27 December 2012

Book review — Devotions on the Greek New Testament, by Duvall and Verbrugge

by Dan Phillips

Devotions on the Greek New Testament
edited by J. Scott Duvall & Verlyn D. Verbrugge
(Zondervan, 2012)

I was happy to receive this review copy from Zondervan. I've been reading the Greek New Testament daily for 39 years, and there simply isn't much in the way of devotional literature specifically geared to it. I used Bitzer's work (he was a banker, in case you haven't heard), but that was about it.

Zondervan's new Devotions on the Greek New Testament is the work of many authors, ranging from names I know to be notable scholars (Craig Blomberg, Darrell L. Bock, Ben Witherington III, William Mounce), to names I know (Scott McKnight), to a long list of names I don't know at all, including a surprising number of female writers. This latter phenom prompted a recent forum in these-here parts.

The purpose of the book is to address the "need to know why you are studying Greek, particularly in relation to the ultimate purpose of strengthening your walk with the Lord," to "help motivate you to endure in your Greek studies" (11).

Each of the 52 entries takes a verse or portion of the Greek New Testament and comments on it. The articles come in canonical order, from Matthew to Revelation, omitting only 2 and 3 John. Unfortunately, the author's name is withheld until the end of each article; I'd have preferred to have it straight up front.

The first devotion is on Matthew 1:19, which I appreciated as I'd had a good time wrestling with it before preaching that verse some years ago. At the time, I was dissatisfied with the common translation and with many of the usual explanations, which seemed hurried to me. My own solution was to take καὶ in the sense of καίτοι, "and yet," a concessive sense. I take both participles in the same sense, yielding "being righteous, and yet not willing." That is, Joseph was in a real bind: he had a strong impression of Mary as a godly girl, yet here she was, pregnant, and he was not the father. Joseph knew the Law and its righteous requirements, and yet he mercifully did not wish to expose Mary to shame and punishment.

The writer of this article, Roy Ciampa, felt the same issues I did in the text, but his solution is different, focused on the senses of the participles. Ciampa takes both as causal, yielding something like "because he was righteous, and because he was not willing" to make a display of Mary. Ciampa takes the sense of righteous differently than I do, arguing that Jesus and the rest of the Gospel require a "transformed understanding of righteousness" involving more mercy and compassion.

I find that a less satisfying (and somewhat less coherent) solution, but am glad for Ciampa's reflections.

An article by Edward W. Klink III (41-42), on the uses of γίνομαι (ginomai) in John 1:1-18, is very insightful. Klink highlights ten instances of the root and notes their place in how the Prologue frames the entire Gospel. It is first used of God's creative power in Jesus' work of creation (v. 3), and ends with v. 17's revelation of how the Gospel is the creative power of God, bringing grace and truth to reality in Christ. It is a helpful piece.

I could wish Klink had phrased one sentence a touch more carefully: "...Jesus has now become the pinnacle of creation, the center of human history and all created things." One might misread the author as classing Christ among "all created things," as do Jehovah's Witnesses. However, Klink had affirmed that Jesus created all things (41), and had just previously said that v. 14 means that "the Creator is now with his creation" (42). So I think the problem is only in his word-choice.

Darrell Bock highlights the three kinds of conditional clauses in Greek on pp. 52-53. He illustrates a second-class condition from Lk. 7:39, where the Pharisee is framing his thought in a way that assumes Jesus must not be a prophet. Bock focuses on Galamiel's words in Acts 5:38-39, as showcasing the other two kinds of conditional clauses. Gamaliel uses first a second-class conditional in v. 38 ("if this is of men — and I'm not saying it is, nor that it isn't"). Then he employs a first-class conditional in v. 39, framing Christianity as being of God. Nifty, eh?

However, Bock says
Gamaliel would have spoken Aramaic or Hebrew, neither of which makes such fine distinctions as Greek makes in conditional clauses. In other words, Gamaliel likely presents the two options as equal. Luke, however, makes clear in his presentation that the second situation is more likely the case... Score another one for Luke. (53)
Well, yes, score one for Luke...as a propagandist. But as an accurate historian? Bock ignores the fact that he has just represented Luke as misrepresenting Gamaliel! The truth is, we do not know for certain that Gamaliel did not speak in Greek (a language in which his pupil, Saul of Tarsus, was quite adept); and even if not, there are ways of presenting this thought in any language which Luke could have accurately rephrased into Greek. Annoying.

Another contributor is Ben Witherington III, who writes on the idiom "to kick against the goads" in Acts 26:14 (56-57). His discussion of how to move the idiom into our day is witty; my one gripe is that he channels Warren Wiersbe (or William Barclay) when he says "An ancient Greek proverb depicts a horse saying to a donkey, 'Let him not keep kicking against the goads'" (57). Really? How "ancient"? Found where? Documentation? I wasn't able to find it easily with a scan of a half-dozen lexical resources. This is the sort of thing that bothers us obsessives, and seems out of place in a book written by scholars.

On Romans 1:17's expression ἐκ πίστεως, Roy E. Ciampa observes that, though both preposition and noun are in common use, no occurrence of the phrase ἐκ πίστεως occurs in any Greek literature before Hab. 2:4 LXX (58). But then in the NT, it turns up 21X. Ciampa argues that these are echoes or allusions to Hab. 2:4 which the English reader would surely miss due to varying English translations, but the Greek reader should note (58-60). This is in the best tradition of a Greek devotional.

The first disappointment is an article by Gary M. Burge on Romans 5:1 (61-63). The problem isn't that there is anything wrong with what Burge says; the problem is that what he says isn't really about the Greek text.  When I saw the text, I thought he was going to comment on πρὸς τὸν θεὸν (pros ton theon), and how "with God" means "in relationship to God" or something like "face to face with God." It wasn't. What Burge wrote about was the textual issue of reading ἔχομεν (echomen, "we have") over against ἔχωμεν (echōmen, "let us have"). Which is an issue of textual criticism, not of reading Greek per se. 

Blomberg has a creative but somewhat obnoxious article on Romans 8:28. It is creative in that it approaches the verse anecdotally, positing a grieving mother trying to make sense of the verse from KJV (boo) to NAS (boo) to NIV (yayyy...or so we're to conclude). It's theologically obnoxious in that Blomberg rejects the KJV's rendering as "just not a helpful translation." Further, he doesn't challenge the alleged impression that "all things work together for good" is somehow pantheistic, which a robustly Biblical vision of the sovereignty of God would have answered (hel-lo? Psalm 119:91?). One wonders whether he's read Hendriksen, who develops this along soundly Biblical lines.

Any Forbidden Planet fan's ears will prick up to note that one of the contributors is a KrellKeith Krell. He has a good, tight note on 1 Corinthians 3:17a (67-69), in which he argues that τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ("the sanctuary of God") is the local church, τοῦτον ("this one") is a believer engaging in the misconduct of the first few chapters (jealousy, worldly wisdom), and φθερεῖ ("will destroy") is some fearsome temporal judgment.

Paul Jackson has a note on 1 Cor. 6:11 (70-71), making a good point about the emphatic repetition of alla ("but") in the verse, and the work of God in salvation. However, Jackson  mphasizes the imperfect tense of ἦτε ("you were"), saying it contrasts with the aorist verbs and, since "the imperfect tense represents ongoing action in past time, then Paul is focusing on how a converted church member's lifestyle used to be" (70). This surprised me; surely Jackson knows that there is no aorist form of eimi ("I am") in the NT, so that the imperfect serves for any past time-frame. It won't bear a linear stress, by itself.

Still in 1 Cor., Michelle Lee-Barnewall contributes a chapter on πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον in 12:7 (72-74), in which she observes that τὸ συμφέρον simply means "good," but the context makes it clear that the common good is Paul's concern. Linda Belleview has a note on vv. 15-16 on pp. 75-76. Belleview notes Paul had assessed Jesus "according to the flesh," and thus assessed Him wrongly. "Jesus died a criminal's death, but the criminal in this case was everyone except Jesus." She also argues for "creature" rather than "creation" in understanding v. 17's use of κτίσις.

An insightful article on Ephesians 2 is contributed by Constantine R. Campbell (83-84), who brings out Paul's use of mirroring in the chapter. Campbell notes that the chapter divides into two halves of similar structure: 2:1-10 and vv. 11-22. The first focuses on salvation by grace, the second on the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Each half has a similar problem/solution/consequence structure. What's more, each half features three key terms containing the prefixed preposition συν- ("with"): συνεζωοποίησεν (v. 5), συνήγειρεν (v. 6), and συνεκάθισεν (v. 6); then συμπολῖται (v. 19), συναρμολογουμένη (v. 21), and συνοικοδομεῖσθε (v. 22).

The tone of J. R. Dodson's "One-Upmanship" chapter on Phil. 3:7-8 (94-95), is more strictly devotional, stressing the supreme value of Christ. The piece is brief and very well-written, both humorous and profound in engaging nuances of the Greek text (such as Paul's shift from ταῦτα ἥγημαι ("I have counted these things) to ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ("I continue to count all things") in v. 8.

Gary Manning Jr. has a solid, concise development on how appositional phrases such as ὁ Χριστὸς ... ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν ("Christ...our life") and seven uses of σὺν (standalone and in compounds) in Colossians develop the truth and meaning of our relationship with Christ (102-103). Kenneth Berding has an article identifying and explaining the meaning and purpose of the puns in Philemon (119-121).

George Guthrie contributes a condensed, well-written bit on Heb. 1:1-2a (123-125). It is another good example of a devotional that does what the book at best promises: brings meanings and significations that are visible in Greek but not in translations. Guthrie diagrams that portion, notes the opening alliteration (Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι), notes that vv. 1-4 are a long single sentence and that most English versions don't express in translation the relationship between  λαλήσας ("having spoken") and ἐλάλησεν ("spoke"), which Guthrie says is communicating the circumstances of God's speaking to us in Christ. Thus the OT is preparatory for the NT, and is where God started a conversation with us.

Alan S. Bandy's contribution on Jas. 1:5-8 is helpful and once again in the best tradition of a Greek emphasis. Bandy he points out wordplay between διακρινόμενος ("doubting") and δίψυχος ("double-souled"; vv. 6, 8), and argues that ἁπλῶς ("generously") means singly, unreservedly. My only gripe would be that he cites scholars by name, but without documentation. Nothing wrong with footnotes!

Max J. Lee writes on Rev. 2:20 (143-144), and argues that ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ should be translated "that you are forgiving the woman Jezebel," not "tolerating." Lee points to the main meaning of the verb, and the contextual stress (three times in vv. 21-22) on the refusal to repent. With no repentance, there should be no forgiveness; and when the church forgives the unrepentant, it fails in part of its mission. You'd think he'd be a commenter here at Pyro!

The final article on Rev. 5:7, by David L. Mathews (145-147), ends the volume yet again in the best tradition of such a book. Mathews notes something reflected in no English or Spanish version I can find: the perfect εἴληφεν ("he has taken"). Mathews makes the case for not simply handling as an aoristic perfect, and brings it to highlight how Jesus is the central Actor and worthy of our worship.

We've only seen tastes of the articles. I do commend it to all of you who read the New Testament in Greek. I made a number of entries in my BibleWorks notesDevotions on the Greek New Testament is on the whole encouraging, edifying, thought-provoking, and rewarding. Plus, it will urge you to read closely and attentively — which is always for the good!

Dan Phillips's signature


Rachel said...

The fact that you read the New Testament in Greek on a regular basis is highly encouraging. There is a Koine Greek class being taught in my church by one of our elders that I've been regularly attending. However, life has been happening and so Koine Greek went to a lesser priority over some of the stuff going on with my family. Now that things have calmed down, reading this has really brought that priority back up.

A good chunk of what you're discussing in this is way over my head due to my own lack of understanding of Greek, but from what I do know reading the original Greek can really correct many incorrect assumptions about what Scripture is saying. I look forward to hitting the point where the subtleties discussed in this book are something I understand.

I do have a question, though. I understand some of the issues with Barclay. I remember reading a commentary of his on Hebrews, and was disappointed in how he'd pass off the miracles of Christ as somehow being scientifically possible. (I don't have quotes to prove that point as the book was loaned to me, and I've since given it back. If I did have the book, I would supply them.)

However, I am curious about the issues you have with Weirsbe? I haven't read his works, but they came highly recommended to me by a couple trusted sources. Due to that, I've been contemplating buying his BE series. You did mention being 'obsessive' in how you read, but I'm not sure what that means. So actually, make that two questions.

1. How are you obsessive in your reading?

2. What are the frustrations of Weirsbe?

Thank you,


DJP said...

Hi Rachel! Thanks for your comment.

What I mean specifically about Barclay and Wiersbe is that both men quoted profligatey and unsourcedly. In other words, Barclay is constantly making this and that assertion about Greek writers, but often doesn't source them (i.e. give author, chapter and verse).

Ditto Wiersbe. I've read and enjoyed him greatly, but he is absolutely terrible about quoting this and that great man, without the least hint of documentation. I am obsessive in that way. I hate the many tales told about Moody, Spurgeon, Athanasius, whoever — that are interchangeable (i.e. sometimes it's Moody, sometimes it's Wesley) and unprovable.

I'm probably one of the few preachers whose manuscripts have footnotes. I want (1) my hearers to know that if I say X said something, or Y happened, I'm not just pulling it out of air because it makes a good illustration; and (2) if challenged, to be able to back up what I say.


Rachel said...

Yes! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review - a timely one when I'm planning out my devotional reading for the new year.

off topic... I've been using endnotes on my sermon notes for a while. I don't necessarily note the source in my preaching, but do have the details at hand if/when asked. It's about the only time I find "endnotes" useful ;)


Dan said...

A very good point about sourcing our quotes. I am also pretty picky on including my sources even if I don't mention them in the message. I can't believe how many times I've heard a good message with a really neat quote but then can't figure out where it came from. And the point is not to prove/disprove the veracity of the statement but to follow up and learn more. If Tozer made such good sense on this passage I'll bet he had a lot more to say later on.

Doug Hibbard said...

I had Dr. Duvall in college, and he would have never allowed us to get by without proper footnotes.

I will have to go back to OBU and give him a copy of this with all the spots that should be noted red-penned :)