Movie Review: God’s Not Dead

god'snotdeadWarning: spoilers ahead.

In short, God’s Not Dead is a movie-length version of one of those email chain letters or Facebook postings that gives the spiel about how a student bested a learned Professor in class on whether God exists (see e.g. the Dropped Chalk Story or Student Einstein Humiliates Professor). There is one noticeable difference, however, which is that in this movie the student doesn’t turn out to be a young Albert Einstein.

Freshman student Josh Wheaton is sitting in the first lecture of a first-year philosophy class taught by Professor Radisson. Radisson is an atheist and begins the class by listing a whole bunch of philosophers who are atheists and demanding that the students (about 80-90 of them) all acknowledge the “primitive superstition” of religion by writing on a piece of paper “God is dead” and signing it. The only student who does not do this is Wheaton. Radisson then challenges him to prove his belief in God over the next three lectures, with the students deciding who wins the debate.

Of course, it seems absurd that no one else in the class apart from Wheaton had a problem with the outrageously inappropriate requirement from Radisson to sign a religious statement denying the existence of a deity. I guess no theists ever take introductory philosophy classes? Or if they do then they mustn’t have any conviction about their belief (or the common sense to tattle on the Professor).

This movie didn’t prove that a god exists but it did ably demonstrate that stereotypes are alive and well in American Evangelicalism (the production company of the movie, Pure Flix, seems like it belongs to the evangelical stream of Christianity). If you don’t believe in a deity then you must be a horrible person, devoid of ethics, and pumped up on arrogance and self-centeredness. This movie conveys the idea that Christian’s don’t believe in atheists. How so? Because the atheist characters are just silly caricatures. Seriously, has the writer of this movie actually conversed with any atheists?

Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) and Mark (Dean Cain) are caricatures drawn up by an overactive and fearful evangelical imagination. Apart from making his students sign a statement saying “God is dead”, Radisson is also portrayed as very narcissistic, arrogant, and obnoxious to his Christian girlfriend, Mina. For instance, he tells Wheaton that he is God in the classroom and mocks Mina in front of the whole Philosophy Department faculty at a dinner.

Mark is portrayed as a successful man of upward mobility who is an emotionless sociopath. In one scene he is at dinner with his atheist girlfriend, freelance journalist Amy, and tells her that he just made partner at a lawfirm. When she responds by saying that she has cancer, he berates her for telling him and immediately dumps her. Meanwhile, Mark’s mother is a sufferer of dementia and he refuses to see her and when he finally does go see her at the behest of his sister Mina (the same Mina who is dating Radisson), he openly mocks her and her faith right in front of her. His final scene is in his car where he receives a text from his sister saying, “God is not dead.” He throws his phone onto the backseat, which I take to mean that he has hardened his heart and is the atheist of the movie who does not convert. (His ex-girlfriend Amy, however, is converted by the Christian musical band, Newsboys).

If I was an atheist, I would be pissed at this movie.

Another stereotype is found in the portrayal of the movie’s sole Muslim character. Ayisha, a student at the same university that Wheaton attends, is a secret Christian in a strict Muslim household. Her father finds out about her Christian faith and what does he do? He violently abuses her and then throws her out onto the street. Was this portrayal of the sole Muslim character really necessary? It would be like if a Islamic version of this movie was made and the sole Christian character in it was a Pastor/Priest who molests children or a Christian parent who throws their child out onto the street for being gay.

Another character is Martin, a student from the People’s Republic of China and he, of course, is an atheist. When speaking on the phone to his father back in China he mentions how they are talking about the existence of a god in the philosophy class. His dad is portrayed as being quite scared of even talking about the prospect of a deity existing over the telephone because the government might be listening (“Why are you saying this? You never know who is listening”).

Another character is Pastor Dave who advises Wheaton early on in the film and then experiences some unfortunate trouble with vehicles, leaving him stranded on campus. But never fear, for this comes into play in Radisson’s climatic scene.

There are brief scenes of the three lectures where Wheaton is given time to convince his classmates that a god exists. Wheaton decides to tackle the massive undertaking of proven God’s existence by using the big bang theory. He states that, until very recently, scientists had it wrong as to the origins of the universe, but “the Bible had it right” because the Bible is apparently some sort of an ancient scientific textbook. (Later on in the film, The Newsboys say that, “We believe God gave us an instruction manual”). That is classic evangelical claptrap wherein the Bible is some inerrant guide and manual in all facets of life (even science!).

This arc of the story culminates in the final showdown between Josh Wheaton and Professor Radisson. Theoblogger Kevin Davis (After Existentialism, Light) has done a great job summarizing the ridiculousness of this part (here and here):

I have not disclosed the most ridiculous moment in the movie. Here is the scene: During Josh’s fourth and final performance in front of the class, Professor Radisson engages with Josh in a tit-for-tat, where Josh comes across like a rock star lawyer. (Think of A Few Good Men with Cruise versus Nicholson.) Josh is blasting away about the immorality and meaninglessness of life without God, and the professor is responding from the Dawkins playbook about the “disease” of religion and so forth. It all culminates with Josh yelling at the professor, “Why do you hate God?!” Radisson responds, “Because he took everything from me,” in reference to the death of his mother when he was a child. “Yes, I hate God.” Josh deals the final blow, “How can you hate someone if he doesn’t exist?”

Booyah! You see what happened? The professor’s rejection of God is not about reason. It’s about emotions. It’s about the loss of his mother. Josh even declares that Radisson knows that the reasons are on Josh’s side. Atheism is not about reason. We’ve already seen how easily Josh has been able to demolish all of the rational objections. So it must be about something else. Emotions. Nevermind that this is exactly the same tactic that skeptics use against Christians. After this heated exchange between Josh and the professor, each student begins to stand, one by one, declaring, “God’s not dead.” (Think of Dead Poets Society and all the students declaring, “Oh Captain, my Captain.”) Over and over, “God’s not dead. God’s not dead.” Eventually the entire class is standing. Remember, this is the same class that wrote, “God is dead,” with their signatures just a few weeks prior. Josh is so persuasive that he wins over the entire class!

That, my friends, was the most ridiculous moment in the whole movie.

Agreed.

Later on that evening, Radisson is reading a letter from his mother (who died when he was a kid), moving him to reconcile with Mina (who had just dumped him). He realizes she is probably at the Newsboys concert and while on his way walking there, he is struck in a hit-and-run. Pastor Dave and his missionary friend, Reverend Jude, just happen to be on the scene and according to Jude, who must have x-ray capabilities and thus can give a prognosis with his clairvoyant powers, all of Radisson’s ribs are broken and his lungs are rapidly filling with blood. He is dying. Dave asks Radisson, “Do you know Jesus?” With his dying breaths, Radisson tells Dave that he is an atheist and that he is not ready to die. But, like the penitent thief on the cross, Radisson pours forth a death-bed confession of Christ and is saved. I actually shed a fear tears at this death scene, but I also cried at the ending of Armageddon and at most Disney movies… so yea.

A particularly odd part of this death scene was that Jude said, “This is a joyful thing! Painful yes, but incredibly joyful!” And I was thinking, sure that’s neat that the guy had a deathbed repentance, but he was just tragically and unexpectedly mowed down by a fuckin’ car! But I guess he is gonna be in heaven now and that’s all that matters, right?

Apart from the horrible use of stereotypes, this movie also has another big problem. Kevin Davis states it well:

Josh has converted the entire class. How? By proclaiming the love of God in Jesus Christ? No. By preaching repentance and forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ? Nope. By mentioning at least something vague about Jesus Christ, the promise of redemption, the hope of glory, or any of the sort? No again. The message of the film is clear. You don’t need Jesus or the Holy Spirit to convert a classroom of students to belief in God. Reason alone is a sufficient bridge from unbelief to belief. No “foolishness” to the Greeks here. Sorry, Paul. “God is alive,” and you don’t even need to change your heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

The movie did have a few brief mentions of Jesus (I was surprised they didn’t have a scene discussing the “four spiritual laws” formula and the penal substitutionary model of atonement). But on the whole, this movie was entirely about proving a generic creator god, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus. Considering this movie sprung forth from the evangelical stream, I was quite surprised by this focus on a generic god.

All in all, this movie, like a lot of evangelical apologetics, is basically a safety blanket for evangelicals. It taps into and plays on their fears. It appeals to the persecution complex that is found in fundamentalist evangelicalism where the “us versus them” paradigm reigns supreme.

Also, what evangelical movie would be complete without the following things:

  • A cameo from one of those bearded Duck Dynasty guys
  • The obligatory reference to Lee Strobel
  • The obligatory reference to C.S. Lewis
  • The high Christology of Jesus-is-my-BFF (Wheaton says: “I think of Jesus as my friend”)
  • The “free will” answer as the panacea to the theodicy question (if there is a good god, then why so much evil)
  • The notion that atheists are amoral fucks (Wheaton says that atheists “have no moral absolutes”)
  • The portrayal of the Bible as being an inerrant textbook and instruction manual

God’s Not Dead is an odious movie made with the best of intentions, yet you know what they say about good intentions… they pave the way to hell. The movie portray Christians as people who are irreverent, stupid, and who pigeonhole non-Christians into offensive stereotypes. In short, this movie was like a movie-length Jack Chick tract.

 

Book Review: The Death of Jesus

deathofjesuswedderburnTitle: The Death of Jesus

Series: WUNT 299

Author: Alexander J.M. Wedderburn

Bibliographic info: xv, 193 pp., 31 pp.

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

In this book, which Wedderburn refers to as “a ragged and rather incomplete ‘swansong'” (xi), he confronts systematic theologians and traditional Christian thinking by issuing the challenge to deal candidly with the disparate and diverse accounts in the New Testament concerning Jesus’ death, particularly Jesus’ own understanding of his impending execution. In this task Wedderburn likens himself to a “somewhat unorthodox cat [being let] loose among some theological pigeons” (xi).

In this review I will first provide a brief summary of what each chapter is about and then give a bit more depth on certain sections and offer up some general thoughts about the book.

Chapter One (pp. 1-46) is the introduction wherein the author discusses various attempts to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ death for us. This is followed with Chapter Two (pp. 47-66) which asks the questions of whether Jesus saw his death coming and, if so, how did he view his death. Chapter Three (pp. 67-87) discusses Jesus’ last meal, with a focus upon the Last Supper traditions in Matthew 26, Mark, 14, Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11. In Chapter Four (pp. 89-106) Wedderburn examines the two “highly informative” events about Jesus’ attitude to his death: the prayer in Gethsmane (Mark 14:32-42 par.) and his death cry (Mark 15:34 par.). Chapter Five (pp. 107-28) is on the period of time between Jesus and Paul, specifically looking at the impact of the Easter events and some traditions in Paul (Rom 3:25 and 4:25). Chapter Six (pp. 129-48) focuses upon the folly of the cross as a polemical theme in Paul and its theological implications. Chapter Seven (pp. 149-65) discusses Pauline thought on participation in Christ, being in Christ, and dying with Christ. This includes a focus upon 2 Cor. 5:14 and the notion of Jesus as the representative human being (1 Cor. 15:20-22, 45-49; Rom. 5:12-21). Chapter Eight (pp. 167-82) then tackles the topic of righteousness and justification in Paul. The book ends with a short Epilogue (pp. 183-86), an Appendix (pp. 187-93) on the shorter text in Luke 22:15-19, and the obligatory bibliography and indices.

As already mentioned, the first chapter discusses various attempts at interpreting the meaning of Jesus’ death for us, specifically “in terms of something that happens in the being of God and thus is at least relevant to our perception and understanding of God’s nature or in terms of a manifestation of the nature or ‘shape’ of that divine spirit that is subsequently at work in the world or at least in the Christian community” (30). This includes discussions of various writers including Leonardo Boff, Geoffrey Lampe, Dorothee Sölle, Peter Hodgson, Alistair Kee, John Hick, and, everybody’s favorite, Jürgen Moltmann. I’m quite familiar with Moltmann’s theology and Wedderburn’s discussion of it was quite informed and showed a good familiarity with his theologia crucis.

Wedderburn asks the question of whether the inter-trinitarian relationships in regards to the death of Jesus is an appropriate emphasis for systematic theologians to turn to in order to explicate the NT’s view of soteriology. Instead, Wedderburn suggests that perhaps this trinitarian framework is an impediment to properly understanding what the NT actually says in regards to Jesus’ death and to how he thought of his own death. The rest of the book, in which the author goes on to examine Jesus’ life and teachings in relation to his suffering and death, is an investigation into how Jesus and the NT authors viewed his death.

The second chapter tackles the question of what Jesus’ own thinking was in regards to his death. Did he see it coming? How did he interpret it? This chapter includes discussions of the work of Rudolf Bultmann, Leonardo Boff, and Maurice Casey. Wedderburn says:

At any rate, once Jesus had learnt of the Baptist’s fate it is thoroughly intelligible that he would have reflected on the implications of this for someone like himself whose preaching shared so much in common with that of the Baptist. (51)

Yet:

Firm evidence that Jesus himself reflected on his likely fate in this prophetic tradition is therefore hard to find, however plausible and probable the recent fate of the Baptist may make this suggestion. (52)

On the fate of prophets Wedderburn suggests that Matt. 11:12-14//Luke 16:16 might have bearing. He also looks at Jesus’ predictions of his passion in Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34 (and their parallels), as well as what Mark 10:45b (and its parallels) have on the question of whether Jesus viewed his death as salvific. Wedderburn also notes that “Jesus seems to have seen his impending suffering not as averting woes, but as inaugurating them” (56). This, of course, raises the question: how proper can it be, then, to talk of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice?

The third chapter discusses the different NT traditions of Jesus’ last meal, with Wedderburn saying that “it seems more prudent to examine the merits of the various versions, aware that none of them may have a monopoly on authenticity” (73). Further along he says that:

At any rate, the Synoptic Gospels and 1 Corinthians yield us, as already noted, two basic forms of the tradition, one in which Matthew and Mark are basically similar, and one where the longer text of Luke shows a marked similarity to the tradition that Paul presupposes in the Corinthian church. (75)

After examining the NT passages on Jesus’ last supper, Wedderburn offers up the following reconstructed form as possibly being the earliest form of Jesus’ words (and it basically corresponds to the shorter text of Luke):

And he said to them: ‘I have very much desired to eat this Passover meal with you before I must suffer. I will not eat it again till the meal finds its fulfillment in God’s kingdom.’ And he took the cup, gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and distribute it amongst yourselves. For I tell you: From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and distributed it to them with the words: ‘This is my body’. (77)

For the rest of this chapter Wedderburn investigates the questions of what exactly did Jesus mean by those words. Was the meal actually a Passover meal? Is the idea of atonement actually implicit in Jesus’ words? Wedderburn provides this interesting conclusion:

One needs be cautious about reading a soteriological significance into this particular meal and Jesus’ actions performed and words spoken on this occasion. It is true that there would have been a soteriological significance in many, if not all, of the meals that Jesus celebrated, particularly in the company of ‘sinners’ and social outcasts, if his table-fellowship symbolized that they were accepted into his fellowship and could expect to continue to enjoy that fellowship in God’s kingdom. Yet this meal was in this respect different, in that, as far as we know, most of those present, if not all, were members of Jesus’ closest circle of followers. And if one of them sinned by betraying, his participation in the meal was no pledge of salvation, but rather occasioned the dire warning of Mark 14.21 parr. Nor was the meal characterized by joy and celebration, but by foreboding and a sense of impending tragedy. To that extent this meal was less ‘soteriological’ or ‘salvific’ than previous ones during the earlier part of Jesus’ ministry. (86-87)

In regards to Jesus’ own view of his death, Wedderburn concludes in chapter four:

Having adopted a minimalist approach to the question of Jesus’ own interpretation of his death, I came to the conclusion that even if he were clear-sighted enough to see the dangers that were facing him, his purpose in taking his message to Jerusalem was precisely that, to take his message to Jerusalem. And that message was a call to his people to repent and return to their God and to do the will of that God, to welcome the coming of God’s reign among them. Any suggestion of his own death as atoning hardly fits into that pattern of thought. Nor, as we saw, does it fit easily together with Jesus’ reluctance expressed in in [sic] his prayer in Gethsemane to drink the cup of suffering that awaited him. Or at least there is no hint that the drinking of this cup was made any less bitter by the thought that others would be saved thereby. (105)

While I greatly enjoyed the first chapter where Wedderburn takes systematic theologians to task with some hard questions it never really seemed to be integrated with his conclusions throughout the rest of the book. Nevertheless, Alexander Wedderburn has provided a valuable study on the death of Jesus in the New Testament, particularly in regards to the question of how Jesus viewed his own death. Usually historical studies on the NT and modern systematic theology are two entirely separate worlds, so to see these two worlds brought together is a novel and welcomed endeavor.

 

Quick Book Review: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology

BarthpneumatologyTitle: The Spirit of God and the Christian Life: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology

Author: JinHyok Kim

Bibliographic info: 288 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy!

Two of my favorite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann and Jacques Ellul, show a clear influence from Karl Barth. Because of this I myself have naturally taken an interest in the theology of Barth. In my readings of Barth, I have come across on a few occasions a criticism such as this: “A problem with Barth’s theology is that it is not adequately trinitarian as it is held back by an underdeveloped pneumatology” (Robert Jenson even once quipped that Barth’s theology was more binitarian than trinitarian). This criticism is due to the fact that Barth died before he could finish writing the volume in his Church Dogmatics on the Holy Spirit. This is where JinHyok Kim enters the scene for his book presents an attempt at reconstructing what Barth’s fully developed pneumatology would have looked like.

There have been two important English studies on Barth’s pneumatology published in decades past: Philip Rosato’s The Spirit as Lord (1981) and John Thompson’s The Holy Spirit in the Theology of Karl Barth (1989). JinHyok Kim’s contribution, which is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Oxford, aims to show “that it is possible to read Barth as offering a robust Spirit theology, in which he attempted to rehabilitate human subjectivity and to facilitate ethics within a wider framework of God’s dealing with humanity and human response to God.”

The book breaks down into the following chapters:

  1. Introduction: Redemption, Pneumatology, and the Christian Life in Karl Barth
  2. Prayer, the Spirit, and Redemption: A Constructive Reading of Barth’s Pneumatology
  3. The Spirit and the Drama of Salvation in History
  4. The Spirit and the Revelation of the Word of God
  5. The Spirit and the Beauty of the Lord
  6. Conclusion: A Prayerful Seeking for the Fulfillment of God’s Promise

The introduction contains a good section on various modern receptions of Barth’s pneumatology. Kim looks at four types of modern critical appropriations of Barth’s Spirit theology: the first is the dangers of modalism and the evaporation of the Spirit’s personality; the second is pneumatology’s subordination to Christology and the lack of eschatological insights; the third is that there is no room for human autonomy and faith; and the fourth is insufficient reflections on history, nature, and the church. I’ve frequently encountered the charge that Barth had a modalistic view in his doctrine of the Trinity. Kim explains the issue this way:

Barth resisted using the term “person,” because this term might have implications of modern individualistic, psychological, and idealistic views of personhood. Instead, he opted for the German term Seinweise, which was translated as “mode of being” in English. When “person” was replaced by “mode of being,” it was inevitable that God would be understood as one personal Subject who exists in three modes of revelation – the Revealer as the Father, the revelation as the Son, and the revealedness as the Spirit. Many critics, however, have found that, because the role of revealedness is to unite the Revealer and the revelation, the bond between the two is already implied in their eternal loving relationship as the Father and the Son. In Barth’s theology, therefore, the Spirit is superfluous in the Godhead, or, at the very best, can be understood in an impersonal way.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on revelation in which Kim examines Barth’s theology of history within his doctrine of revelation, including a fine examination of the differences and similarities between Barth and Pannenberg. Kim demonstrates how Barth’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit bridges his theology of election and revelation.

Kim’s explication of the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer was also well done and quite beneficial. In regards to the topic of prayer, Kim actually coins two new terms – “pneumatic prayer” and “prayerful pneumatology” – which are derived from how Barth repeatedly links together the Spirit’s intercession with prayer (e.g. Romans 8).

The Spirit of God and the Christian Life: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology is not a general introduction to Karl Barth’s theology, thus if one does not have at least a modicum of familiarity with Barth’s thought (and the giants upon whose shoulders he stood), then you might not be able to fully appreciate this volume. However, if you are a fan of Barth and desire a fuller understanding of his pneumatology then this book is the perfect prescription. Kim provides numerous valuable insights into the role that the Spirit plays in Barth’s theology, specifically in the life of the Christian.

I am by no means well-versed on Barth’s theology. I’ve read his Evangelical Theology and Romans commentary, as well as some smatterings of his Church Dogmatics here and there. I am, however, quite interested in the great dialectician since he influenced two theologians I enjoy reading (Ellul and Moltmann). Most of what I learn about Barth is from literature written on him and his theology, and this book has certainly been the most helpful for explicating Barth’s theology of the Holy Spirit and I have learned a lot from it. If you’re a fan of Barth, I recommend you pick this volume up!

I will finish with this nice quote which summarizes what “theology” is to Barth:

For Barth, theology is not primarily a human construction or projection; rather each doctrine uniquely witnesses the triune God’s act of election, creation, reconciliation, and redemption in their unity.

Review: The UBS5 Greek NT

ubs5gnt

Publisher: Hendrickson, 2014.

Buy it at Amazon or straight from the publisher.

With thanks to Hendrickson for the review copy.

A sample chapter of the UBS5 can be seen here in PDF format.

I’ve been a fan of the Greek New Testament (GNT) ever since my wife bought me the NET-NA27 diglot back in 2008. Since that time I have amassed several GNTs, including several containing the Nestle-Aland (NA) text. I have never actually used a UBS version until now.

For the reader who is not well-versed in GNTs, there is no difference in the Greek base text of the UBS5 and NA28 editions, though they do differ a little bit when it comes to punctuation and paragraphing.

I read through the GNT and the LXX almost every day (currently I am working through Genesis, Psalms, Revelation, and the Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum). So I having been using the UBS5 quite a bit over the past few weeks and there are a few features in the UBS5 that make me favor it over my NA28 edition. But first, I will recap a few key changes that update the UBS5 from the UBS4:

  • Readings of papyri 117-127 are now included in the critical apparatus.
  • The discourse analysis tool has been revised.
  • The apparatus of textual decisions from modern Bible translations has been expanded.
  • The text and critical apparatus of the Catholic/General Epistles is from the Editio Critica Maior.

All great updates, especially the inclusion of the completed ECM text of the Catholic Epistles. I have the two-volume edition of the ECM for the Catholic Epistles, but it is great to have the shrunken down version of it in a portable GNT. Only the ECM text for the Catholic Epistles has been included in the UBS5 because that is all that has been completed for the ECM project so far (with the rest of the NT is projected to be completed by 2030).

Compared to the Greek text of the UBS4/NA27, the UBS5/NA28 edition has different variants in the following places: James 1:20; 2:3, 4, 15; 4:10; 1 Peter 1:6, 16 (x2); 2:5; 4:16; 5:1, 9, 10; 2 Peter 2:6, 11, 15, 18, 20; 3:6, 10, 16 (x2), 18; 1 John 1:7; 3:7; 5:10, 18; 2 John 5, 12; 3 John 4; and Jude 5, 18 (x2).

One aspect of the UBS5 edition that I prefer over the NA28 edition is the critical apparatus. I find the UBS apparatus to be much more valuable than the NA apparatus. Of course, “valuable” is a subjective judgment and others might rightly say that the NA apparatus is more valuable to them. But for me, I really like how the critical apparatus in the UBS gives you fewer variants but with greater depth, while the NA provides you with a greater scope of variants but less depth. There is nothing wrong with either approach; it just depends on what is more important to you. Personally, I much prefer the UBS approach as it is aimed more at translators, while the NA is aimed more for textual critics. And while I fancy myself an armchair NT textual critic, in my daily readings of the GNT I find the UBS apparatus more useful and valuable.

I also greatly appreciate how the UBS apparatus provides you with more information in regards to which early Christian writers support each variant reading, as well as the apparatus that shows what variant reading other modern English translations opted to take (including some important German, French, and Spanish versions).

Additionally, I really appreciate the dictionary in the UBS5 edition. None of my NA27 or NA28 editions have a dictionary in them, and while I have a good degree of proficiency with Hellenistic Greek, there are of course many instances where I cannot figure out what a word means (I obviously don’t know every Greek word and all of their forms!). Having a small dictionary containing all of the vocabulary of the GNT is a very useful feature!

The only pro I can see for my NA28 edition is that I like the feel and look of its blue cover better. But I ultimately don’t really care that much about a book’s cover and the black flexisoft version of the UBS5 I have will no doubt stand up better to use than a hardcover. Note: the UBS5 with dictionary also comes in a hardcover version (and a hardcover version without the dictionary).

All in all, the UBS5 is excellent and contains some great updates. I now read my UBS5 daily instead of my NA28. What else can I say apart from that!

Book Review: New Testament Language and Exegesis – A Diachronic Approach

NTcaragounisTitle: New Testament Language and Exegesis: A Diachronic Approach

Series: WUNT 323

Author: Chrys Caragounis

Bibliographic info: xiii + 311 + 96

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

To those who study New Testament Greek (beyond Mounce and Wallace) may be familiar with Caragounis’ first book on the Greek language, The Development of Greek and the New Testament. This volume, New Testament Language and Exegesis: A Diachronic Approach, is similar to that one in that it also attempts to examine the Greek of the NT by looking at it in the larger picture of the Greek language throughout the centuries. This volume consists of nine studies on a range of topics, covering issues ranging in scope from the broad to the very specific.

Chapter One (pp. 25-69) is on morphology and shows how the Greek of the NT has already noticeably changed from Attic and is on the inevitable route toward Neohellenic. This is demonstrated in how the language of the NT has excised words of Attic orthography and replaced them with words of other dialects or with neologisms. For example, the Attic γλῶττα is replaced with the NT form γλῶσσα, the Attic χάριν εἰδέναι was replaced with εὐχαριστῶ, and the Attic λεώς was replaced in the NT with λαός (those who know Modern Greek will probably recognize that the Attic form is preserved in the modern Greek word for boulevard, λεωφόρος). The chapter finishes with a look at επιουσιος – a new word from επι and ουσια – with the earliest extant appearance of it being in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Chapter Two (pp. 71-93) looks at the development of the case system, specifically how the genitive and accusative triumphed over the dative. Caragounis examines seven constructions that came into use after the Attic period, each of which substitutes for the dative (e.g. εις + accusative replacing εν + dative), with five of the constructions existing in the text of the NT and the other two springing up in Medieval times. Yet again, for those who know Ancient and Modern Greek, a very noticeable change is the absence of the dative case in the latter (except in some set phrases).

Chapter Three (pp. 95-112) is a study on the redundant use of personal and possessive nouns, which is especially seen in the Gospels (primarily Matthew). Caragounis classifies the redundant pronouns into three categories: clear instances where the pronouns are obviously redundant, borderline cases, and cases where there is a reason (e.g. rhetorical) that justifies the redundancy. Why the use of redundant pronouns in the NT? Caragounis calls it “linguistic inflation.” In other words, “Post-classical, Hellenistic Greek is the collapsing edifice of the Attic dialect. The stringency, the economy, the depth of meaning, the elegance, and the beauty of the Attic dialect are all falling apart. Words no longer mean what they used to mean. Thus, they need to be strengthened by extra pronouns”  (302).

Chapter Four (pp. 113-33) is on the confusion/interchangeability of the active and middle and the consequent pleonastic use of reflexive pronouns. In other words, sometimes in the NT there will be an instance of an active verb where one might have expected a middle verb (or vice versa), and there are other improper usages of reflexive pronouns with a middle verb. A couple instances of this occurring in the NT are Matt. 6:2 and 2 Cor. 11:2. Why was the reflexive pronoun put to use in this manner in the NT? Caragounis says it was due to “the lack of feeling for the true meaning of the middle – a voice or diathesis that had always proven difficult to master” (304).

Chapter Five (pp. 135-68) studies the confusion and interchange of the aorist with the perfect. Not only do the NT texts contain instances of the perfect tense where one might have expected an aorist, but there are also sentences where the two tenses are used in reference to the same subject. Caragounis provides as an example the phrase πέπρακεν καὶ ἠγόρασεν found in Matt. 13:46. Some translations (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) translate it as “sold and bought” (i.e. two simple past tenses, which typically reflect the Aorist), while others (JB, TEV, NAB) translate as “sells and buys” (both perfect and aorist are here understand as gnomic aorists). Caragounis notes that some people have tried to find “special meaning” in NT perfects so that the distinction found between the two tenses in Attic is also found in the NT. He says that while NT perfects do preserve their perfect meaning, this attempt to read the NT use of the aorist and perfect in an Attic manner is the result of “not being fully at home with the nature and extent of later linguistic developments.”

Chapter Six (pp. 171-88) is concerned with the peculiar use (in the LXX and NT) of the nominative where we would have expected the vocative. Chapter Seven (pp. 189-208) is on the use of certain particles (e.g. ἤ, ἦ μήν) in Classical Greek literature and the LXX.

Chapter Eight (pp. 209-35) is on a NT crux interpretum, which is, did Paul behave as an infant or imbecile, or as a gentle nurse (see 1 Thess. 2:7)? This chapter contains thorough linguistic and philological examinations of ἤπιος, νήπιος, ἐν βάρει εἶναι, and the ὀρφανός-(ἀπ)ορφανίζω group, as well as an investigation of the parallelism between 1 Thessalonians 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3. Caragounis shows how a myopic synchronic approach to the question leads to “unwarranted results.” Instead, he opts for the diachronic approach, allowing the NT text to be placed in a correct perspective and leading to the right philological and exegetical conclusions. Caragounis concludes: “[This study] leave[s] no doubt that the case for νήπιος has been based on an inadequate investigation and a misinterpretation of the evidence” (234). Later, in the book’s epilogue, he states:

…linguistic, philological, contextual, and theological considerations support the reading ἤπιος. Consequently, if Paul, contrary to all expectations, actually had written or dictated νήπιοι, he must have done so in complete disregard of Greek lexicology and grammar. (309)

Chapter Nine (pp. 239-98) does not discuss a grammatical category or problem but rather the sublimity and grandeur in NT discourse. It is an endeavor to look at the NT from a literary point of view. While the language of the NT may seem somewhat inadequate when compared to Classical literary Greek, it nevertheless occasionally reveals “great flashes of grandeur and sublimity”, thus making it rhetorically accomplished writing that “often attain[s] a high score on the scoring board of ancient rhetoric.

The book finishes with an Epilogue (pp. 299-311), bibliography and indices (pp. 314-409). In summary, Chrys Caragounis has provided a number of studies in this volume which examine the language and exegesis of the NT from a diachronic perspective. This volume ably shows that the more holistic approach of a diachronic methodology can greatly illuminate the language of the NT and provide more adequate answers to problems of the NT text. If you want to take your studies of NT Greek to the next level, I would highly recommend picking up this volume (as well as Caragounis’ previous volume).

 

Quick Book Review: The Vine and the Son of Man

vinesonofmanTitle: The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism

Series: Emerging Scholars

Author: Andrew Streett

Bibliographic info: 232 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the digital review copy.

The Vine and the Son of Man, a revised version of Andrew Streett’s doctoral dissertation, examines the interpretation and reinterpretation of Psalm 80 in early Judaism (in the Psalter, Daniel 7, Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism) and in early Christianity (in Mark, John 15, and the parable of the Wicked Tenants).

Streett’s thesis is simple:

The thesis of the study is (a) that Jewish and Christian interpreters found material in Psalm 80 pertaining to events at the end of the age, a time that some interpreters believed had already come upon them and their communities; and (b) that the meaning derived from Psalm 80 most often comes from the images of the vine (vv. 9-17) and the potentially messianic man (vv. 16b, 18), which because of the ambiguity of the text are open to a variety of interpretations.

Chapter One starts us of with an examination of Psalm 80 in its historical context. Streett himself sees the Psalm as stemming from the end of the Northern Kingdom and that it reminds Israel of Yahweh’s “former blessing on the twelve tribes and to plead for restoration through the leadership of a Davidic king.” Streett looks at various motifs found in the psalm e.g. creation and re-creation, exodus and a new exodus, the vine imagery, and the son of man. This chapter also contains a part on v. 15b being a later addition to the psalm.

Chapter Two sets Psalm 80 within the wider context of the Psalter. This includes a fascinating argument for the Psalter being deliberately designed and that the placement of this Psalm in Book III of the Psalter shows that the messianic and eschatological content found in nuce in its historical context becomes strengthened and even more explicit as its literary context is manipulated.”

Chapter Three attempts to connect the Danielic “son of man” imagery with that of Psalm 80 (with the primary connection being that of the beasts). Streett views the Danielic “son of man” as being “an exalted royal leader who plays the role of Adam as king and priest over a renewed nation and creation” and contends that “Daniel 7 is the first instance of eschatological and messianic interpretation of Psalm 80 by way of allusion.” He puts forth a vigorous case, but ultimately I found this the least convincing part of the book.

Chapter Four is on Psalm 80 within Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, which includes examining pseudo-Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2 Baruch, Leviticus Rabbah, and the Psalms Targum. I particularly enjoyed Streett’s argument showing how Psalm 80 was messianized during the Second Temple period, drawing upon the changes made in the text of the LXX to prove this.

Chapter Five is quite interesting because here the author attempts to show that Psalm 80 was critical to seeing the passion/suffering of the Christ to be essential (whereas the suffering of the Christ is typically thought to have been drawn from the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah and maybe Daniel 7).

The final three chapters then look at the possible intertextual connections between Psalm 80 and the New Testament. Chapter Six does this by looking at the Gospel of Mark. Chapter Seven hones in on the parable of the wicked tenants. Chapter Eight looks at the connections between Psalm 80 and John 15.1-8 (the parable of the vine). And then the book ends with the standard concluding chapter.

All in all, this was quite an informative study on Psalm 80, specifically on how it very well may have contributed to Jewish messianic expectations. If you’re interested in Jewish messianic expectations or the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, then this will be a valuable addition to your library.

Book Review: Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

cookTitle: Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

Series: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 327

Author: John Granger Cook

Bibliographic info: xv + 465 pp. + 55 pp.

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

The author of this book, John Granger Cook, has authored several articles on the topic of crucifixion, including such issues as the lex Puteolana (the law of Puteoli), the Palatine graffito, and so forth. Upon the request from Martin Hengel to revise his classic book on crucifixion, Cook found it expedient to write his new monograph on the subject.

Apart from Hengel’s book, two other important works on crucifixion are Crucifixion in Antiquity by Gunnar Samuelsson and David Chapman’s Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions on Crucifixion. Whereas Samuelsson’s work provides a focus on semantic research into crucifixion and Chapman’s provides a survey of Jewish and Christian attitudes towards it, Cook’s approach sees as of chief importance the need to read Greek texts that discuss crucifixion against the backdrop of Latin texts and actual Roman historical practice. Thus, Cook investigates the evidence of crucifixion by examining Latin texts and inscriptions together with the archaeological evidence (e.g. graffiti, the Arieti fresco, the calcaneum bone discovered with a crucifixion nail in Jerusalem, and so forth), and then once he has shed light on the meaning of Latin crucifixion terms (e.g. patibulum and crux), Cook turns towards the Greek texts and their crucifixion terminology.

In the Introduction (pp. 1-50), Cook begins by discussing definitions and methodology. He defines crucifixion as “‘execution by suspension’ is acceptable as long as one excludes impalement or hanging” (2), though notes that “it is impossible, of course, to completely exclude impalement in all cases that use crux, σταυρός (stauros) and the associated verbs, but explicit impalement is (textually) rare as a Roman punishment” (3). Furthermore, one must keep in mind that

Greek terminology for ‘cross’, ‘stake’, and ‘crucify,’ ‘impale,’ or ‘suspend’ is ambiguous at times. One must pay special attention to the context. The context is a reliable guide for determining if an act of suspension is a penal execution. During the Roman era there does not exist much doubt that suspension (i.e., crucifixion) was a frequent form of execution. (4)

Cook then looks at the Greek and Latin terminology for crucifixion. Some Greek terms he examines are σταυρός (pole, cross), σταυρόω (crucify), ανασταυρόω (crucify, suspend, impale), σκολόπς (stake, cross), ανασκολοπίζω (impale, crucify), κρεμάω and κρεμάνυμμι (suspend, crucify), and αποτυμπανισμός and αποτυμπανίζω (expose on a board/beam). And some Latin terms are Patibulum, crux, crucifigo, furca, and arbor infelix

Cook then concludes the introduction with the following summary:

The survey above does not encourage the researcher to demand a fundamental revision of the lexicons. There are no texts that describe explicit impalements (i.e., with details or additional semantic clues) or hangings (by a noose) of living bodies using σταυρός (stauros) and the associated verbs. Consequently, “to crucify” is still the preferred translation of the verbs when a text describes a person being execute, and “cross” or “pole” is the preferred translation of the noun. (50)

Chapter One (pp. 51-158) then takes up the task of examining the instances of crucifixion in Latin texts, which begins appearing in them during the second Punic war (218-201 BCE). Fifty-nine authors are looked at, from those of Quintus Ennius and Vitruvius Pollio, to those of Marcus Iunianus Iustinus and Hermetis Trismegisti. In summary of the Latin evidence, Cook says:

Latin texts provide good evidence for the practice of Roman crucifixion, not only because of the use of technical language such as crux and patibulum, but because of the details that often emerge that illuminate the practice of crucifixion. Only Seneca explicitly refers to impalement (twice), and his word of choice for that extreme penalty is stipes. (158)

Chapter Two (pp. 159-217) then discuss instances of Roman crucifixions, from the ear of the second Punic war to the time of Constantine. I was surprised to learn that there is a notable paucity of evidence for the Roman crucifixion of Christians, and even for Roman crucifixions in general there are many gaps of knowledge. For example, Tacitus mentions crucifixions several times, yet he never mentions any occurring in Palestine. If it wasn’t for Josephus telling us about crucifixions in Palestine, we would have a notable gap in the record. The following quote is pulled from the chapter’s summary:

The longest surviving narrative of anyone crucified by the Romans in antiquity is that of Jesus of Nazareth. Historical crucifixions per se seem to have been of little interest to Roman writers in the literature that has survived, with the exception of the crucifixion of Gavius, which Cicero mentioned frequently in his (never delivered) speech in prosecution of Verres. … Most of the juridical reasons for the crucifixions are commonplace: brigandage or political disturbance such as rebellion, slave revolts, disobedience of slaves, various crimes of soldiers including acts of disobedience, and piracy. (216)

Chapter Three (pp. 218-310) then examines the instances of crucifixion in Greek texts. While crucifixion was relatively rare in pre-Roman Greece (hanging and impalement were apparently not penalties used in Attic Greece), “crucifixion and related forms of execution have a rich and somewhat ambiguous history in Greek texts. Many are clear enough to indicate Roman crucifixions” (309).

Chapter Four (pp. 311-57) then tackles crucifixion in Hebrew and Aramaic texts, including sections looking at penal suspension in the culture of the Middle East and in the Muslim world.

Chapter Five (pp. 358-416) looks at crucifixion from the perspective of law and historical development. Emperor Constantine was responsible for the end of crucifixion in the Roman Empire, and the last known crucifixion was that of Calocerus in 335 are was probably at the direction of Constantine’s nephew Dalmatius. Of course, Constantine’s discontinuation of crucifixion was simply replaced by execution by other means (the furca and burning at the stake were favorites).

Chapter Six (pp. 417-49) then looks at the the New Testament and early Christianity. It goes without saying that the crucified Christ was a of central importance to the earliest Christians, from which arose much theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ death, e.g., the (possibly pre-Pauline phrase) θανατου δε σταυρου of the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2). Included in this chapter was an interesting section of the medical causes of death from crucifixion. To quote a part of it:

There are numerous medical hypotheses concerning the reason for an individual’s death on a Roman cross. One recent discussion by Matthew W. Maslen and Piers D. Mitchell lists the following possibilities that have been raised in the literature to explain the death of Jesus or “crucifixion in general”: “cardiac rupture, heart failure, hypovolaemic shock, syncope, acidosis, asphyxia, arrhythmia plus asphyxia, pulmonary embolism, voluntary surrender of life, did not actually die.”  (430)

One can merely conclude that individuals died from “different physiological causes” and that the orientation of the crucified individuals was also important. (435)

Another good section in this chapter was on the theology of the cross in the Gospel of Mark. Here are a couple of snippets:

Jesus’ cry of dereliction and the Greco-Roman material on the misery of crucifixion illuminate one another to a certain extent … Attempting to insert the entire psalm into Mark 15:34 fundamentally ignores the brutality of Roman crucifixion. (448)

Clearly results from Roman procedure are relevant for the interpretation of the NT. Although one cannot claim that there was one form of crucifixion used by Rome during the Republic and imperium, it is not difficult to find many threads that appear in many of the accounts, such as flogging. Hypotheses about the medical causes of death from crucifixion are too tenuous to formulate reliable conclusions.(448)

This volume ends with a brief Conclusion (pp. 450-52), eleven pages of images, and indices of ancient individuals, modern authors, and subjects. The following are a few interesting conclusions of the author’s:

There are no uses of σταυρόω or ανασταυρόω that refer to explicit impalements of living (or dead) bodies. By “explicit” I mean texts that have additional semantic clues that indicate impalement. (450)

Based on the methodology and linguistic results developed in the introduction and the rest of the work, it seems apparent that writing a history of crucifixion may not be possible. Near Eastern texts and images indicate that impalement was practice by cultures such as that of the Persians. Herodotus presumable was aware of this and probably used ανασκολοπίζω (and not ανασταυρόω) to refer sometimes to that penalty. He apparently was aware of another form of penalty used by the Persians, however, one that is closer to Roman crucifixion (the case of Sandoces in which he used ανασταυρόω ). (451-52)

Archaeological remains and some texts show that the ancient Greeks practice some form of execution in which individuals were nailed to boards or similar structures. It is also clear that the Greeks exposed individuals on a beam in various poses (standing or seated), and there are numerous depictions of the penalty on Attic vases. … Greek rulers such as Antiochus IV used crucifixion according to Josephus. Jewish authorities practice crucifixion in at least one instance [Alexander Jannaeus]. Beginning with the Second Punic War, it becomes clear that the Romans developed a form of crucifixion that remained in place until the reign of Constantine when it was replaced by the furca (fork), a form of execution that result in a quick death. (452)

Crucifixion was the fundamental servile supplicium (slave punishment) and this volume provides a great survey on its practice in Greco-Roman society. Research on crucifixion in the Mediterranean world can provide an important perspective for the study of the New Testament, particularly as it relates to a theologia crucis (theology of the cross) and to a deeper understanding of the “scandal” of the cross (Gal. 5:11).

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