Week of New James Titles

This week is a great week for new titles on the Letter of James. According to Amazon.com, the following titles became available this week (perhaps some were available sooner, I don’t know)…

Batten_Alicia - What are they saying about the letter of JamesBatten, Alicia J. 2009. What Are They Saying About the Letter of James? New York: Paulist Press. (available since Nov 2, 2009)

From the publisher: “This book surveys some of the scholarship on the letter of James from the past 30 years, covering questions of authorship and audience, structure and rhetoric, themes, and relationship to some of the sayings attributed to Jesus.”

McCartney_2009 - JamesMcCartney, Dan. 2009. James. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. (available since Nov 1, 2009)

From the publisher: “In this volume an expert in the field of Biblical Interpretation, Dan McCartney provides a detailed and thorough exegesis of the book of James through direct interaction with the Greek text. Working from the text, McCartney also provides a thorough sociological, historical, and theological treatment of James with rigorous academic sophistication. Nevertheless, the content of this commentary remains highly accessible and will prove to be an excellent tool for students, pastors, and scholars. This volume is sure to take its place next to the other great commentaries in the Baker Exegetical series, as well as alongside every great commentary on James.”

Niebuhr & Wall_2009 - Catholic Epistles & Apostolic TraditionNiebuhr, Karl-Wilhelm and Robert Wall, editors. 2009. Catholic Epistles and Apostolic Tradition. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press. (available since Nov 1, 2009)

From the publisher: “Catholic Epistles and Apostolic Tradition asks two questions: Can the Catholic Epistles from James to Jude be fruitfully examined in relation to each other, without contrasting them with the Pauline Epistles? And, if so, will we learn something new about them and early Christianity? The essayists here answer “yes” and “yes,” offering provocative perspectives on James, the Johannine epistles, the Petrine epistles, and Jude.

Additional contributors are Ernst Baasland (Church of Norway), Lutz Doering (University of London—King’s College), Reinhard Felmeier (University of Göttingen), Jörg Frey (University of Munich), Scott J. Hafemann (Gordon-Conwell Seminary), Patrick J. Hartin (Gonzaga University), John S. Kloppenborg (University of Toronto), Matthias Konradt (University of Berne), David R. Nienhuis (Seattle Pacific University), and John Painter (Charles Sturt University).”

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Researching God’s Word, My Sometimes Idol

From my last post, I must recognize that I need to be the learner just as much as the teacher regarding this call from Scott Hafemann that I passed on to my students:

I would like you to think about Greek as loving the Lord with your mind in the same way that you engage in loving the Lord with your heart and your soul and your strength in all the other pursuits of your life.

Oh, how often I need to hear this in my own daily ministry routine. It’s ironic that I can be so deep into God’s word—preparing for a translation session, a teaching assignment, or delving into a biblical research interest—and yet I can easily approach God’s word as a work project devoid of any real relationship with God.

I’m not talking about reading the Bible as a task to be checked off. No, for me it’s that I too often fall in love with the practice of the reading the word instead of loving the Presence of the Word who can speak into every minute of my life. I love my work, and I enjoy the flowers alongside of the road. But I can get so engrossed in the details of the exegetical pathway that I lose sight of the journey’s destination. In this sense, even my time in God’s word can become an idol. It reminds me of something that my first undergraduate Bible teacher, Carl Schultz, used to say at Houghton College:

Make sure that in your exegesis you do not exit Jesus.

I think he was talking about a certain brand of scholars who tend to divorce the divine Jesus from the biblical text. But the warning applies equally well to my pursuit of biblical scholarship without it being a spiritual discipline offered in love to God.

When the study of God’s word lacks devotion to God himself, it could be an idol for me. Do I love my academic discipline more than my Lord and my God?
μὴ γένοιτο. May it never be!

But he gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James 4.6-8

Lord, give me your grace each day to draw near to you, and won’t you arouse me from my spiritual wandering when I simply follow the daily grind?

Luther and Hafemann on Studying Greek

When I first found out that I would be teaching the introductory New Testament Greek course to national Bible translators and pastors in Papua New Guinea this month, I had to write my former Greek teacher, Scott Hafemann, right away. He was the first one who ever thought I would be doing this. Back when I was taking his classes for the Wheaton College Graduate School in 1998-99, I knew I was studying Greek so I could be a better qualified advisor to national Bible translators. But he was confident that I would be training mother tongue translators to use the Greek text for themselves.

So when I wrote to Scott with the news, he immediately made available to me the CD for his soon-to-be-released online course for distance learning through the Semlink Office at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

In the first lesson on the CD, Hafemann reminded me of a quote from Martin Luther that he had recited for us in class in 1999. Luther talks about how important the study of Greek is…

Insofar as we love the gospel, to that same extent, let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of languages we can scarcely preserve the gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught. Where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the scriptures will be searched, and the faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.

I explained Luther’s images of the sheath, the chest, and the goblet so that my English-as-a-second-language students could fully grasp the word pictures. Papua New Guineans frequently use ‘tok piksa’ in their daily conversations. Judging from the nods and groans that accompanied the teaching, I believe Luther’s message spoke powerfully to the students. One student even came and asked for the quote after class. He got the following quote from Hafemann as a bonus.

Echoing Luther in his online course, Hafemann states:

Our study of the Greek language is not an end in itself, but we study Greek for the sake of knowing scripture, and we know scripture for the sake of understanding God’s self-revelation to us, and we want to understand God’s self-revelation to us that we might live in relationship with him. So Greek for the sake of scripture, scripture for the sake of knowing the Lord, and knowing the Lord for the sake of living in relationship with him. Greek and the gospel: inextricably linked…

It’s a spiritual discipline. Learning Greek is not simply an academic exercise. It’s a calling and it’s a privilege. It is a spiritual exercise like any other spiritual exercise, whether it’s prayer, fasting, worship. I would like you to think about Greek as loving the Lord with your mind in the same way that you engage in loving the Lord with your heart and your soul and your strength in all the other pursuits of your life.

That is what I am asking my Greek students to do here in PNG. Throughout the 6 hours that we have together each day, we intersperse the lectures and group activities with prayer, singing, Christian greetings, and lessons from God’s word that illustrate the Greek material. They are used to hearing explanations of God’s word through two or three subsequent translations, and they said “maybe something has gone missing.” So they are motivated to learn Greek so they can really hear God’s message to them and live in relationship with him.

Learning Greek is a Spiritual Discipline

My passion for Greek was ignited in 1998 when I started graduate school at Wheaton College and took classes from Dr. Scott Hafemann. His teaching was a model for academic rigor that is not divorced from a life of faith lived in service for others. His challenge was that the study of Greek not simply be an academic exercise, but a spiritual discipline in which we love God with our minds (cf. Mark 12.30). This was a challenge I needed to hear.

So, this is how I seek to teach my intensive introductory New Testament Greek course to Papua New Guineans this month. One of the things we are doing as we learn Greek is to learn Greek scripture songs.

We started with the alphabet. In Revelation 1.8 we read that “Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was, and is, and is to come, the ruler over all things.” So Jesus used the Greek alphabet to explain his sovereignty. He is ruler of all. And that means he is ruler over this Greek course. An intensive NT Greek course that meets for 6 hours a day for 6 weeks is difficult! But Jesus is ruler of this course as well.

So the first song we learned goes like this:

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon,
Zeta, eta, theta, iota,
Kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron,
Pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon,
Phi, chi, psi, omega,
Ἰησοῦς ἐστίν τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ
(Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega)

It sure is pretty powerful to hear a room full of Papua New Guineans belting this out full voice on the first day of class. Although it seems a little bit like 1st grade with the alphabet in big letters up on the wall across the length of the room, it’s not just an academic exercise. Even the foundational lesson on the alphabet is a spiritual discipline of singing praise to Jesus as Lord.