Greek to Me: a book review

When I was in seminary  I focused on learning Hebrew because I wanted to make sure I knew one biblical  language  reasonably well. I didn’t actually take Greek, though I had to demonstrate some understanding of the Greek to finish some exegesis assignments, make judgments about variant readings from the Septuagint (Old Testament) and understand key New Testament passages. Which brings me to this grand confession: Greek to me is really hard. I know enough Greek to not quote a lexicon in a sermon. Grammar and syntax (and the linguistic and literary context) reveal shades of meaning and help determine which ‘sense’ of a word is best and preaching the dictionary rarely does any of that justice.  But I don’t know enough Greek to speak with confidence about  what a ‘phrase really means’ (just enough Greek to be suspicious when you are too confident).

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas Huffman

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax and Diagramming is the sort of resource I love to have on hand when working through a Greek translation.  This is, as the title implies, a handy guide not the definitive resource.  At just 112 pages, it can easily be kept with your Greek New Testament and consulted as you parse your way through the text.  Author Douglas Huffman says that this  book is intended for second year Greek students and beyond (oops), pastors, teachers and preachers. As an occasional preacher, and pastor-hopeful I plan to use this when I work through my next sermon on a New Testament passage.

As the subtitle suggests, the book focuses on grammar, syntax and (sentence) diagramming.  In the section on grammar, Huffman reviews the Greek alphabet, breath marks,  and the various parts of speech (nouns, Adjectives, adverbs, the article, prepositions, and verbs). The table of contents makes each of these accessible at a glance.  The section on syntax discusses in more technical language: case usage, the use of the article and verb use (i.e. tense, mood, voice, infinitives, participles, conditional sentences).  In the final  section gives a good introduction and overview of sentence diagramming. Diagramming is  a method of making clear the author’s flow of thought.  This is especially helpful for non-narrative texts and helps you understand what the Greek (words) means in context.

Despite having read this book without the proper Greek background, I find it  very helpful. If you have learned another language as an adult,  you should be able to wade through the sections on grammar and syntax and get some use out of it. Sentence (or phrase) diagramming is one of the most helpful tools for exegeting a New Testament text and this is the section of the book I will most consult.  I have grammars on which examine  Greek syntax and grammar in much more detail, but I am not taking a stack of  Greek books to Starbucks with me to work on a sermon. This guide is enough to open up the text in a new way for me

So I recommend this book to Greek students, Pastors needing a review, and those, like me who putz around with Greek because we think it is valuable to delve into biblical languages. This is a short, understandable quick reference and well worth it!

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me a copy of this book through the Kregel Academic & Ministry Blog Review Program  in exchange for my fair and honest review.

A Commentary on the Psalms: a book review

Psalms v1 Ross I was particularly excited about reviewing A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (1-41), part of the Kregel Exegetical Library. The Psalms are the book of the Bible I have spent the most time investigating both academically and personally. I’ve studied the Psalms to have them shape my prayer life and collect thoughtful commentaries, devotionals, studies and introductions to the Psalms. So Allen Ross’s commentary looked interesting to me and wanted to see what insights he gleaned from his years of study in the psalms.

But another reason that makes this book appeal to me is that it is written by Allen P. Ross. In seminary, his Introducing Biblical Hebrew was the text that laid the foundation of what I know of Hebrew grammar and syntax. So in a way I feel like Ross is one of the guys that really opened up the Hebrew scriptures for me in a fresh way and I wanted to see what he did here.

This commentary did not disappoint me. Ross represents some of the best critically engaged confessional scholarship today. Bringing his knowledge of Hebrew to bear on the text, he translates, notates the text critical issues and makes judicious judgments on the text. Sensitive to elements of Hebrew poetics, psalm genres and life setting of the psalms he draws on a wide range of scholarship, presenting his commentary on the passage in the form of an expository outline on the text and offers brief comments on each psalm’s message and application.

But despite his obvious scholarship, what sets this book apart from other high level critical commentaries, is its readability. Ross is able to craft a commentary which is accessible to the laity and working pastor, but also one that is engaged in scholarly literature and discussion. If you’ve sat down and read commentaries cover to cover, you know that this can be a rare combination.

There are other things I liked. The commentary focuses on book 1 of the Psalms which is full of Psalms of David, royal psalms, personal laments, prayers for victory in battle and didactic hymns. Ross does a good job making this relevant to the modern Christian and his expository outlines give me a little bit of the flavor of how a passage might preach (as an occasional preacher, I like this). But before he comments on the individual psalms, he also has several introductory articles on the whole psalms which discuss the value of the psalms, their headings, the history of interpretation, the interpretation of biblical poetry, literary forms and functions, theology of the psalms and his method of exposition. A lot of this is drawn from other literature I have on my shelf, but Ross does such a good job of summarizing other commentators and representing their insights accessibly. This makes it ideal for a student of the psalms.

What Ross offers in terms of his exegetical work is a careful, attentive reading of the biblical text. I have other commentators on my shelf whose exegesis is more creative and engaging than Ross is. They challenge me to think about the text in new ways, but I disagree with them more. What I get from Ross is a more consistent and solid interpretation, often favoring a traditional understanding (i.e. he accepts the superscriptions as reliable unless a compelling reason dictates that he shouldn’t and reads carefully not suggestively). That isn’t to say that I agree with Ross on every point (or any other commentator for that matter), but I appreciate his style and attentiveness.

This is a helpful addition to the pastor’s or student’s library. I recommend this highly and look forward to the release of the next couple of volumes.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this commentary in exchange for this review.

The Voice Bible Book Review

This month The Voice unveils their Bible version for the whole Bible, Old and New Testament. Recently Thomas Nelson sent me the New Testament and I ‘m impressed by it (I used it on my blog for my ‘Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross’ series). The Voice is the brainchild of Chris Seay and the Ecclesia Bible Society. I have followed the project and even have some of the earlier volumes on my shelf ( The Voice of Matthew, The Voice of Acts, The Last Eye Witness: The Final Week). It is nice to see the whole project finally come together.

Why Another Translation?

Seriously, why another translation? With the NIV perpetually updating itself, the Reformed crowd all reading the ESV and other translations popping up, seemingly every few months, do we need a Bible like this? I would say that this project is sufficiently unique and I have found that it does a good job of illuminating the Biblical text for a contemporary context.

There are two main approaches that translators take when approaching the Bible. One translation theory is Formal Equivalence which are very literal translations like the NASB or KJV. These translate Hebrew and Greek Idiom, essentially as is (there are mistakes and the KJV wasn’t working with earlier manuscripts but the translators worked on a very literal rendering). On the other side you have translations which aim at Functional Equivalence (NIV is a major example of this). The Voice is closer to the functional equivalence side and dynamic in its approach. The translators and writers producing a text that is at times literal and at other times explicated and amplified. The Ecclesia Bible Society brought together Bible and language scholars with authors, songwriters, poets and pastors in order to produce a text that is beautiful in its expression but accurate in translation.

I think it succeeds rather well. Some of the things I like include:

  • Dialogue is written like a screenplay. This gives the interactions a dynamic and immediate feel. It is very effective.
  • In italics are words and phrases, which are not from the original text but explicate its meaning.
  • Peppered through the Bible are notes that either explain the original meaning or its contemporary implications. What I like about this is that the notes are often meatier than your typical devotional Bible, but leaner than a lot of Study Bibles which (in my opinion) over inform.
  • The Translation itself is highly readable, and accessible. This would be a good Bible to share with Non-Christians, Youth and Seekers. My wife is using it as she prepares children’s curriculum for church. If this translation helps people get the story a little more, I’m in favor.
  • If I could quibble with the marketing of this Bible, the back cover promotional blurbs are from Donald Miller and Darrell Bock. Darrell Bock is a good New Testament scholar and Donald Miller is a justly popular author. Both guys are not impartial because they worked on The Voice. This is like an author saying, “Buy my book I really like it.”

    But I liked it too and recommend it if you are shopping for a dynamic rendering of the Bible or looking for a good Bible to share with friends.

    I received this Bible from the Thomas Nelson Blog Bunch with the understanding that I would share my thoughts on it on my Blog. If you are interested in exploring this translation further, go to HeartheVoice{dot}com.

Text Critical Extravaganza: A Book Review of Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament

Revisiting

In his scholarly tome, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, and his more popular treatment, Misquoting Jesus Bart Ehrman has argued that the Biblical text that we have is deeply mired by tampering of scholars for theological reasons. In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic and Apocryphal Evidence, the inaugural volume of the Text and Canon of the New Testament Series (from Kregel Publications), Dan Wallace has edited a volume which takes Ehrman to task. Wallace’s introductory chapter, is an expansion of a paper he delivered in 2008 as part a dialogue with Ehrman over the Corruption of the New Testament. The subsequent chapters are each written by former academic interns and ThM students of his at Dallas Theological Seminary. Individually, each essay presents a strong case; cumulatively they systematically demolish Ehrman’s arguments. For the most part, the author’s are judicious in their analysis (I only can think of one or two places which felt like over reaching to me) and each chapter evidences copious research. While the authors are all theologically conservative and take issue with many of Ehrman’s claims, this book is not a smear-campaign either. They respect Ehrman’s scholarship and confirm his findings where they feel it’s warranted, but it is clear that they find his premise wanting.

In Chapter 1, Dan Wallace presents a brief, accessible apologetic for the reliability of the New Testament, taking specific aim at Ehrman’s arguments. Next Philip Miller examines Ehrman’s methodology and reveals that Ehrman is committed to the premise that the least orthodox readings are closer to the original text, regardless of whether the textual evidence and scholarly consensus supports him. These two chapters provide a more general overview of the issue. Matthew Morgan and Adam Messer provide a more detailed account by each examining a specific text which are asserted to be ‘corrupt’ by Ehrman and others (John 1.1c and Matthew 24:36, respectively). They each demonstrate the spurious nature of Ehrman’s claims Tim Ricchuiti examines the text-critical transmission of Thomas showcasing where theological interests effected the transmission of that text in line with the theology of the Nag Hammadi writings. In the final chapter, Brian Wright examines the textual evidence for the equation of Jesus as God in the New Testament. Wright demonstrates that such claims are not a result of corruption, but are original to the first century Christian community.

This book is written for a scholarly rather than popular level (and is endorsed by an impressive stream of theological conservative scholars). Certainly students engaged in Biblical studies or textual criticism would benefit from reading this book. Yet, this book is also of value beyond the walls of academia. Giving the ubiquity of Bart Ehrman on college campuses, the New York Times best sellers list, and numerous television appearances, serious engagement with ideas is a necessary apologetic task. A book I read by Sam Harris, one of the so-called New Atheists, recommended Misquoting Jesus because of the way it undermines Christian truth claims and casts doubt on the reliability of the Bible. This book reveals the places where Ehrman’s assertions do not stand up to examination. Some of this book, will be too technical for popular consumption, but the book would make a good addition to a pastoral library and Dan Wallace’s and Philip Miller’s essays certainly are accessible to an educated layperson. I think the arguments in this book will remain significant for the Evangelical community at large.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Readings- By Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz, Bells in Winter. New York: Ecco Press, 1978, 10.

Readings

You asked me what is the good of Reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday, though the heads of Caesars
On coins are different today. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There are plenty of persons whom the text calls
Diamonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, bedeviled (as for the “possessed”
It’s no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print or screens,
Rarely engaging in arts or literature.
But the Gospel parallel remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which exasperated by the sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into the water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.