is the antithesis of Jesusland -- the geopolitical entity that embodies populism, evangelical identity, quasi-nationalism, and American exceptionalism. I'm arguing that Christianity in America functions best when it operates outside the circle of power in Washington and is not tethered to particular political parties or secular ideologies. Sound familiar? I believe Jesus' vision of Godworld is a vision whose time has come.

6:08 PM As I was getting new tires put on the van today, I just "had" to go next door and have lunch at what is quickly becoming my favorite Mexican restaurant in Wake Forest.

I even presented a copy of Becky's book to the staff there. (I just "happened" to have a copy with me.) You can probably tell by my over-use of quotation marks that I'm trying to make a point. I am still amazed at being a Christian. Amazed that God should number my steps daily. Amazed that I should have the privilege of walking with Him and working in His vineyard where nothing happens by happenstance but is directed by His Spirit and His Word. Must it not delight Him when He finds His children delighting in Him? Consider the privilege of hearing the Word of God. What if God had remained silent and there was nothing from heaven -- no Word-made-flesh, no feeding trough in Bethlehem! Today I sensed His presence and leading, His provision and power, in even the smallest detail. Rest assured, Dave, everything will be all right. Not because you say so but because God says so. He is with you "day, after day, after day," until the end of the age.

Try practicing the Presence of God yourself amid the clamor and confusion of the world of trouble you face today.

8:13 AM All I want for Christmas is ....

But before I get there, I learned a new word this morning. NPR was airing a story about "reshoring." The story described how American businesses are moving back to the U.S. after "outsourcing" to places like China.

I thought to myself, "Now that is a great Christian word. I think I'm gonna steal it." Think of the book of Hebrews. One of its major themes is that we have no abiding city on this earth. In fact, no earthly city (or nation) can provide true security. This totally reverses the situation we found ourselves in outside of Christ. What was attractive to us when we were lost -- the world system and its values, goals, and priorities -- now becomes repulsive. We now recognize that we are mere transients on this earth, because earth itself is transient. God is taking us to a city where the angels and saints celebrate His presence forever. Hence, as Christians we are to "reshore." We are, as Hebrews puts it, to "go outside the camp." Just as Moses renounced wealth and prestige, so we are to embrace kingdom values and relinquish temporal securities for a transcendent hope (13:14).

When we "reshore," everything changes. Some examples: we care for the brethren (13:1); we do not neglect to care for strangers (13:2); we remember the prisoners as though imprisoned with them (13:3); we are content with what we have (13:5); we do not neglect acts of kindness and fellowship (13:16). Christ has asked of us the apparently impossible: to be His ambassadors in a lost and dying world and to be His loving hands and feet at home and abroad. Like the boy who offered Jesus his sack lunch, God takes what little we give Him and multiplies it.

Christmas has been hijacked by Wall Street. The Bible, however, has quite a different emphasis. "You must have the same attitude toward life that Christ Jesus had" (Phil. 2:5). Just as the decision to forsake all others is central to a happy marriage, so the Christian must choose between two masters, God or Money. If our love for God is sincere, we will despise all that hinders our relationship with Him.

So what do I want for Christmas?

Well .... This week we crunched the numbers for the India School project I've been telling you about. Since we last spoke on the subject, $28,000 has come in. Praise the Lord! My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have given to this cause. But the need is still there. Mammen Joseph in India told me yesterday that, in order to complete the project, another $163,000 is still needed. Practically, what does that mean? It means that once $63,000 comes in, the total need will have been met! (The final $100,000 will be matched.)

I am asking God for that $63,000 as my Christmas present this year.

You want a great Christmas in 2014? Do something extravagant. Take a bubble bath. Play jump rope with a friend. Eat some Cracker Jacks. Suck on an orange. Or give lavishly to a worthy cause. Should God lead you to give to the cause of the India School, make your check out to Bethel Hill Baptist Church (yes, it is tax-deducible) and send it to me at 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA 24580. And don't forget to write "India School" in the memo line.

Then go out and skip down the street. Or give your dogs a treat. Or fly a kite. Or wash somebody's car. Or ....

7:58 AM Thank you, Lord, for Your sunrise this morning.

Monday, December 15 

6:20 PM Read How to Use Your Home for Mission. Interesting fact: 27.2 million people live alone in the U.S.

6:14 PM Seems I'm full of quotes tonight. Here's another one (by Watchman Nee):

It is not necessary that elders resign their ordinary professions and devote themselves exclusively to their duties in connection with the church. They are simply local men, following their usual pursuits and at the same time bearing special responsibilities in the church. Should local affairs increase, they may devote themselves entirely to spiritual work, but the characteristic of an elder is not that he is a "full-time Christian worker." It is merely that, as a local brother, he bears responsibility in the local church.

6:12 PM Great missions quote by Samuel Zwemer:

The great Pioneer Missionaries all had "inverted homesickness" --  this passion to call that country their home which was most in need of the Gospel. In this passion all other passions died; before this vision all other visions faded; this call drowned all other voices. They were the pioneers of the Kingdom, the forelopers of God, eager to cross the border-marches and discover new lands or win new-empires.

5:55 PM "The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets." C. S. Lewis.

1:15 PM Been texting with one of my daughters today. She's been trying to send me a surprise for Christmas. My comment in blue.

12:50 PM Have you ever talked about the "good old days"? Have you ever become nostalgic for the past? I have. But we can't idolize the past. That's a lesson I've been forced to learn lately. The Christian does well to forget the past and strive to complete the tasks yet ahead. I was reminded of this during my recent visit to mom and dad's house in Murphy, TX, where I am a charter member of the Murphy Cemetery Association.

Dad proudly showed me the improvements that have been made in recent months, including their new historical marker.

One thing that stood out to me was this reminder that of the 300 graves in the cemetery, over one third of them are for children under one year.

The "good old days"? Not when you consider infant mortality. Today in Germany there is a phenomenon called Ostalgie (a combination of Ost -- "East" -- and nostalgia).  Adherents to Ostalgie look back with nothing but the greatest fondness for the communist years of former East Germany. It's easy for us to idealize the past. I do it all the time. But a year spent means another year due tomorrow. At some point, retrospect needs to give way to prospect. There is a New Year to be welcomed, and there are new challenges to overcome. How foolish of us to think that our best days are in the past! There is still much land to be possessed -- all that is ours in union with Christ, and all the service that remains for us to do. Let's reach for these things while pressing toward the mark.

12:20 PM Someone dear to me recently experienced a major loss. I was reminded of Paul's words to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:20): "I left Trophimus sick in Miletus." I am somewhat helped and encouraged by the fact that Paul didn't have one unbroken record of success in his ministry. There are times when we, too, must leave Trophimus sick at Miletus, when things don't work out the way we had planned, when there are events in our lives that we just can't explain. Paul had healed many other people, but his own companion he had to leave behind due to illness. I hope he later recovered. We're simply not told. But one thing is clear: Pain is sometimes God's way of stepping out of the shadows and making Himself known to us. And so today I weep with those who weep, thankful that we have a God who helps us maneuver through every difficulty of life, whether it's the loss of a loved one, or the tears of a broken relationship, or physical illness. Friend, in your journey to heaven, be sure to leave room for a Miletus along the way.

11:18 AM Changed the van's oil today. I see I need two new tires plus a front-end alignment. The good people at Auto Care and Quick Lube in Wake Forest will have everything ready for me tomorrow. Love their quick and efficient service.

11:14 AM Want to thank my daughters again for insisting that I get an iPhone. I am getting real good at emojis!

8:15 AM If you'd like to hear a sample of the music our brass team performed in West Germany, here it is: Aria della Battaglia by Gabrielli. Powerful stuff. And here's the best online rendition of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Hauntingly beautiful. Thank God for the precious gift of music.

7:55 AM When one of us suffers, we all suffer. Let's keep Saeed in our prayers today. He is reported to be in "severe pain" in his Iranian prison cell.

7:50 AM A few odds and ends ....

1) Advent books going out in today's mail. So are all of the Greek DVD orders.

2) Good review of Moses: Gods and Kings.

3) Another one.

4) Jeff Cook wants to know who is worthy to take the Lord's Supper. In this regard, I offer a few thoughts about communion based on several New Testament texts (such as 1 Cor. 10-11 and Acts 20:7):

  • The Lord's Supper is the centerpiece of the Christian assembly.  

  • The supper is superbly Christ-centered ("Do this in MY remembrance").

  • No believer is "invited" to partake of the supper; we eat and drink in obedience to Christ's command ("Do this" is in the imperative mood).

  • The supper is a genuine meal, not a ritual to be "administered."

  • The emphasis is both on remembering and anticipating.

  • It is a joyous celebration and not a sorrowful funeral.

  • The meal symbolizes the unity of the Body of Christ.

  • ALL are to partake, and ALL are to partake together.

  • The "unworthy manner" to which Paul refers has nothing to do with one's spiritual status at the time of eating. It refers to eating and drinking in a divided manner.

  • Self-examination is a necessary part of the Christian life, but in 1 Cor. 11 it is not a reference to the preparedness on the part of the believer. It is a call to observe the social nature of the meal in which distinctions based on partiality of any kind are forbidden.

  • The one loaf of bread not only symbolizes this unity but in some sense creates it.

  • Because there is only one loaf of bread, we are one body no matter how many we are or how diverse we may be. "Many yet one."

Sunday, December 14 

3:55 PM Hello blogging buds,

Just back from Durham, North Carolina. I've been having a great day. How has yours been? Here are a few of the highlights:

1) We have been enjoying Chamber of Commerce weather here in the Piedmont. I mean, right now it's 60 degrees and sunny. I have never seen a more beautiful winter day. And the best part of all is that it feels like fall.

2) Today I had the privilege of presenting to the folks at Mexico Viejo a copy of Bec's book in Spanish. Here I am with Hector (manager), Francisco (Asst. Manager), and today's server, Carmen from El Salvador.

I gave a little speech before I presented the book to Hector:

This book is very special to me. As you know, my wife is in heaven. But her spirit will always live on in my heart. She was a fabulous wife. She was also an example of faith, faithfulness, hope, and love. She loved this restaurant. So I want you to have this book. It's for you and all the servers who work here. I hope you enjoy it. May God bless you.

Such was the gist of my little talk. Somehow I managed to give it entirely in Spanish. (Thomas and Lesley would be proud of me.) I am eager for all of them to read it and then share it with their spouses.

3) Finally, what can I say about today's cantata other than that it was superb. Now, you know me. You know I'm not a big fan of spending money on church buildings, Christmas trees, etc. That's the intellectual and theological side of me. But to be honest: on the esthetic and emotional side, give me a gigantic church building and a huge church organ any day. The bigger the cathedral the better!

Today I experienced one and a half hours of nothing but pure worship of the Almighty. And it was an unexpected blessing. As you probably remember, on Thursday I was scheduled to leave for Asia but my trip was postponed at the last minute. Which means that I had this Sunday free. I really, really hated to miss my own church. I miss the fellowship there, the teaching, the music, everything. But as compensation, I was treated to a heavenly time of some of the best chorale music in all of North Carolina. Life is full of trade-offs, I suppose.

The theme of the cantata was, as you know, "Wake Up!" And the entire concert was performed in the original German. When asked why, the conductor responded, "The German words fit the notes perfectly." So true. I offer but one example. Compare this:

Wir folgen all/zum Freudensaal/und halten mit das Abendmahl.

With this:

We all follow/to the hall of joy/and hold the evening meal together.

Point made?

I wish you could have been there today. It so reminded me of when Becky and I lived in Switzerland and attended the German-speaking Baptist church in Basel. It was not at all unusual for us to sing the great old German hymns of the faith -- all 12 verses of them! (Not, "We'll sing the first and last stanzas of The Old Rugged Cross.") I think people forget that a mere 250 years ago, Lutheran worship services lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours. In addition to the sermon, an entire cantata might be sung. It is said that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote one new hymn every week. And I'm so glad today's concert was in a church and not in a concert hall. Bach wrote for the glory of God (soli Deo gloria), and he was a churchman and a Christian first and foremost. When I played the trumpet on a brass octet in the summer of 1978 in West Germany, I well remember our conductor, Julian Bandy, telling the audiences every time we played a piece composed by Bach, "Er war nicht nur ein grosser Kompanist. Er war auch ein überzeugter Christ." I know some folks don't think too much of classical music. Where I live, sports tends to be way more important than teaching your kids how to play the trumpet or piano. Actually, I'm not very biased when it comes to music. I enjoy Country Gospel every bit as much as I enjoy Sacred Music. But today's experience was, well, out of this world, inherently beautiful and intuitively compelling.

As I have been thinking about the music, and especially about the words of today's cantata, God has given me a brief word to share with you. No, not all of you. What follows is for those of you who have lost their wives. (The rest of you can eavesdrop if you like.) So ... to my fellow widowers:

I've heard from quite a number of you this past year. I think I can say with utter integrity that I know exactly what you are going through. But I have a message for you today, and I take it from the wonderful Bach cantata I heard this morning:

Wake up!

You say, "What in the world do you mean, Dave? If there's one thing I am constantly doing, it's lying awake at night. Why, don't you know that sometimes I don't fall asleep until three or four in the morning?" Well, yes. I certainly do understand all of that. I too have struggled with insomnia -- and with boredom, and with loneliness, and with all of the other things you struggle with on a daily basis. But if you understood the background to the cantata "Wake up!" you would see where I'm headed. I believe it was the year 1598. The black plague had come to Germany. In one day alone, pastor Philip Nicolai buried over 30 people. That year he wrote a hymn for his suffering congregation. The first words of the hymn were, "Wake up!" Imagine that. The first people to sing this hymn was a congregation of grieving widows and widowers. Friend, in the midst of the graveyard, God is calling His people to wake up -- because the Bridegroom is coming! Just read Isaiah 52:1-10. This is a truth that should produce deep and profound joy in our lives. Through the gift of faith we can stand in the midst of death and point to the coming King. "Hope, peace, love, and joy" are more than advent candles. Jesus is alive, and He is coming back. David danced childlike and naked in the presence of the Lord. Death did not hold him back. Of course, our joy is a broken joy. We live in a fallen world. The recent report about torture reminds us that there is none righteous, no not one. But God is still mending broken hearts. The Prince of Peace is still working among the conflicts that mar our lives. Ours is not a religion that ignores the existence of evil and death. Our Christ is no Pollyanna, painting the clouds with sunshine when they are really dark and gray. But He met trouble with joy. "Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Trouble is a reality -- including loss, grief, loneliness, and insomnia -- but we can cheer up for He has overcome all that this world can hurl at us. He makes all the difference.

My favorite aria in the cantata was the following. Read the words and you'll see why:

Mein Freund ist mein/und ich bin sein/die Liebe soll nights scheiden./Ich will mit dir/ -- du sollst mit mir --/im Himmels Rosen weiden,/da Freude die Fülle, da Wonne wird sein.

My Friend is mine/and I am Yours/love will never part us./I will with You/ -- and You will with me --/graze among heaven's roses,/where complete pleasure and delight will be.

One day -- just think of it! -- you and I will be reunited with our departed wives, and it is Jesus Himself, our Lover, who will lead us to them as they "graze among heaven's roses." Saving grace is singing grace. If we are not singing, we had better check on our state. Saving grace is also sufficient grace. "Of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." "Our God is able to make all grace abound to you." "My grace," said He, "is sufficient for you," in sickness or in health, in success or in failure, in gain or in loss, in height or in depth, in every circumstance of life. What was provided for the apostle Paul and his thorn is made available to you, my friend, and to me. I urge us not to grovel in self-pity this Christmas season but instead to move on to the daily blessedness of sufficient grace!

With warmest Advent greetings,

Your friend,


9:12 AM Great Christmas hymn: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.

King of kings yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

9:08 AM The disadvantage of being an author.

8:54 AM What is the church offering the next generation? A significant step forward has been that the contemporary church is becoming in various degrees a peoples' church. Christians who have been truly born again are not satisfied to be merely numbers on a church roll. They see themselves as the first-century Christians did -- ordinary men and women who so moved the world that their enemies could say that they "turned the world upside down." The church must always be in a process of self-renewal if it is to be relevant in a constantly changing world. Even in the Roman Catholic Church there has been a movement of late toward what is being called the "apostolate of the laity." In his book The Tragedy of the Unemployed, Richard Halverson writes:

The authentic impact of Jesus Christ in the world is the collective influence of individual Christians right where they are, day in, day out. Doctors, lawyers, merchants, farmers, teachers, accountants, laborers, students, politicians, athletes, clerks, executives ... quietly, steadily, continually, consistently infecting the world where they live with a contagious witness of the contemporary Christ and His relevance to life.

I know many "lay people" who are known for their "contagious witness." One of them lives in DC. Another lives in Australia. They see themselves, not as spectators of the kingdom work that God is doing, but as building blocks. They are priests offering themselves to God in daily service in their "secular" jobs, that is, in all they are, do, and say. Indeed, for this ministry of kingdom-building, the Holy Spirit has bestowed on every Christian various gifts that are cooperative and complementary. It is unmistakably clear that the term "ministry" as used in the New Testament does not refer to officiants in a church building but rather describes all Christians in their role as priests. In other words, your pastor exercises a priesthood that belongs to all believers. The whole work of the church must be done by the whole people of God.

In the movie Evan Almighty, congressman Evan Baxter hears somebody banging on his door. He answers it only to find God, played by Morgan Freeman, standing outside by a stack of lumber. Baxter is understandably surprised, as you would be, if God suddenly showed up in your front yard. Once you recovered from the shock of it all, what would you tell God about your life?

Of course, Christianity is not a religion of works. It is based on pure grace. There is nothing we can do to earn heaven. However, people will remember you later by the values you live now.

Are you in fulltime Christian ministry? You can be. It is a choice God demands that we make.

Saturday, December 13 

5:14 PM Flags are flying!

4:30 PM Always a classical music buff, I'm eager to hear Bach's Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme performed in German tomorrow at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Durham. The title (in English) is "Awake! calls the voice to us." It's one of my all-time favorite chorale cantatas and very worshipful.

3:56 PM By the way: One of the requirements in the LXX class will be to memorize the basic Greek vocabulary of the Septuagint. A list will be provided. This list is based on frequency of occurrence. Incidentally, in the TESOL Journal, Paul Nation once argued that learning vocabulary in related lexical sets (e.g., synonyms, antonyms) makes memorizing vocabulary words more difficult. I tend to agree, even though it sounds counterintuitive.

3:38 PM Greek students, the syllabus for our LXX class this spring has now been posted to Moodle.

3:28 PM I found at least 4 typos in my blog. And that's just from today's entries. Aargh! Little wonder I enjoyed reading this: What's Up With That: Why It's So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.

3:22 PM Did you hear about the Harvard prof who went after a small restaurant for "overpriced" Chinese food? Talk about a Scrooge. By the way, this month I've decided to give a 100 percent tip. My meal last night cost me $10.00. The tip was $10.00 -- along with a huge "Thank you!" Just trying to spread a little Christmas cheer. (I once bussed tables in Waikiki so I know how hard servers work.)

11:02 AM This and that ....

1) Just took a long walk and fed the animals. Gorgeous day over here.

2) Nate and Jess recently took the boys to the Smoky Mountain Railroad Polar Express. What a blast they had. Their boys are rail fans to the max.

3) "Do give books, religious or otherwise, for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal." Lenore Hershey.

In the spirit of Advent, I'm giving away 4 of my Energion booklets. Just send me an email with your mailing address. If more than 4 people write in, I'll draw straws. Deadline is tomorrow at 6:00 pm.

10:23 AM "If we should take lay religion seriously as was done in the early church ... pastors would not be performing while others watched, but helping to stir up the ministry of the ordinary members." Elton Trueblood.

9:35 AM "Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything." Oswald Chambers.

9:20 AM Breakfast of champions.

8:55 AM When I was a kid and learning how to dive from the high dive into the swimming pool, I would stand at the edge of the diving board petrified of what lay below me. Eventually I took a big breath and -- I made the plunge. "Gee, this is fun!" I told myself as I clambered my way back up the diving board steps. But the real heroes of this story are my friends who stood on the pool deck and encouraged me to step out in faith.

I find that learning to trust God for change in our very traditional churches is like learning how to dive. The hardest part is simply letting go of our doubts and reservations and trusting God. Let's say your church is currently having to decide between taking a step of obedience to what the Scriptures clearly teach or else maintaining the traditional set-up. You may agonize over your uncertainties and insecurities, but the easiest way forward is simply to step out and take the plunge. God is there to support those who trust, not in their own security and certainty, but in His.

In this regard, I find it interesting that Paul mentions three groups of Christians in the Thessalonian church (see 1 Thess. 5:14). There were the "idlers," the "fainthearted," and the "weak." Let's look at the "idlers" for just a moment. The term Paul uses here often carries with it the notion of "not in order, not conforming to the established law or practice, being insubordinate." Apparently these people were insisting on their own way and were "out of step" with Paul's injunctions. Some perhaps were also lazy and were refusing to obey the command of Paul to "work with your own hands." In any case, these good folk had to be dealt with, and dealt with directly.

Now please notice the verbs that Paul uses with reference to each of these groups:

  • The idlers are to be "admonished."

  • The fainthearted are to be "encouraged."

  • And the weak are to be "upheld."

There is something very important going on here, and it is easy to miss. The verbs must match the nouns. In other words, we fail in our duties should we, say, admonish the fainthearted or uphold the idlers. People in rebellion against God are not to be coddled. They are to be admonished (noutheteo). This verb is a Pauline word, occurring 7 times in his writings. It always has a sense of correction, but the correction is always based on instruction. It can never be correction alone or instruction alone. And it is never to be done in a vindictive or judgmental spirit.

If you are a church elder, you know exactly what I'm talking about. There will always be people who will refuse to obey the Word, so steeped are they in tradition, or in sin, or in whatever. Sometimes these people have been in the church for years and years and believe they are above reproach -- and correction. But the fact is that none of us is ever above correction in some area of our walk with Christ. We all act against the will of God in some form or another. But that is no excuse for passivity.

Another observation, and it too is vitally important. Please, please note that Paul is not telling the church leaders to "admonish the idlers." A thousand times no! His exhortations in this verse have the whole church in view ("We appeal to you, brothers and sisters ...."). This means that, while our congregational leaders will obviously play a huge role in moving the church forward in obedience to God's Word, the obligation to instruct and correct each other is ultimately the responsibility of the whole congregation. This means that I, who am not a local church elder, still have the privilege and responsibility of speaking up when I sense the Lord is leading me to offer instruction and correction, under the leadership of my elders of course. There is no evidence that Paul would have ever delegated this responsibility to the leaders alone.

Now think about your own local church. Many Christians find it hard to obey the simple teachings of the Scriptures. Moreover, they find it hard to accept advice, instruction, or correction from others. In such situations, Paul exhorts the members of the church to speak truth to one another and to do so in a patient and long-suffering manner. Let there be instruction! Let there be correction! Let's move forward as congregations into those areas of obedience that are clearly taught in God's Word. Our churches will be happier and healthier if we do so -- together.

Friday, December 12 

8:20 PM Becky and I loved this restaurant in South Boston, the closest "little big" town to our farm.

We loved to eat Mexican food together here, and the servers all loved Becky. As I ate there tonight I thought a lot about her. Why? I don't really know. She's been gone for over a year now, and yet it seems as though she's never left my side. The restaurant was packed, but still all the servers seemed to go out of their way to say "Que tal?" to me. I think they miss Becky as much as I do. That's what can keep me up until one or two in the morning. Still, I consistently realize the grace of God. I mean, what could be simpler than widowerhood? The simplest thing of all is to love the Lord your God. It's a task that's not very exciting from the world's perspective but one that could hardly be of more importance to God. How can a man who enjoyed 37 years of marriage to one woman have anything to grumble about? Marriage is never ideal, though we often idealize it. But one thing marriage does do, and does well, is provide us with at least a modicum of love in this world. So powerful a force is love that it's not easily tamed. And when one loses one's spouse, when one's love must be redirected, there is a profound sense of loss. It requires a surrender, a surrender of one's brain and body to the One who is his true Lover, the Lover of his soul. So love lets God rule, lets God have His way, realizes that it is only by relinquishing control that we experience fullness and joy. It's really just as simple as this: When you love someone, you seek to please them. If using a toothpick after dinner bothers Becky, is it my business to question her judgment, her "over-sensitivity"? Or is it rather to simply refrain, in love, from using a toothpick when Becky is around? Marriage has been defined as sameness. Wrong. Dead wrong. Marriage is not about sameness but about oneness. True love is humility expressed on behalf of the other. And so tonight I ate out again, at one of my favorite restaurants, ordering my usual meal.

I was alone, though I knew I was not alone. At the very least I was surrounded by happy memories. At the very most, I knew that the servers who stopped by to say hello meant it. To truly love others, we must come out of our shells, escape from our hermetically-sealed cocoons and look others in the eye with vulnerable majesty. And so I am determined. I am going to learn how to love again -- not another woman perhaps, but life itself. I am going to discover what it means to be content in every situation, abased or abounding, in want or in plenty. In short, I am going to learn what it means to be a Christian. Becky, I think, would be proud of me.

5:45 PM *Smile.*

5:34 PM On their new blog (aptly named "Across the Atlantic"), Antonio Piñero and Thomas Hudgins discuss which New Testament Greek text one should follow in doing exegesis. It's a vitally important question. In Hebrews alone one finds numerous significant textual variants: 1:3; 2:9; 4:2; 8:8; 9:2-3; 10:1; 11:11; and 12:1. From the time I became a Christian I was aware that the New Testament was written in Greek. But I didn't get excited about textual criticism until I was in college taking Greek courses with Harry Sturz. Since then, I have usually included textual criticism as part of my Greek exegesis courses. The odd thing is that most pastors today are probably on very unfamiliar territory when it comes to textual questions, despite the fact that they may have taken Greek in seminary. That's odd. But the fact is, it takes work, hard work, to become proficient enough in Greek to be able to make decisions about the text of the New Testament. Christian Barnard didn't just pick up a scalpel and become a heart transplant surgeon overnight. Nor can you arrive overnight as a Greek scholar. Is the sin in Heb. 12:1 "easily distracting" (euperispaston) or "easily besetting" (euperistaton)? Did Paul write to "the saints" or to "the saints who are in Ephesus" (Eph. 1:1)? Or, in a passage Thomas alluded to, does Jesus forbid all anger or only anger that is "without a cause" (eike)? Honestly, I don't think pastors ponder these matters very much. Thomas is correct when he writes, "I guess my point in mentioning all of that is even with a modern critical edition of the Greek New Testament, you have to wrestle with textual issues. Having such an edition doesn't free the student of God's Word from having to think about such things." Would that it were so.

As is often said, biblical exegesis is nothing other than the art of asking questions about the text. But the questions we ask (or fail to ask) always reflect assumptions and biases on our part. I do hope that this new blog will be a valuable prolegomenon to our own reading and study of the text, helping us to assess and evaluate the presuppositions we all bring to it. To that end, I wish it well.

2:22 PM "If you find what you really enjoy doing, you will never work a day in your life." I don't know who first uttered this platitude, but boy is it true. I first entered the classroom in 1976 at Biola. It was love at first sight. Someone asked me today if I still enjoyed teaching. My answer was, "Yes, but I wish I was better at it." C. S. Lewis once wrote, "Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and again make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is the man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on." In the end, goodness isn't measured by the good things we do but by the inward thing we are. I love teaching. But I can always do better. Thankfully, what we can't do, God can do. He will help us if for no other reason to keep us trusting Him and not ourselves. Deep inside me is the God-given urge to know Him better, more fully, and to be able to communicate His greatness to others in ways that they too would like to see Him, up close and personal. Today's commencement service was just another reminder of how blessed I feel I am to be able to teach, and to teach in a premier institution of higher education. Thankfully, more than head knowledge goes on here -- and I call as witness Danny Akin's superb message today from Phil. 1:21 called "An Absolute Win-Win Situation." To live is Christ and to die is gain because death simply means more of Jesus. Thank God for the Gospel, and thank God for a Great Commission and Great Commandment seminary like Southeastern. It is an honor beyond belief to be able to teach here.

A few pix of today's graduation. 

7:50 AM On May 1, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order directing that Lincoln's co-conspirators -- all civilians -- stand trial before a military commission. Their alleged crimes were military in nature, he argued. Hence they were "enemy belligerents" and not civilians. To the president, this made perfectly good sense, as the District of Columbia was still operating under marshal law. A military trial would ensure that the process remained under the War Department's control. Some, even in Johnson's cabinet, were opposed to trying the accused before a military commission, but Secretary of War Stanton insisted that a military court was the only proper authority for the trial. The defense attorneys in the case argued strenuously against trying their clients in a military court as long as the civilian courts were functioning in Washington. A year later, the United States Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that U.S. citizens could not be tried by military tribunals in any jurisdiction where the civilian courts were open and functioning. Several years later, when John Surratt was tried in a civilian court as an accomplice in the murder of Abraham Lincoln, the trial ended with a hung jury and Surratt was set free. Mary Surratt, his mother and the first woman to be executed in the U.S., would likely have met a similar fate had she been tried as a civilian.

Yesterday the CIA director defended his agency and its use of harsh interrogation techniques, including "rectal rehydration." President Obama, on the other hand, has said he believes some of these techniques used by the CIA constituted "torture." What's remarkable to me is that the president opposes criminal investigations into the program. We were able to defeat both Nazi Germany and Japan without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. If the allegations in the report released yesterday are true, then high-ranking government officials are guilty of unlawful behavior. Torture is both immoral and illegal. It violates the very Constitution the CIA has sworn to uphold. What was wrong in 1865 is wrong today. Our government must abide by the law. "We're at war" is no excuse for "rectal rehydration" and other violations.

Thursday, December 11 

5:44 PM Just crossed off everything (but one) on my list of things to do today. Good feeling. Time to curl up with a good book.

5:40 PM Here's my supper:

And the donkeys' supper.

Everybody is happy!

4:13 PM Busy day. Cleaned house. Did my banking for the week. Went for groceries.

I think I deserve a steak, don't you?

11:40 AM Henry Neufeld just notified me that La Historia de Mi Vida: Un Testimonio a la Gracia y Fidelidad de Dios is now available in Kindle. Praise the Lord!

11:30 AM Things aren't always as they appear. Two examples:

1) At Heritage Park in Fort Meade, Florida, stands this historical marker.

It says that Meade "built" the fort (he only selected the site) and that he "later became commanding general of the Union Forces during the Civil War" (which would have come as a huge surprise to the real commander, Ulysses S. Grant).

2) Next to Becky's parents' home in Murphy, Texas, stands this crossing guard. When a train passes one hears a whistle, only it isn't coming from the train. The horn emanates from the crossing guard itself.

In other words, things aren't always as they appear.

There's a grave danger today that while we emphasize the new birth we fail to give a corresponding emphasis to the new life. In my own circles, it's easy to say "I'm a Great Commission Christian." The words come easily. The challenge is becoming the kind of Christians who will not only talk the missional talk but who will also go far beyond that and live missional lives in home, school, shop, and office. It is easier to be a Pharisee than a Christian. It is doing without being, being religious without being righteous, which is exactly why our Lord called the Pharisees "hypocrites." We outlive ourselves only when we live to the glory of God and for the good of other people. The Magi said, "We have seen His star." But they also did something about it. They came to Him and gave Him their best gifts.

So why am I telling you all this? During this past year grief has affected every aspect of my life. Emotionally I have felt completely numb. Physically I suffer from insomnia. Intellectually, I face the challenge of concentration. I still cry from time to time, though I have never felt the need to apologize for my tears since they are God's gift to those who are grieving. At times I feel like my talk is far greater than my walk of faith. Yet as I continue to feel, God continues to heal. Grief has not only changed my life. It has changed my perspective on life. Becky's death was a punch in the face, a wake-up call for me. Life is short. My eye must be single (Matt. 6:22-23). A single-eyed person will have but one goal in life -- the kingdom of God and His righteousness. A little church work, a little piety, a few dollars to good causes -- No! Jesus is worthy of my very best. Now.

And you know what? All of us are in this together. We never have to shoulder the burden alone. Every day He is making everything new, and we are all part of this new creation. That seems like a small thing, but it's everything.

11:12 AM I shared an excellent essay with a few friends the other day. It's called Can We Still Trust Critical Evangelical Scholars? I agree with much of what the author says. He raises some very pertinent and critically important questions about evangelical scholarship. This statement stuck out to me:

For a while, the tide was stemmed against the onslaught directed at God’s Word.  Soon however, evangelical drift began again with some calling for education of Bible believing students in Ivy League and European schools to gain prestige for the institutions that taught the Bible. The result was disastrous for inspiration and inerrancy among such schools. The warning of J. Gresham Machen in 1936, who fought the first battle in the 20th century, was disregarded by evangelicals as unnecessary although it had struck deep at the heart of Bible-believing scholars everywhere before: "[M]any seminaries today are nurseries of unbelief; and because they are nurseries of unbelief the churches that they serve have become unbelieving churches too.  As go the theological seminaries, so goes the church."

Now, as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to get my doctorate from a "prestigious" university. I was tired of the repetitiveness of seminary. For me, those years in Basel were formative to everything I have accomplished in my 38-year career as a teacher. As Joel Hawes once put it, "Youth is the forming, fixing period, the spring season of disposition and habit; and it is during this season, more than any other, that the character assumes its permanent shape and color, and the young are wont to take their course for time and eternity." Yes, many warned me not to study in Basel. In a nutshell, truth wasn't necessarily an absolute standard there. As you might expect, my faith was challenged. But that's exactly why I went there. As such, doctoral studies are an opportunity -- to listen to yourself and to God, to let the fog in your life lift and get your bearings. To those in Basel who would say to me, "You know, Dave, I don't really think that an intellectually honest person can take the Bible seriously," there was only one answer. It was the one Paul gave in 1 Cor. 1:19-21:

The Scriptures say, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent." So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world's brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

Right from the start I made it clear that I was not in Basel to sacrifice my faith on the altar of intellectualism. Nor, however, was I willing to sacrifice my intellect for the sake of my faith. The two, I reasoned, go hand in glove -- just as Francis Schaeffer would often say. (I heard him say this myself.) Christianity is a reasonable faith, he would argue, ad nauseum to some.

Perhaps you think like I do. Perhaps you believe that the choice is not between faith and reason, but rather between a reasonable faith and a faithless reason. My own doctor father in Basel was a man who seemed to be able to combine both virtues with ease. Slip your brain into neutral and you're dead. Give up your child-like faith, and you get the same result. There have been many times when I've thanked God for my "secular" university training. It's opened doors for me to teach and preach in places I never thought possible. It helped me to think honestly about myself and my theology. Christianity doesn't require you to have a Mensa IQ. Being "educated beyond one's intelligence" is a horrible thing. If you really want to know about God, all you have to do is open your Bible. Did Jesus really raise the dead and heal the blind and forgive sins? You have the testimony of four separate writers that He did.

I agree with Machen -- partly. Seminaries and universities can become "nurseries of unbelief." As the great New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce (who, by the way, taught at a secular university) once said, "The Bible was never intended to be a book for scholars and specialists only. From the very beginning it was intended to be everybody's book, and that is what it continues to be." Bruce hit the proverbial nail on the head smack-dab. But notice the word "only." There is yet a place in evangelicalism, I believe, for critical scholarship.

Where, then, to study for one's doctorate? In the end, it's a very personal choice. I accept doctoral students at my seminary. I think we have an excellent program. At the same time, several of my former students are now working on doctorates in the U.K. and on the continent, partly due to my urging. God doesn't just watch our lives -- He directs. You're not just another somebody lost in the rush of life. You're His unique creation, and He will lovingly guide you along the route He feels is best for you. It will be tough finding your equilibrium. It will be a challenge to find the right balance between faith and reason. Just as we need to be cured of the rashness and errors of our youthful enthusiasm, so it is just as bad to avoid the battle for truth under the guise of a wiser "tolerance." And this is where I think the essay I linked to above hits the mark. We should indeed grow gentler and wiser with age, but we must not mistake that for leniency toward false teaching or error. It is a fearful thing to live one's life in the swamp of unbelief. But it is equally fearful to just look to our faith. It is the object of faith that makes all the difference. Both faith and reason grow as we use these gifts for what they are: a means to an end, and that end is Christ Himself, who is the Truth. 

Wednesday, December 10 

5:48 PM From this week's photo journal:

1) Treating my doctoral students to breakfast for our final day of class.

2) The last paper of the semester was presented.

3) Gave Edgar Aponte a copy of Becky's autobiography in Spanish. Edgar is the Director of Hispanic Leadership Development at SEBTS and a good friend. He's taking more copies of the book with him as he leaves for Latin America tomorrow.

4) Ate Mexican food last night with some friends in Wake Forest. Do you enjoy chile rellenos as much as I do?

5) I read portions of John's Gospel in my Hebrew New Testament.

6) Worked on final grades with my assistant. They have now been posted to Moodle.

Time to eat supper.

Tuesday, December 9 

5:32 AM I'm a couple of days late, but here's your annual reminder to read From Pearl Harbor to Calvary. It's the story of Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the attack that balmy Sunday morning in Hawaii. The airman ended up becoming a committed follower of the Prince of Peace and a warm-hearted Christian missionary. In an era of terrorists and terrorism, Fuchida's story shows how the Gospel can transform a life from the inside out. More than anything, it's an awesome reminder of the power, grace, and sovereignty of God. Read it, and then share it with a friend today.

Monday, December 8 

10:46 PM Hi folks,

I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was simply spectacular. I had the privilege and pleasure of spending a few days in Dallas with Becky's mom and dad (and mine too!), Brad and Betty Lapsley. We ate out -- a lot. (This is common in the Big D.)

Quite a spread, eh? It was delicious. On Friday night we attended a Christmas performance by the Vocal Majority, my all-time favorite Barber Shop group.

But the main thing was just hanging out with mom and dad. I managed to get some rest and to get through a couple of books I was hoping to read during my mini-vacation in Texas. I delighted in the many memories of Becky that flooded my mind, like this quilt she made for her mom several years ago.

Each square has a special meaning, and the whole thing fairly screams "Love!"

On Sunday I got to hear mom's flute choir -- the "Flutes of the Spirit" -- perform Christmas music at a local church. I also enjoyed watching her give private flute lessons.

She's a natural teacher. Becky and her mom were so much alike it's perfectly scary. Perhaps what I loved the most about Becky was that she was a doer. She didn't just talk about helping people in India or opening a health clinic in Ethiopia or mentoring her daughters. I was constantly amazed by her originality and her self-discipline. Again, so much like her mom! I'm proud of Becky for being so down-to-earth, for allowing God to use her talents in remarkable ways, for being the kind of wife and mother who placed Jesus first in everything. I have never known anyone more courageous than Becky. Even during her cancer journey she remained unbelievably optimistic and forward-looking. I still miss her smile, her energy, her laugh. Oh, her laugh. It was so contagious. Her presence filled every room she entered. Watching her, people learned to laugh at their troubles and be generous with others. Live for Christ. Live each day as though it were your last. Live with grace, with dignity, with courage, with humor, and above all with love for God and for others. I stand in awe at the joy and love she brought into so many lives, especially mine. I have laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed thinking about her on this trip to Dallas. She lived with the uncanny empathy of a fellow traveler. In her autobiography she shared parts of her life that were no laughing matter, though never with grim seriousness. Like the Ethiopians she ministered among for so many years, she laughed at her problems. The finest tribute to Becky is that people knew her simply as "Mama B." I don't think we'll ever see her likes again -- her brilliance, her wisdom, especially her generosity. The years I spent with her changed my life.

If something Becky did or said or wrote made you laugh or cry or think, you can repay her today. You can commit to loving and laughing and living like she did, facing whatever life hands you with a smile and undaunted faith in the Savior. Just as there will never be another Michelangelo or another Rembrandt, there will never be another Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. To know her was to be blessed. No other woman could live quite the way she did. Wonderful memories of Becky will continue to live on in our lives forever. Praise be to God.

On a completely different note, I've been carrying on a private conversation by email with several friends (mostly New Testament textual critics) about Harry Sturz, about whom I blogged the other day. Seems most were unaware that Harry was in the process of producing his own edition of the Greek New Testament when he died. Harry dared to dream and he saw the necessity and value of what was then called the Byzantine text type (today's Majority text). He was the deft and moving "town crier" of New Testament textual scholars. I and others who have analyzed his work seriously can testify to his absolute devotion to objectivity and to the canons of history -- to the trade and practice of the careful scholar. I recall on one occasion he showed me a little booklet he had self-published on the Gospel of Matthew. It was to have been the first installment in his Greek New Testament According to the Second Century. When I asked him to explain to me the unusual title, his quiet reply mitigated the presumptuousness of the question: "If I felt I could have penetrated with any certainty into the first century, I would have done so." Harry was a man who believed that all three of our major text types were equally early, at least as far as their readings were concerned. To him, the Byzantine text was no sooner to be relegated to the scholarly junk pile than it was to be elevated to a position of prominence. He was forever urging his students on to greater heights. "We've not reached our goal yet, but we can never be satisfied with our progress." His book The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism triggered an exploring mind in his students, for Harry was a wonderfully endowed teacher and mentor. He eschewed pontification. Thus he always sought to express his ideas with profound and inquisitive simplicity. In the many years of our friendship and professional association, I felt that he was always learning. He enjoyed textual criticism because he was so full of history.

And that is it. History. For if we are to make any headway today as New Testament textual scholars, progress will emerge from an insightful and perceptive excursion into the whole period of the early church, its lessons and meaning. So I can't help feeling that Harry's goal was worth the cost. We have not reached that goal today, and I'm not sure we will ever be satisfied with our progress. But we've got to keep on trying. The path was laid out for us in the writings of our esteemed predecessors, not least in Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism, and it is a very good path for any young scholar to follow.

One last thing and I'm done. While in Dallas I was reading one of dad's books called The Owner's Manual for Christians. On p. 210, I ran across these words:

The word cheerful is literally a Greek term from which we get the word hilarious. "God loves a hilarious giver."

I have said all through my ministry, and I repeat it again: If your giving isn't done with hilarity, don't bother.

One can only stand in awe.

I suppose it all started with ekklesia. Back in the days when Vines, Vincent, Robertson, and Wuest were the craze, etymologizing was not only practiced in sermon and commentary, it was considered salutary. "Ekklesia comes from two Greek words, one meaning 'call' and the other meaning 'out of.' Hence the church is that which is called out from the world, to be separate from it." I never thought much about this until I began teaching Greek at Biola in 1976. Works like Silva's Biblical Words and Their Meaning and Carson's Exegetical Fallacies began showing up in our bookstores. If you were lucky, you got the message. One can't determine the meaning of a Greek word on the basis of its etymology alone. Unfortunately, pastors -- even seminary-trained ones -- don't always pay attention to the collective wisdom of their teachers. Seminary is like a trial marriage. A trial marriage is a legal agreement, but husband and wife agree to continue it for only a limited "trial period" unless at the end both partners are willing to stay together. Seminary is like that. Once we graduate, alas, we go back to our old habits. After all, etymologizing makes for such good preaching. We do it even if we suspect it's wrong-headed. Psychologists call this an "ambitendency." When people fill out their tax returns, they are often pulled in two directions: to be completely honest (on the one hand) and to cheat a little and save some money (on the other hand). Such opposite tendencies are called ambitendencies. I'm reminded of Sevareid's Law: "The chief cause of problems is solutions." "If only Greek teachers would stop inventing solutions, our problems would largely go away," we reason. It's clear to me that it's almost impossible to eradicate etymologizing. It can only expand continuously. This is related to Murphy's Second Law: "When things just can't get any worse, they will." I guess for many of us it's more important to have a rule to go by than to go by a rule.

Now please don't think me a Scrooge. I believe we should give to the Lord, and give joyfully. It is also generally understood that Christians are to be cheerful givers. Moreover, I suppose a little hilarity while the offering plate is being passed wouldn't harm anything.

Time to get out the laugh tracks?



Thursday, December 4 

9:54 AM Definition of happiness: Dog food for the puppies. Eggnog for me. 

8:34 AM Two brief book notes:

1) Eldon Jay Epp's contribution to the Elliott Festschrift is titled "In the Beginning was the New Testament Text, but Which Text? A Consideration of 'Ausgangstext' and 'Initial Text'." It's an excellent discussion of a crucial issue. In one section of his essay, Epp discusses "A Critical Text's Nature and Its Appropriate Terminology." He is referring, of course, to such constructed texts as Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, and the Nestle-Aland traditions. Referring to Hort's The New Testament in the Original Greek, Epp is convinced that Hort went too far. His title "obviously claimed far too much...." (p. 49). Two pages earlier Epp mentions my colleague Maurice Robinson's own text, The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the Byzantine Text Form, and notes that the similarity of title to that of W-H is said to be "intentional" on the part of Professor Robinson. From personal conversations with Maurice I know this to be true. I have very mixed feelings about his title. In the long run it may be found that it will have a deleterious affect on text-critical studies. I feel myself closer to those Greek New Testaments who self-identify simply as Novum Testamentum Graece or The Greek New Testament. However, an edition of the Greek New Testament that believes it has discovered the true history of the transmission of the New Testament text should not be faulted for using rhetoric, provided it does not blur the rationality of its vision. Harry Sturz, for example, with whom I had the privilege of working in the 1970s and 1980s, was content to call his work The Greek New Testament according to the Second Century, feeling that one could not push back into the first century with any level of certainty. This is language that transgresses against the grain of scholarship, for who in their right mind would want to read a Greek New Testament that did not claim to have found the "original" text? Thus Sturz set out on a path that was truly revolutionary. In my own primer (New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide), I do not claim to have offered more than a start toward reviving interest in the views of my former mentor. On the other hand, we must try to go further. Today, as Epp rightly notes, we face radical choices. To many it seems that the horizons of biblical interpretation and modern culture are moving further apart through the process of secularization. Whether or not we can recover the original text of the New Testament seems an irrelevant question to many. But I think it's still a legitimate question to pose, and I doubt that any of us would wish to see the discussion end with this fine Festschrift, least of all its honoree.

2) Last night I finished reading Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy. The author's claim is a simple one. The entire judgmental process was deeply compromised. Civilians were tried in a military court. A plea for clemency from the judges was either ignored by President Johnson or deliberately misplaced. Americans witnessed nothing less than a complete travesty of justice when the first woman in U.S. history was hanged. Does the author make her case?

I bought this book assuming I would learn the facts about Mary Surratt's guilt or innocence. Instead, it didn't take long before the author's intentions became clear. In my view, the book is a highly tendentious work, replete with unsubstantiated conclusions. The lack of objectivity is appalling. This is a book that discusses Mary Surratt's innocence and not an objective history. The subtitle tells it all. It's sad what happened to Mary Surratt. In my heart of hearts I hope and pray she was innocent of complicity in Lincoln's assassination. But buying this book brought me no more clarity on the matter. It was a mistake to have purchased it.

More thoughts on Jeff Weima's new commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians forthcoming.

Wednesday, December 3 

4:44 PM This and that ...

1) Lunch today with my assistant and his bride.

2) A former student picking up his prizes for completing my "Five Minute Greek Club."

3) Began reading this yesterday. Good stuff. It does Keith justice. 

4) Finally, no one goes through loss unchanged. Myself, I shall long remember the years I spent with the most wonderful woman who ever lived. After her death I find myself in the adolescent struggles of the new pilgrimage I face. I won't soon forget the final years we were privileged to spend together on our farm. I was reminded of those days when I received this email today:

Dr. Black,

Changing topics rather abruptly, ever since the passing of your wife, Mrs. Black, I have been meaning to write to you to share with you two ways that she blessed me before she went to be with our Lord. This is way way overdue, but I hope it will be something of an encouragement nonetheless.

The first was way back in 2012, my fiancé at the time (now my wife) and I were attending Dr. Akin's conference on marriage, Family Life Conference. I had taken your Syntax and Exegesis Class in the Fall and I knew your wife had cancer. When we showed up a the conference, I was surprised to see you and Mrs. Black in attendance. I initially thought you both were going to be guest speakers. Once the conference ended I realized that you both had gone together to a marriage conference to learn after already having been married for 40+ years! It was such an encouragement to see your and your wife's humble spirit and desire to improve your marriage even at that stage in life. It was the kind of example that my fiancé and I needed to see at that point in our lives.

The second happened when I drove up to the farm to prepare for the LXX presentation with Nigusse.... In Fall 2012 (if I remember correctly), Mrs. Black came very close to dying. By the Spring she had greatly improved, but still had cancer. As Nigusse and I were working on our presentation, Mrs. Black was diligently working outside, around the house, and even made time to prepare us a very large lunch. It was so large, in fact, that when my wife and I ate dinner that evening, she asked me if something was wrong because I wasn't eating. I was just too full to eat due to the fact that Mrs. Black had cooked us enough grilled cheese for four men! I was so encouraged by the joy Mrs. Black showed as she worked, made us lunch and talked to us. Just a few months ago, she was nearly dead, but no one would ever know it by watching her that day. In a way, it was difficult for me to let her serve us in that way. She had cancer and was making our lunch. She never once mention her cancer. She was so full of joy and so selfless.

I hope that me sharing these stories with you blesses you in a similar way to how experiencing them has blessed me.

What it all means I'm not yet sure. Despite my bumbling aloneness I know that Becky's spirit somehow lives on in everyone who knew her. To everyone who has taken the time to send me an email or write me a letter or text me on my iPhone, thank you. I only hope that, once the raw edges of grief have worn off, I may be as comforting to you as you have been to me.

Tuesday, December 2 

5:58 AM "The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues the better we like him." Emerson.

Monday, December 1 

5:28 PM I have the habit, as I suppose many of you do, of turning to my favorite passages whenever I get a new commentary on the New Testament. Today was no exception. This evening I was reading Jeff Weima's new work on 1-2 Thessalonians, and I was eager to see how he handled the expression "help the weak" in 5:14, since this verse formed a major part of my doctoral dissertation (see my Paul, Apostle of Weakness if you're interested in such matters). He agreed with me! But then I jumped over to 1 Thess. 5:18 -- "in everything give thanks" -- and was surprised to read these words:

Concerning this prepositional phrase, it is more important to note that Christians are not to give thanks "for everything" but "in everything." Believers are never thankful for the specific trials and tribulations that they must endure either from living in a fallen, sinful world (general suffering endured by all people, Christian and non-Christian alike) or from their faith in Jesus Christ (specifically suffering as a Christian).

This startled me, having just studied Eph. 5:20, where Paul writes "Giving thanks always for all things...." Such simple things like prepositions are the very things that seem to matter much to Paul. Trouble is, there's a big difference between thanking the Lord in everything and thanking Him for everything. Ask anyone who is grieving. We hope that an explanation -- especially a biblical explanation -- will lessen the pain. It won't. Even when Job asked God for an explanation, God remained silent.  The struggle to thank God for the pain is not difficult to understand. Nor is it unusual. You may want to give thanks, but not at this time. Yet, in spite of lingering questions, it is possible to thank God for all that He has allowed into your life. Writes Markus Barth in his fabulous commentary on Ephesians:

Paul exhorts the saints to accept with manifest gratitude, i.e. with great joy, all that they receive or are called to do or to suffer.

Now I will be the first to admit that this is a hard saying. But our response to suffering can either drive us closer to God or further away from Him. He asks only that we admit our need for Him and that we trust Him with the burdens He has given us to bear. Because I am an imperfect human being, I will never be able to do this perfectly. But I can at least make a beginning. And so can you.

4:40 PM The IBR has several job postings

4:30 PM This must be Cyber-Monday. Has your inbox been as inundated as mine? I'm reminded of the old saying, "The trouble with me is, I got too much month at the end of the money." Moth, rust, and robbers are wreaking havoc on all of our earthly possessions it seems. How are you on laying up treasure in heaven? Tomorrow will be our annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in chapel. The money will be used to support missionaries around the world. If you are a seminary student, I hope you will give, and give generously to this cause. When Jesus is our Lord (and not just our Savior), we will be faithful stewards.

11:26 AM Got this email today:

Hello Dr. Black,

I enjoyed your photo essay from your recent trip to the Nation’s Capital immensely!  I know you are quite busy, but I wonder if I might impose a favor.  I too am a student of the Civil War and read as much as I can on the subject.  Would you mind listing your top 5 books that you have read on the Civil War?  I am looking for some new reading material to get me through the winter.

Much thanks!!

Happy to oblige. Here are not a mere 5 but a whopping 15 (!) books I highly recommend about the Civil War.

I own them all and have read and reread them many times over. You can Google for the Amazon prices. From left to right:

Dabney, Stonewall Jackson

Pryor, Reading the Man

Henry, The Story of Reconstruction

Davis, Jefferson Davis

Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox

Huntington, Search for General George Gordon Meade

Searcy, The Battle of Antietam

Freeman, Lee (abridged edition)

Early, Narrative of the War Between the States

Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic

Michael and Jeff Shaara's trilogy: Gods and Generals, The Killer Angels, The Last Full Measure

Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

What would you add to my list?

11:16 AM "A woman's work is never done" (hehe!).

10:38 AM Nice day for picture taking.

1) Maple Ridge, our 1811 farm house.

2) One of our hay fields.

3) The former owner of the farm is buried in our cemetery. As you can see, he served with the 59th VA Infantry.

4) The oldest structure on the property, dating to ca. 1790.

5) Chicken house (correction: chicken mansion) and hay barn.

6) I love the signs Becky designed.

7) Bradford Hall. "Home sweet home."

9:31 AM Well-written essay on Ferguson.

9:24 AM The day is far too beautiful to stay indoors. I think I'll hike the Twin Loops Trail today at the Staunton River State Park. Care to join me?

9:10 AM Good morning, fellow intellectuals, and Happy December! Last night I began reading American Brutus and boy is it a good book. So where did John Wilkes Booth get his name? His father, Junius, was infatuated with British history. Junius named his eldest son "Junius Brutus Booth" after Junius, a rabid anti-monarchist, and for the Brutuses, who tried to save the Roman republic. "Algernon Sydney Booth" was named for a man who perished while conspiring to kill Charles II. "John Wilkes Booth" was named after John Wilkes ("the Agitator"), whose unflinching hostility toward government was infamous. John Wilkes Booth's grandfather Richard was also deeply committed to the fight against tyranny. Interesting back story to the assassination of Lincoln, wouldn't you say?

Do you know how you got your name?

In the Gospels, Jesus ("Savior") gave Simon a new name because it was a Jewish custom to rename a person who had experienced a life-changing event. You will recall the renaming of Abram (Gen. 17) and of Saul (Acts 9). Saul, of course, means "Asked of God," a fitting moniker for a man of the tribe of Benjamin. Many believe that Saul took the name "Paul" from his first Gentile convert (Sergius Paulus). More likely, Saul had been given the name Paul as a Latin cognomen at birth, as was the custom among Diaspora Jews. Paul means "little" or "insignificant" (as in our "paltry"), and the apostle to the Gentiles bore the name fittingly as he traveled throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition says that Paul was short, bald, and bow-legged, but I wonder if Mr. Paltry doesn't better describe his stature. Paul himself was eager to admit that he was the "leaster" (so the Greek) of all the saints (Eph. 3:8) and the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Indeed, Paul knew "how to be abased" (Phil. 4:12), for he had learned to glory in Christ alone. Philemon is "Mr. Love," while his runaway slave Onesimus is "Mr. Useful." Procurator Felix (Mr. Happy) was succeeded by Festus (Mr. Heavy or even Fatso), while Philippians was written to "The Horselovers" (two of whom, Euodia – "Miss Pleasant Journey" – and Syntyche – "Miss Happy-Go-Lucky" – were at loggerheads). Simon Peter is "Rocky" and Thomas Didymus is "Two-Faced," while Silvanus is "Forest" and Timothy is "God-Honorer." Abram means "Exalted Father," but Abraham means "Father of Many" – a commentary on his new role.

Now here's your assignment. (Remember, I am the professor and so I get to give you assignments). If you were to rename yourself, what would your new name be? Or, if others were to rename you, what name would they choose? By the way, if you don't know what your present name means, you probably ought to find out. It might prove enlightening.

November 2014 Blog Archives

October 2014 Blog Archives

September 2014 Blog Archives

August 2014 Blog Archives

July 2014 Blog Archives

June 2014 Blog Archives

May 2014 Blog Archives

April 2014 Blog Archives

March 2014 Blog Archives

February 2014 Blog Archives

January 2014 Blog Archives

December 2013 Blog Archives

November 2013 Blog Archives

October 2013 Blog Archives

September 2013 Blog Archives

August 2013 Blog Archives

July 2013 Blog Archives

June 2013 Blog Archives

May 2013 Blog Archives

April 2013 Blog Archives

March 2013 Blog Archives

February 2013 Blog Archives

January 2013 Blog Archives

December 2012 Blog Archives 2

December 2012 Blog Archives

November 2012 Blog Archives

October 2012 Blog Archives

September 2012 Blog Archives

August 2012 Blog Archives

July 2012 Blog Archives

June 2012 Blog Archives

May 2012 Blog Archives

April 2012 Blog Archives

March 2012 Blog Archives

February 2012 Blog Archives

January 2012 Blog Archives

December 2011 Blog Archives 2

December 2011 Blog Archives 1

November 2011 Blog Archives

September October 2011 Blog Archives

September 2011 Blog Archives

August 2011 Blog Archives

July 2011 Blog Archives

June 2011 Blog Archives

May 2011 Blog Archives

April 2011 Blog Archives

March 2011 Blog Archives

February 2011 Blog Archives

January 2011 Blog Archives

December 2010 Blog Archives

November 2010 Blog Archives

October 2010 Blog Archives

September 2010 Blog Archives

August 2010 Blog Archives

July 2010 Blog Archives

June 2010 Blog Archives

May 2010 Blog Archives

April 2010 Blog Archives

March 2010 Blog Archives

February 2010 Blog Archives

January 2010 Blog Archives

December 2009 Blog Archives

November 2009 Blog Archives

October 2009 Blog Archives

September 2009 Blog Archives

August 2009 Blog Archives

July 2009 Blog Archives

June 2009 Blog Archives

May 2009 Blog Archives

April 2009 Blog Archives

March 2009 Blog Archives

February 2009 Blog Archives

January 2009 Blog Archives

November 2008 Blog Archives

October 2008 Blog Archives

September 2008 Blog Archives

August 2008 Blog Archives

July 2008 Blog Archives

June 2008 Blog Archives

May 2008 Blog Archives

April 2008 Blog Archives

March 2008 Blog Archives

February 2008 Blog Archives

January 2008 Blog Archives

December 2007 Blog Archives

November 2007 Blog Archives

October 2007 Blog Archives

September 2007 Blog Archives

August 2007 Blog Archives

June-July 2007 Blog Archives

May 2007 Blog Archives

April 2007 Blog Archives

March 2007 Blog Archives

February 2007 Blog Archives

January 2007 Blog Archives

Nov-Dec 2006 Blog Archives

October 2006 Blog Archives

September 2006 Blog Archives

August 2006 Blog Archives

July 2006 Blog Archives

June 2006 Blog Archives

May 2006 Blog Archives

April 2006 Blog Archives

March 2006 Blog Archives

February 2006 Blog Archives

January 2006 Blog Archives

Nov-Dec 2005 Blog Archives

October 2005 Blog Archives

September 2005 Blog Archives

August 2005 Blog Archives

May 2005 Blog Archives

April 2005 Blog Archives

March 2005 Blog Archives

February 2005 Blog Archives

January 2005 Blog Archives

December 2004 Blog Archives

November 2004 Blog Archives

October 2004 Blog Archives

September 2004 Blog Archives

August 2004 Blog Archives

July 2004 Blog Archives

June 2004 Blog Archives

May 2004 Blog Archives

April 2004 Blog Archives

March 2004 Blog Archives

February 2004 Blog Archives

January 2004 Blog Archives

December 2003 Blog Archives

November 2003 Blog Archives