February 2010


I’ve been doing quite a bit of Biblical Studies reading yesterday. I need to slow down and summarize a bit, which is the purpose of this post.

The Septuagint as Christian Scripture by Martin Hengel.

I’ve been reading through this little gem as supplemental reading for my early Christianity class. The relationship of the LXX and Hebrew scriptures is fascinating. The process in which the LXX came into existence is long and rather complicated. The books were translated “in various times by various people,” which Hengel elaborates on. Translation is a crucial question to consider, especially considering its long history within Christianity. This book is largely a thumbnail sketch of the creation and reception of the LXX within Judaism and Christianity. Some of his suggestions are very interesting, like the possibility that Paul himself took part in the “recension” of the LXX, in that he corrected the LXX at times with his knowledge of the Hebrew. This was an off-hand remark, but one could do quite a bit of research on that issue!

Apostolic Fathers Edited by Michael W. Holmes

I’ve been reading through the Fathers. So far, I’ve read through First and Second Clement, the letters of Ignatius, the Polycarp works (the martyrdom and his own letter), the Didache, and a bit of the Epistle of Barnabas. In addition to general reading, I’ve been pouring over Ignatius, picking out Pauline allusions for my honors paper for early Christianity. I’m planning to examine Ignatius’ self-identification with Paul, and how that impacts his martyrdom beliefs. Ignatius is often spurned by modern readers because he dissuaded his readers from seeking his release from prison. He also seems to think that his only “assurance of salvation” comes from his impending martyrdom (his letters were written on his way to Rome as a prisoner). I’m going to argue that Ignatius got Paul right much more than he got him wrong, and that a lot of his “theology of suffering” is present in the New Testament. It should be fun :-)

NCCS Romans (Commentary) Craig Keener

A recent blog post (HT: Nick Norelli) made me aware of Craig Keener for the first time. For some reason, he had eluded me. This is quite strange, considering he’s an outspoken charismatic scholar (often considered an oxymoron!), which is right up my alley as an aspiring, charismatic armchair theologian. I nabbed his Romans commentary from the library to refer to on my Paul/Ignatius paper. I have not yet memorized much of Romans, so I’m not as familiar with the letter as I am with some of the other Pauline works. I’ve read a bit so far, and it looks like a good read. It has a nice intro, and is much less daunting than I am sure some of his more academic works would be.


I’ve also been trying to improve my Greek. This has resulted in several books getting nabbed from the library:

How Biblical Languages Work Silzer & Finley

This is a little primer on the Biblical languages from a linguistic point of view. I’ve thumbed through it and there does appear to be some helpful items. I don’t plan on reading the whole thing through.

A Grammar for New Testament Greek

I own Mounce’s grammar, but I wanted some more exercises. I grabbed this grammar because it was at the library, but I’ve actually enjoyed using it so far. It’s much simpler and less “flashy” than Mounce’s. The exercises consist of translation from Greek to English, and also from English into Greek. The Greek composition has been tremendously useful. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get a good handle on the language if I don’t start composing my own sentences.

I’ve also grabbed a couple essay collections which are way over my head, but will hopefully contain something useful for a neophyte like myself:

Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek

Studies in the Greek New Testament: Theory and Practice

And, after all of that, I’m going to a Bible study on Ephesians tonight :-)

~alex

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I’ve been reading through Martin Hengel’s The Septuagint as Christian Scripture.  Hengel knows the primary sources very, very well.  He discusses the interaction between the Church and Synagogue during the first few centuries AD.  They argued over the Old Testament quite a bit.  The Christians rapidly adopted the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (known as the Septuagint, or LXX). 

One interesting aspect is that it’s apparently very difficult to establish Jewish use of the Septuagint before Jesus.  The Septuagint we have preserved for us comes almost exclusively through the Church.  What became orthodox Judaism eschewed the LXX, ostensibly because of departure from the original Hebrew, but also likely because of enthusiastic reception of the LXX in the Church. 

That said, something that Hengel hasn’t brought up, is that it’s very hard to explain the Christian use of the LXX if it wasn’t being used in Judaism before Jesus.  The earliest Christians didn’t “change their bible” after conversion.  Most likely saw it as a move within Judaism.  In one sense, the early New Testament writings can be considered “Jewish” use of the LXX.  The fact that apostolic Church used the LXX is only explicable if it was in use before Jesus.

~alex

I’ve been pretty bad about keeping up with writing on the books I’ve been reading.  There are several I’d like to review, and one I need to review (a publisher provided book).  So here we are:

  • John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One I really enjoyed this book, and found his argument persuasive.  I need to review it mainly because I have a hard time articulating his point to others.
  • N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope This one was also a good read, though a bit repetitive if you’re already familiar with Wright’s work.  I enjoyed the focus on New Creation and Resurrection rather than only on “going to Heaven when we die.”
  • Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament: Volume IV I’ve skimmed through this one some, and it seems up to the standard of the other volume I reviewed.  The amount of material  on Isaiah is astounding.  Perhaps I should contrast it with the Early Church’s reading of Isaiah.

That’s all for now I suppose.  Maybe I’ll blog a bit more on Greek coming up, who knows!

~alex

I’ve just had my first exposure to an entire Gnostic text, The Secret Book of John.   The cosmology of the Gnostics was bizarre!  I’m not exactly up to snuff on my Greek mythology, but the text strikes me as the illegitimate child of Greek mythology and the book of Genesis.  Reading it makes me want to give St Irenaeus a hug one day for his polemic against it.  ;-)

~Alex

Like a eunuch lusting to violate a young girl, is a person who does right under compulsion.”

I love ancient Hebrew poetry ;-)

~Alex

So, I’ve rambled on here, here, and here previously about faith, good works, and new creation.  Having moved on from the first part, I’m now up to good works and new creation.  Well then,  what are good works?

I’m convinced that my (and I suspect our) definition of good works is way too narrow.  I usually think of good works as giving money to the poor, volunteering at a shelter, or things along those lines.  While I’m convinced that those are good works,  I’m wondering if we can’t expand the term somewhat.  I’m wondering if instead of small, discrete good deeds, we couldn’t conceive of something broader.   My thought is that good works not only include things like alms, but also hard, honest labor in a variety of fields.  Working hard at your school work or job can be ‘good works.’  Working hard in an art, whether it’s music, photography, or photoshop can be ‘good works.’

Essentially, I think that God has a bigger conception of ‘good works’ than we do (shocking, I know!).  To justify this, I’ll go all the way back to Genesis.  Basically, mankind was put on the Earth for more than just worship and relationship, as wonderful as those two things are.   We were also put here for work!  Before I scare off everyone who hates their job, let me qualify that a bit.  God’s labor for us is deeply rewarding, not pointless toil.  We get plenty of glimpses of it in this life.  It’s like the sense of fulfillment a painter gets after spending hours hard at work on a piece.  Adam had an important part to play in the creation.  He didn’t just sit around lying in a hammock drinking pineapple juice with God.  The human vocation, as expressed by Adam and Eve, was to wisely rule over creation.  Naming the animals wasn’t just a fun gimmick, giving a name to something in the Hebrew culture gave it identity and purpose.  This work Adam was given in Genesis 2:15 is related to the good works we encounter in the New Testament.  When the ancient Jews translated Genesis into Greek, they used the same word for ‘work’ in Genesis 2:15 that the New Testament writers often used for ‘good works.’   I do think that the labor in the garden was ‘good works.’

We see a similar thread in the New Testament with Paul’s letters.  Colossians 3 is a good chapter for this.  “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  We see the same with Paul’s instructions to slaves later in the chapter:  “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, and not men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  That means, when I’m working at IBM, plodding through programming source code, I’m serving Jesus.  When I’m working away on essays and projects for school, I’m also serving Jesus.  Certainly, we can’t forget acts of charity and generosity, but we must (I must!) conceive of our whole lives in service to the Messiah with whom we’ve died and been raised.

Which brings us to Resurrection, the fuel for all Christian labor.  Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and we will be too.  Our labor now will have an impact in the age to come.  How?  I don’t know.  But everything from Bible study to biochemistry has a role to play.  Our hope in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting” is the fuel for our efforts now.  We must not forget Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, after a huge discourse on resurrection:  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

~alex