Some Thoughts on Bible Reading

Open BibleSome thoughts on Bible reading for your morning:

1. Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph, preferably more. Best is reading a whole book (more on that below). You can make any one verse mean any number of things, but considering the larger context of passage places that verse within a more meaningful narrative, making it easier to understand what the verse is saying. So always read verses within their larger narrative context.

2. Keep a couple of different versions on-hand. Having two or three different Bibles around serves as a reminder that English Bibles are translations and that, whatever you may believe about inerrancy and inspiration, translations are neither. Having multiple versions around also enables you to draw upon different renderings of a passage when you try to understand what’s being said. Not all translations are created equal, of course, and which translations you choose will vary based on your preferences and Bible knowledge. But keep a couple different versions around. Continue reading

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Reflections on Ephrem’s Commentaries

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Though said to have written a commentary on every book of the Bible, the only authentic and extant prose commentaries of Ephrem the Syrian are those on Genesis and (part of) Exodus. These commentaries, following the more traditional “text and gloss” approach, represent a distinct departure from Ephrem’s approach in his Hymns to commentary and theology. This essay offers several reflections on these commentaries, concluding that they represent an important part of any attempted reconstruction of Ephrem’s conception of scripture and theology. Continue reading

Book Review: God’s Problem (Ehrman)

God' ProblemIn the book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Questions—Why We Suffer (New York: Harper One, 2008), Bart D. Ehrman examines the various explanations for suffering presented in the text of the Christian Bible. Ehrman, a New Testament textual critic and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a number of books concerning the text of the Christian Bible, and here presents an exegetical treatment of a contemporary question for the general public. God’s Problem is a New York Times Best Seller, indicating Ehrman’s popularity and the ever-increasing interest that the general public has in answers for life’s questions. In this book, Ehrman gives consideration to various Biblical perspectives and presents the positions in sections dealing with the Classical view of suffering, the Consequential view of suffering, the answer of Redemptive suffering, the Question of Questionable and Meaningless suffering, and the Apocalyptic view of suffering. This review will examine Ehrman’s general perspective on these various positions and additionally his position as presented as the book as a whole. Continue reading

Book Review: Believe (Frazee)

Believe (NIV)The Bible is a complex book, full of countless stories, prophecies, and genres of writing, each of which (ostensibly) applies to the Christian life in some way. It is no easy task, however, to read the entire Bible and grasp how each portion relates to the others or how 21st century Christians should engage the scriptures in their complexity. To assist those journeying towards God through a close reading of the Bible comes Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus (Zondervan: 2014) edited by Randy Frazee. Continue reading

Thoughts on Reading the Bible

BibleTen thoughts on reading the Bible:

1. Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph, preferably more. Best is reading a whole book (more on that below). You can make any one verse mean any number of things, but considering the larger context of passage places that verse within a more meaningful narrative, making it easier to understand what the verse is saying. So always read verses within their larger narrative context. Continue reading

Book Review: Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament

9780800699178hThere is no shortage of literature available on the Christian New Testament. Whether you peruse Amazon or wander through your local bookstore, there is no denying that scholars, pastors, and writers aplenty have published their thoughts on the history and meaning of the New Testament. How do we make sense of all this literature? One way involves the consultation of conglomerate sources: those volumes written from a variety of perspectives by a number of scholars whose insights balance and inform one another. The Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. 771 pages), edited by Margaret Aymer, Synthia Briggs Kittredge, and David Sanchez, stands as an excellent example of a New Testament reference work worth engaging. Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: Erasmus and Luther Revisited

This post is part of our ongoing series on Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Luther and ErasmusWhat then can be used in the soteriological constructions of Luther and Erasmus in light of such a critique? It seems that most scholars would especially prefer Luther, were he able, to rework his understanding of Romans in light of more recent scholarship, as a great deal of his interpretative framework has become the general Protestant manner of reading and interpreting the letter. Certainly many would argue against this justification theme as central to the letter, though it seems some scholars would be willing for certain understandings of Luther’s to remain, such as the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. On Luther’s understanding of foreknowledge and necessity, with concern for textual considerations only, it would seem that a good number of scholars, including those of the New Perspective on Paul, would argue against such a strong reading of God’s necessitating all of men’s willing and actions.[1] Very few scholars however, seem willing to remove the interpretation concerning the importance and immanence of God’s grace in the process of salvation. Would a revised Lutheran theology continue in its original uniqueness and strength concerning the total sovereignty of God in all situations without any real role for man’s will to play in the process of salvation? Luther uses a great deal of strong language in On the Bondage of the Will, language that would seem impossible to continue employing were Luther’s theology critiqued in light of modern scholarship on Romans. Without such strong language, Luther’s understanding may revert back to his earlier understanding as presented in his lectures on Romans, where God remains totally in control of all circumstances while seemingly leaving something for humanity to do. How such a view would differ from Erasmus’ presentation remains a topic to be considered elsewhere. Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: Scholarly Consensus

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Apostle Paul WritingAs one can easily see from our previous posts, there exists no common consensus interpretation of Romans 7-9 among scholars and commentators today. However we can note several important factors as well as some of the more widely accepted interpretations of Romans 7-9 and their application to soteriological concerns. As noted in our general review of several Pauline, context, and Romans scholars, the general tendency of modern scholars is to consider Romans 7-9 with regard for its original written context. This includes considerations of the general ancient Mediterranean context as Malina and Pilch noted, Paul’s Jewish context of Remnant theology as Longenecker writes, Paul’s practical missional context as Jewett reminds us, and the over-arching theme of the Letter to the Romans as emphasizing God’s righteousness.[1] The greatest critique of Luther and Erasmus both on this point consists of the fact the neither paid much attention to the context of Paul’s writings or purposes in a broad sense. Verse-bites and proof-texts from various passages of scripture (not just Romans 7-9) are used by both Erasmus and Luther for their theological constructions, usage that would be frowned upon by scholars today. Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: N. T. Wright

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

N. T. WrightIn The New Interpreter’s Bible, N.T. Wright begins by writing that, “Romans is neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul’s lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece.”[1] Wright describes the main theme of the letter as “God’s gospel unveiling God’s righteousness,” which describes “Paul’s own summary in 1:16-17, and the letter does, indeed, unpack this dense statement…. The phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ summed up sharply and conveniently, for a first century Jew such as Paul, the expectations that the God of Israel… would be faithful to the promises made to the patriarchs.”[2] With this understanding of Romans, Wright argues that, “The flow of thought through the letter as a whole makes far more sense if we understand the statement of the theme in 1:17 as being about God and God’s covenant faithfulness and justice, rather than simply about ‘justification.’ It brings into focus chapters 9-11, not as an appendix to a more general treatment of sin and salvation, but as the intended major climax of the whole letter….”[3] For Wright, much like Dunn, there remains room within the larger theme of covenant faithfulness for other readings of major subjects, especially the salvation of humans.[4] However, “Paul’s [overarching] aim, it seems, is to explain to the Roman church what God has been up to and where they might belong on the map of these purposes.”[5] Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: James Dunn

This is part of our ongoing series on Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

James D. G. Dunn

James D. G. Dunn

In the Word Biblical Commentary, James D.G. Dunn employs the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul to interpret his letters. This perspective argues that “Protestant exegesis has for too long allowed a typically Lutheran emphasis on justification by faith to impose a hermeneutical grid on the text of Romans. The emphasis is important, that God is the one who justifies the ungodly, and understandably this insight has become an integrating focus in Lutheran theology with tremendous power. The problem, however, lay in what that emphasis was set in opposition to. The antithesis to ‘justification by faith’ –what Paul speaks of as ‘justification by works’—was understood in terms of a system whereby salvation is earned through the merit of good works. This was based partly on the comparison suggested in the same passage (4:4-5), and partly on the Reformation rejection of a system where indulgences could be bought and merits accumulated. The latter protest was certainly necessary and justified, and of lasting importance, but the hermeneutical mistake was made of reading this antithesis back into the New Testament period, of assuming that Paul was protesting against in Pharisaic Judaism what Luther protested against in the pre-Reformation church– the mistake, in other words, of assuming that the Judaism of Paul’s day was coldly legalistic, teaching a system of earning salvation by the merit of good works, with little or no room for the free forgiveness and grace of God.”[1] Dunn understands such a view as a caricature of Judaism, and affirms E. P. Sander’s conclusion that “Judaism’s whole religious self-understanding was based on the premise of grace—that God had freely chosen Israel and made his covenant with Israel, to be their God and they his people. This covenant relationship was regulated by the law, not as a way of entering the covenant, or of gaining merit, but as the way of living within the covenant…”[2] Here one can see that while the soteriological concerns that Luther and Erasmus derive from Romans are not disregarded by the New Perspective on Paul, but are recast within a contextual light. Understanding Romans as a construction of Paul’s theology that rejected the ‘works righteousness’ of pre-Reformation theology simply does not do justice to Paul’s contextual concerns. Continue reading