08 April 2008

Well, lookie there: my Proverbs thesis

by Dan Phillips

Ted Hildebrandt is Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, and author of numerous books and articles (the links are only a sampling). He's producing a genuinely impressive list of Biblical e-sources.

Being, as you may have noticed, a lover of Proverbs, I was really very impressed with Dr. Hildebrandt's list of Proverbs resources. His invitation to contribute emboldened me to drop the good doctor a line, mentioning my 1983 Master's thesis on Proverbs. Ted responded very graciously, which led to my discovery that I owned the rights to my own thesis (I'd feared I didn't) — and, ultimately, to the scanning of it into e-form.

And now, voila! The Sovereignty of Yahweh in the Book of Proverbs: an Exercise in Theological Exegesis is now online.

Consequently, anyone who wants to can read the thesis as an html web page, as an Adobe pdf document, or as a Word document.

I actually had a lot of fun researching and writing that thesis. My typist complained with a smile that half of it was in the footnotes.

Boy, just saying "typist" is a retro-clue, isn't it? Children, a "typist" was a person who used to use something called a "typewriter" to "type" things out. There were professionals who could type better and faster, and they did this for money. My late mother typed for detectives, repossessors, students; she could type over 100 words a minute on her IBM Selectric. This was in the days before many people had computers, back when I thought it was a fad. Some of the faculty at Talbot were experimentally using a thing called a Kaypro II, which was a portable computer. It was green screen, no graphics; and printers at the time were clunky dot-matrix, or fixed-type printers. Then there was this big, grossly-overpriced high-tech Etch-a-Sketch called a "Mac"....

But I digress.

So she complained with a chuckle that I'd loaded most of it in the footnotes. You see, children, "footnotes" used to be difficult to do. Typists and type-setters had to do all sorts of calculations to accommodate for them. But they did, because, of course, it was best for both writer and reader. Now both writers and publishers can do footnotes with a click of a button, and the software does the rest. Which is why "endnotes" are such a repellent abomination.

Oops, another digression. So, as I was saying:

At the time, my argument was a bit bold, though it may not seem so to y'all. I argued that the best course towards any solid understanding of Proverbs lay directly through dealing respectfully with the text itself, rather than letting a hostile philosophy dictate the concoction of an independent historical/ideological template, which was then imposed upon the text. I sought to demonstrate that, if one takes the text seriously and treats it with respect, it not only produces a coherent portrait, but gives solid ground for meaningful exegesis and exposition.

I presented my thesis' argument at a meeting of OT professors at Talbot Theological Seminary. Faculty elsewhere heard of it, and one well-known scholar contacted me, asking for a copy. He was working on a very substantial commentary on Proverbs for a well-known series that was in process.

I was delighted to say "Yes!" There simply wasn't any commentary on Proverbs that was in-depth, scholarly, substantial, recent, and written from a Bible-believing perspective. This fellow was a conservative OT scholar, and he said he wanted to interact with the thesis in his commentary. Of course, I was thrilled — (A) that a Bible-believer was going to do a substantial commentary on Proverbs, and (B) that he thought my thesis worth mention.

After that, year after year, I watched for that commentary to come out. The due date came and went. Nothing. Years continued to come and go, still no commentary. Every time any book on Proverbs or the OT came out, even though it was probably silly, I checked the bibliography, hoping against hope that maybe the writer had come across my little thesis and thought it worth a mention.

Nope. Never.

I finally wrote the professor who was working on the Proverbs commentary, and expressed interest in a progress report. To my chagrin, I learned that he'd dropped out of the project. Worse, Proverbs had been assigned to someone else, to a scholar who — to say the least — affirms neither the inerrancy nor the sufficiency of the text. He ultimately produced what is at very best a mediocre commentary.

And, given his doctrinal positions, it is no surprise that he doesn't refer to my thesis. Folks of his ilk generally don't even indicate awareness that there is another position.

So now my baby's up online, and anyone with a connection to the internet can see what I was so jazzed about, 25 years ago. If you've got a background in OT academics, maybe you'll chuckle; or maybe you'll see that some of the ideas that I argued as revolutionary at the time are more broadly accepted and better argued today. But in the twists and turns of Providence, I didn't get to be much of a direct participant in those developments.

At any rate, and for what it's worth, it's not buried in a university library anymore.

And for that, I'm very grateful.

Now... you know that.

(PS — my 2007 seminar on Proverbs is also on that same page, plus a truckload of great resources. Be sure to check it out.)

Dan Phillips's signature


VcdeChagn said...

Then there was this big, grossly-overpriced high-tech Etch-a-Sketch called a "Mac"....

Some things never change (ooh, look what I started :D )

I'm actually really interested in reading it.

How do you feel NOW about what you wrote THEN? I find that much of what I wrote 10 or more years ago seems naive, but that could be because I am an immature Christian.

DJP said...

Interesting question, VC.

I've only started reviewing it for typo's and such, so can only give an initial response.

I've squirmed at this and that florid phrase and repeated word (lament*... lament*...). Then I started appreciating the case I was making, and agreeing with myself.


Terry Rayburn said...


Looking forward to reading it (in prnted-out PDF form).

I REALLY agree about footnotes vs. endnotes. In fact, I only consider as scholars those who use footnotes.(1) Those who use endnotes are merely pop authors.(2)
1. May this sentence alone encourage footnotes, if only for pride's sake.
2. dictionary.com - "Pop" - Origin: 1860–65; shortening of popular - [sometimes used derogatorily.]

Anonymous said...

Wow. Do you know how long it's been since I even heard the term "KayPro II"? Of course IBM Selectric is a common term, I have one sitting across the hall from my cube at work. Still used for labels and the like. Love that "chunk-chunk-chunk" sound.

I was actually thinking the same thing as VC. It would scare me a bit to have something I wrote years ago made public today. But then I am far less mature and skilled in the arts of exegesis than you, Dan. Think I'll go look at your stuff, Proverbs poses some interesting exegetical challenges.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I look forward to reading this, Dan!

Oh, and THANK YOU for the lovely memory of the KayPro! That was the first computer I ever owned, and was I ever in love with it. It was SO cool (William F. Buckley was using one!) I still remember the marvelous clunk clunk clunk sound as it booted up, with those big ol' floppies going in the toasters--it was the sound of unlimited possibilities. I churned out many a legal memo on it, and after manually typing all through law school, it was as if I'd been given a magic wand. One wave and, tah dah, out came a crisp set of pages from the daisy wheel.

Those were the days. We were men then. We could handle CP/M.

DJP said...

One of the profs was bucking the trend and using something else, and was programming it to do Hebrew. Not much was available.

My first pc was also a green-screen, which I really preferred over amber. It was an Eagle II, which was integrated with a program called Spellbinder. Ran off a floppy -- the whole OS booted off a floppy and stayed resident in RAM. There was even room left over on the floppy for some files! It was actually a cool pc, for the time, but was already being outmoded.

Then I went over to a blazing-fast 8088 with a 20MB (TWENTY MEGABYTE!!) hard drive. That was enormous. I knew I'd never fill it. Then it was replaced with a 30MB (THIRTY!!!) HD. I think the OS was DOS 5 or 6, and my processor was WordPerfect.

Tim Brown said...

The Kaypro? KAYPRO? It's so "yesterday".

Now I'm dating myself!

Jerry said...

Kaypro-II ??

That is a "blast from the past". I took my class notes and wrote many MDiv papers using a TRS-80 Model 100, even prior to building an 8086 box with magnificent Hercules mono graphics card and a 10 mb hard drive. Who needs more than 640k of memory? Who hoo!

I remember that I needed to modify my Epson dot matrix printer by adding a switch so that I didn't have to change dip switch settings when swapping between the PC and the Model 100 due to the difference in LF/CR.....

Proverbs? Oh, I got sidetracked, and will check out your thesis.

DJP said...

LOL; maybe we should add a post tag, "Memory Lane."

Jon said...

My Grandmother used to write weekly letters that she mailed[1], to her six children for at least 10 years on that old KayproII. Somewhere on some floppy that I can no longer load is her legacy of letters.

1. folding a letter, putting it in an envelope, sealing, affixing stamp and putting it in the mailbox for the postman to pick up.

DJP said...

This is great!

I may have inspired the first FOOTnoted meta in blogging history!

chris said...

I started off with a TRS-80. Plugged into the TV in blazing colour (sometimes), predates a floppy disk (had some sort of tape that played computer language), and had 60K of extended RAM. My iPod has more processing power...

And yet, there were a couple of games I had for that thing I would love to have again.

steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Lamm said...


Can you list a couple of good commentaries on Proverbs that you've found helpful?

What are the chances that you could write and get published your own commentary on Proverbs? Seems to me that you know some good people in the publishing business that might be able to help.


Kim said...

I'd also like to know what your Proverbs commentary suggestion would be.

I learned to type on an IBM Selectric. And I was a "typist."

wordsmith said...

Go back far enough, and "typists" were actually called "typewriters."

As long as you're strolling down Memory Lane: when I was in college, PCs were known as "microcomputers." Most of our assignments for programming classes were done on the mainframe, which was accessed remotely via dial-up modems, where you had to physically dial the number (not on a rotary phone, of course), wait for the high-pitched whine, and then slam the receiver down on the modem and pray you got a decent connection.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20 with a cassette/tape-drive.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "The preceding discussion has shown that the deadlock in Proverbs-studies can be broken if (and only if) the student is willing to take the text of Scripture seriously as reliable factual data."

I just jumped to the summary/conclusion and saw this lead sentence. I'm not familiar with the deadlock that you're speaking of, but I do believe that biblical scholars should and must take Scripture as reliable factual data when the genre is historical fact-narrative. When pastor-scholar-theologians don't accept the historicity of a Biblical account, then grave problems occur and pastoral dangers abound.

Many liberal mainline scholars and pastors use the historical-critical method (and other methods of literary criticism) for their biblical studies and they teach that the Book of Jonah, the Book of Esther, and parts of the gospel of John are not, Not, NOT historical fact narrative.

(BTW, that list above is not the entire list of Books and passages that liberal scholars scoff as being reliable factual data. For instance, they don't believe that Apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians.)

Also, I noted Brevard Childs in the bibliography. Mainline liberal scholars adore Brevard Childs.

Terry Rayburn said...


My comment about pop authors and endnotes was an [apparently weak] attempt at humor ("humour", if Brother Spurgeon is looking down from heaven -- drat! there I go again).

DJP said...

(Terry -- Steve's a little ouchy-tay about ootnotes-fay)

Anonymous said...

"You will find serious academic presses that fall on both sides of the issue."

Sure. And you'll find genuinely sincere believers who diligently study the scriptures, and yet somehow they remain Arminians. Much like the Arminians, the endnote supporters can be sincerely convinced of their position, but they're still tragically and completely wrong.

I'm not saying the endnote/footnote debate is necessarily as central to the gospel as the Arminian/Calvinist debate, of course. At the most, it may be slightly more important than infant/believer baptism.

Carlo said...

I guess the question I have with Proverbs is the practical use in the visible New Covenant community. For example, I know people that are so full of themselves and I really like Proverbs warnings such as: the teachable fool, the hardened fool and the arrogant fool. Proverbs seems to leave hope for only one out of the 3 fools: the teachable fool.

How do I apply this in the NC community today. I just want to avoid the hardened and arrogant fool who professes Christianity. Is that allowed? Naturally, we have to pray for all 3 kinds of fools but do we need to have regular fellowship with them?

LeeC said...

Have I got a deal for you!

Bryan Riley said...

Best class I ever took in all of my education was "Typing." My cousin, a computer nerd from the beginning, had a TRS80 that I recall, but I am just young enough that my first computer was the Commodore 64.

I love Proverbs and I love how it demonstrates the sovereighty of God.

DJP said...

Steve Lamm and Kim — I discuss commentaries some in this review and the meta (Frank "channels" my answer to a question).

Anonymous said...


Think about how much computer (or how many) you could buy today for $8500?

DJP said...

Yep; if only cars' technology/price ratio were the same.

DJP said...

Bryan — are those delightful-looking little towheads your kids? What a great crew!

Yes, it's just struck me: no book is more insistent on the significant of our thoughts, choices and actions (Proverbs 4:23), AND no book is more insistent on the absolute and all-encompassing sovereignty of God (Proverbs 16:33).

DJP said...


significant = significance

steve said...

DJP wrote: (Terry -- Steve's a little ouchy-tay about ootnotes-fay)

Uh...thanks Dan. I'm flattered you would spare the time to call this flaw of mine to my attention.

I'm speechless.

DJP said...

Steve, it was meant as a lighthearted joke. Hence the pig Latin. Sorry if it came across any other way.

steve said...

Thanks for explaining, Dan.

Sorry I didn't see the joke.

Stefan said...

Congratulations on makin' the big time, kid.

Bryan Riley said...

Dan, Thanks for asking - that's a picture of my kids from a couple of years ago. It's funny - as we travel people often ask if we are from Scandinavia - until we talk and throw out a y'all. If you say "Where y'all from?" in any counry around the world most will look at you as though you have just spoken a new language never before heard on earth.

Pondering old computers brought back memories of Zork and Ultima and waiting on tape drives.

Nevergall said...

DJP: There it is! Thirteenth shelf up, fourth section down, twentieth book in...

What? No card catalog?

Stefan said...

What's a card catalog?

(Just kidding.)

shaun m. said...

Awesome, thanks!

Lets see... 1983... I would have been 2. People were doing things then?

DJP said...

Thaaaaaaaaaaaanks, Shaun.

(I was 2 too. Very precocious.)

Billy Rhythm said...

Not (what I consider) long ago, my now wife and I were in college. We had a Smith Corona word processor. It did nothing else. To change fonts, you had to change the print wheel! We both worked as "typists" for a while, augmenting our income, as well as typing our own papers. The machine was purchased with a $500 scholarship I received. And this was only in 1990!

Gummby said...

Dan: congratulations.

When good resources are made available like this, they become accessible to millions (billions?) of people. This is the type of thing that redeems the internet, and frankly ought to be happening much more often.