Friday, October 21, 2016

"Greek for Everyone" (Book Review)

I am reviewing the work Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application by A. Chadwick Thornhill (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016). Dr. Thornhill is currently the chair of theological studies and assistant professor of apologetics and biblical studies at Liberty University School of Divinity. The parenthetical numbers below will constitute specific references to page numbers in his book.

Chapter 1 discusses overall language learning, and particularly what's involved in acquiring knowledge of ancient Koine Greek. Chapter 2 reviews the big picture of language. What does it take to do effective interpretation of biblical passages? Is "knowing Greek" enough? Maybe one needs to know the "big picture" first. Thornhill defines the "big picture of language" as "words do not have meaning" (11). For instance, the denotation of "cat" or "bank" is established by context. A cat could be a "four-legged feline" or just "a cool guy." The surrounding words, syntax, and literary setting of a term like "cat" will help to ascertain just what the term means. In a word, we need a context or usus loquendi to fill out the big picture of language.

Chapter 3 teaches new Greek students about phrases, clauses, and conjunctions. Thornhill defines the following terms: sentence, subject, predicate, preposition, and phrase. His explanation for prepositional phrases and their objects is brief, but helpful. The account in Greek that Thornhill summons forth to illustrate how prepositions function in Koine Greek is Romans 8:1, 2. To elucidate participial phrases (phrases that contain verbal adjectives), he employs Matthew 8:1 and John 4:10. Finally, to help readers understand infinitive phrases (phrases that contain verbal nouns), we find examples taken from Matthew 5:17 and Philippians 1:21. This chapter includes an enlightening distinction that's made between coordinating conjunctions (paratactic) and subordinating conjunctions (hypotactic).

Learning an ancient language normally takes resources in order to master one's study of the language. Chapter 4 of Greek for Everyone provides some tools that might be helpful, even though not all Greek teachers will agree with some of the recommendations outlined in the chapter. Thornhill appears to have no problem with students employing interlinears: he suggests a number of electronic resources to access free interlinears. John 1:1 is wielded in this case, to illustrate how an interlinear might look. Strong's Concordance numbers are even displayed and said to be "useful" (31). However, Greek purists will undoubtedly demur or look askance at this suggestion. His recommendation for lexicons will probably fare much better. I agree that serious students ought to buy BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature) and Louw-Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains). Furthermore, a new Cambridge Greek-English Lexicon will be published in 2017/2018. Nonetheless, lexicons just like other resources must be utilized judiciously.

Other things that one needs to know about Greek are noun cases. Chapter 6 introduces the nominative accusative, and vocative cases. John 1:1c again finds its way into the discussion, and from the notable text, we learn that the passage has a Greek conjunction, a noun without an article (i.e., a noun used anarthrously and predicatively), a third-person singular stative verb, and a noun coupled with the article, which means that the nominative construction identifies the verb's subject (46).

Greek also has genitive and dative noun cases. Chapter 7 outlines different types of genitives: many examples are supplied to assist the nascent Greek student. What is the difference between subjective genitives and objective genitives? What is a dative of association or a dative of cause? This chapter offers clarifications on this subject, and Thornhill gives a healthy warning about understanding datives and other Greek cases.

There are more chapters that deal with Greek syntax. Chapter 8 covers Greek articles, pronouns, adjectives, and prepositions whereas Chapter 9 switches to (Independent) Indicative-Mood Verbs. Conversely, Chapter 9 reviews (Independent) Imperative-Mood Verbs; speakers employ imperatives to relay commands that could be general or emphasize "some aspect of duration" (87). The chapter, like some of the others, is fairly short by design.

Next comes (Dependent) Subjunctive-Mood Verbs (Chapter 11), (Dependent) Greek Infinitives in Chapter 12, and (Dependent) Greek Participles in Chapter 13. The last-mentioned chapter builds on earlier material regarding participles. Now the student learns about present participles, aorist participles, perfect participles, adjectival participle functions, adverbial participle functions, and verbal participle functions. See Acts 5:41; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Peter 2:18. This summary might sound overwhelming at first, but Greek for Everyone has a way of making complex subjects fairly understandable.

Since I've previously studied many books on Greek morphology and syntax, the part of the book that appealed to me was Chapters 14-18. On these pages, Thornhill returns to the "big picture," discloses how students might compare English translations, explains how to bridge contexts, and how to undertake word studies in a responsible manner. The final chapter attempts to synthesize all of the material presented hitherto. The book also contains appendices, notes, a glossary, and indices.

Greek for Everyone is simply written, accessible, and abstains from being too wordy. Additionally, the author does not fear treading new paths as he endeavors to help students and teachers of Koine Greek.

Baker Books provided my complimentary copy of Greek for Everyone, and they sent the book without expecting me to give a positive review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Brief Remarks About "The Layperson's Introduction to the Old Testament" (Robert B. Laurin)

I once taught an Old Testament course for Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) along with a separate New Testament class. For the OT course, our department used The Layperson's Introduction to the Old Testament by Robert B. Laurin (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1991 [1970]). The decision to change books was eventually made by the powers that be and CVCC religion instructors now employ a work by Jerry Sumney that covers both the Old and New Testament in one volume (The Bible). However, I can't help but recall those fun days when we taught Old Testament classes with Laurin's book.

Most of my students hated The Layperson's Introduction, and it wasn't exactly my favorite book either. Like all writings, Laurin's intro has its own agenda, and he makes numerous comments that stirred avid discussion in my classes. I guess his agenda just did not comport with most of those taking my Old Testament class, but the chief reason that administrators and other instructors wanted a change from Laurin is because the work became outdated. The author died in 1977. So the date of publication for my copy is 1991 whereas Sumney's introduction to the Bible is 2014.

I inwardly and publicly wrestled with Laurin's publication when teaching Old Testament. For instance, his discussion regarding Ecclesiastes is filled with holes, in my opinion. He claims that the author of Ecclesiastes wants his readers to "Forget God and trust in the moment; that is all that is real and dependable" (page 101). How he gets that impression from the Congregator (Qoheleth) is beyond me. Moreover, Laurin asserts that the Congregator assumes, "unlike the rest of the Old Testament (except for Proverbs 30:1-4), that God is unknowable and unrelated to humanity. There is no communication from the divine (3:11)." See page 101.

So Ecclesiastes 3:11 is supposed to buttress the idea that God doesn't communicate with humankind? Read the text for yourself, research its contents, and then see if you get that idea from the verse.

The other incredible part of Laurin's commentary on Ecclesiastes is when he claims that Qoheleth is an agnostic philosopher. After all, the writer is not denying God's existence, "but only denying that God's ways and purposes can be determined by humans" (101). To label the writer of Ecclesiastes as "agnostic" because he refuses to believe that puny mortals can shape or determine God's purposes simply befuddles the mind. I would also encourage those inclined to agree with Laurin to consult Eccl 12:13.

While I have major issues with many aspects of Laurin's book, I did enjoy his treatment of Hebrew poetry on pages 80-83. All things considered, I'm thankful for the cessation of an era at CVCC.

Isaiah 66:19 (Javan and Tubal)

Isa 66:19 (NWT 1984) reads:

"And I will set among them a sign, and I will send some of those who
are escaped to the nations, [to] Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, those drawing
the bow, Tubal and Javan, the faraway islands, who have not heard a
report about me or seen my glory; and they will for certain tell about
my glory among the nations."

"I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who escape to the nations—to Tarʹshish, Pul, and Lud, those who draw the bow, to Tuʹbal and Jaʹvan, and to the faraway islands—who have not heard a report about me or seen my glory; and they will proclaim my glory among the nations" (2013 Revision).

There are a number of important points contained in this verse. But one thing that has long struck me when reading this verse is what "Javan" means.

John D.W. Watts (Isaiah 34-66 Word Biblical Commentary, page 365) says
that Javan is in Greece. Insight on the Scriptures (Vol 1:1257) which
is published by the WTBTS also has an informative entry on Javan,
noting that Javan is identified as the progenitor of the ancient
Ionians, which some have called "the parent tribe of the Greeks." The
poet Homer uses Iaones and applies it to the early Greeks while the
name Jawanu begins to appear in Assyrian inscriptions around the 8th
century B.C.E.

The Insight book also points out that, in time, the name Ionia was narrowly applied to Attica, to the western coast of Asia Minor, and the adjacent isles belonging to the Aegean Sea. Similar phraseology (as found in Isa 66:19) also can be discovered in Joel 3:4-6, Zech 9:13, and Ezek 27:13. Please consult the Insight book for further discussion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Christian Physicalism (A Defense)

I wouldn't say that physicalism fails to explain consciousness; it is just not clear how physicality brings about consciousness. A posteriori methods only supply probable conclusions, and the scientific method is a relatively slow process. There are many false ideas that science has demolished over time; even those concepts that people once thought could not be viewed any other way. Think of how much we've learned in the last two hundred years regarding gravity, subatomic particles, light, energy, thermodynamics, neuroscience, depression, mood disorders, and pain management. So I believe it's a little hasty to think dualism already has won the day. Additionally, just reading the literature on mind reveals that dualism has not fully explained consciousness either. Dualism only gives possible explanations for how mind-body interaction might work or it supplies potential explanations for what brings about conscious states? I don't know of any study that has shut the book (so to speak) on these questions.

My understanding about C-fibers is that they only partly tell us how pain works: much more is involved in pain sensations than C-fiber stimulation and the transmission of pain. For example, joint pain (gout or osteoarthritis) seems to be clearly brought about by physical factors--this kind of pain can be explained by strictly physical factors (inflammation of joints, depletion of cartilage and lubricating fluid in the joints or a buildup of uric acid, as the case may be). When someone asserts that mentality translates physical inputs into pain, he/she is making an assumption that the mental is somehow qualitatively different from the physical. However, that is yet to be proved.

1) I respectfully disagree that Jehovah's existence rules out a world of matter (a purely sensible world) that he could have produced to stand over against the spiritual realm. It's possible to have a world like ours completely governed by the laws of physics, then have another realm that differs qualitatively from the material sphere. I reiterate that the type of physicalism I'm talking about is restricted to the material universe and the human sphere. My version of physicalism also does not rule out divine or angelic activity.

2) Free will remains a mystery for dualists and physicalists alike. Dualists usually appeal to some immaterial faculty to explain free will (a soul or immaterial spirit), but the immaterial faculty proposed by dualists raises new questions along with how this faculty is supposed to interact with the physical world that includes brains and bodies. We also know that genetics, environment, brain chemistry and wiring, upbringing and other factors shape and condition our decision-making abilities. But dualists assert that free will emanating from a non-physical "thing" (res) is supposed to override all of these factors and act outside of the universe's causal continuum. How exactly does it all work? Furthermore, an immaterial faculty does not guarantee that we'll have free will since the spirit/soul itself could also be fully determined by God or some other agent.

3) Supervenience or some kind of physical theory is the most likely explanation for "mental" phenomena. Think about it. We have reduced water to H2o, heat has been reduced to "energy in transit from a high temperature object to a lower temperature object," and sound is "a mechanical wave that results from the back and forth vibration of the particles of the medium through which the sound wave is moving." If supervenience possibly occurs with all of these examples, then why does it not occur with consciousness? It's also possible to explain instincts, emotions, feelings, memory, and thinking in terms of brain activity. The one nagging problem (chiefly) is subjectivity. Maybe our nervous system and somatic input to the brain explains why we can reference things in first-person ways: reductionism or Christian physicalism cannot be ruled out yet.

4) Finally, physicists have not yet developed a grand unified theory or theory of everything that unites the quantum world with the macrocosm. Does that mean we will never understand how the subatomic world interacts with the cosmos writ large? Does dualism explain how it all works? Those still appear to be hasty conclusions for me.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Sabbath and Torah (Law) Were Only Given to Israel

One thing we need to keep in mind is that the Decalogue is an example of communal rule, even though people are wont to universalize these commands. In other parts of the Torah, we also see how Jehovah particularly gave the divine commands to Israel only. I will illustrate the communal nature of the Decalogue by using the Sabbath law:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exod 20:8-11).

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. ‘So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed" (Exod 31:12-17 NASB).

'Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day (Deut 5:12-15 NASB).

Declaring His words to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He hath not done so to any nation, As to judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye Jah! (Ps 147:19-20 YLT)

Compare Exod 16.

Intelligibility and the Trinity Doctrine

It seems that the Trinity doctrine cannot be formulated or stated adequately with fully intelligible sentences.

William Hasker maintains that an intelligible statement "must be expressible in grammatically well-formed sentences" and it "should not be contradictory or otherwise logically impossible" (God, Time, and Knowledge, p. 146-147). He also observes that an intelligible proposition is an assertion that can be rationally accounted for, by means of inferential or non-trivial relations of ideas.

The Trinity doctrine does not appear to be "intelligible," when judged by Hasker's definition. Admittedly, he claims that "intelligibility" is person-relative (not the same for everybody). While I agree with Hasker to an extent, since what some people think is intelligible might not be readily understood by others, the idea of person-relative intelligibility is questionable on another front. After all, most everybody can agree that some utterances simply are not intelligible, no matter what anyone thinks. For instance, that a2 + b2 = f2. Additionally, are there not some utterances that might be intelligible in se even though most of us fail to make sense of them?

In Logic and the Nature of God, a Trinitarian logician named Stephen T. Davis who believes that the Trinity is orthodox still voices these concerns:

"So I am not saying that the mystery of 'three in one' cannot in principle be explained or rationalized or is such that for any phi, the Trinity is not phi. Perhaps even some future theologian will be able to produce conceptual categories adequate to explain it. All I claim is that it is mysterious to us now" (p. 142).

Davis suggests that the Trinity will not be mysterious to humans forever. One day, he insists, we will understand the doctrine fully, as God now completely understands us. But at present, Davis asserts, there are evidently no satisfactory conceptual categories that facilitate how to articulate the Trinity doctrine intelligibly; therefore, it seems that the doctrine might not be intelligible now as Hasker defines the terminology above. Most importantly, the Bible is completely silent respecting God's so-called triune being, and it presents a contrary view throughout its many inspired pages.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"A Discourse Analysis of Colossians 2:16-3:17" (Article Link)

Decalogue as Embodiment of Torah (Mark Rooker)

The Ten Commandments have been viewed within Judaism as the essence of the Torah. Many have noted that all 613 laws of the Torah correspond to the 613 letters of the Ten Commandments in Exod 20, hence the Decalogue appears to represent the embodiment of all laws and statutes of the Pentateuch. Since the first century BC, the Ten Commandments have been regarded as a summary of biblical law or as headings for all its categories.

Rooker, Mark. The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 327-330). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rooker, Mark. The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 326-327). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Maimonides and Torah

He is certainly not the last word, but Maimonides is still authoritative. See

The mitzvot given to Moses at Mount Sinai were all given together with their explanations,4 as implied by [Exodus 24:12]: "And I will give you the tablets of stone, the Torah, and the mitzvah."

"The Torah" refers to the Written Law; "the mitzvah," to its explanation. [God] commanded us to fulfill "the Torah" according to [the instructions of] "the mitzvah."5 "The mitzvah" is called the Oral Law.

כל המצות שניתנו לו למשה בסיני בפירושן ניתנו. שנאמר ואתנה לך את לוחות האבן והתורה והמצוה. תורה זו תורה שבכתב. והמצוה זו פירושה. וצונו לעשות התורה על פי המצוה. ומצוה זו היא הנקראת תורה שבעל פה.

Moses, our teacher, personally transcribed the entire Torah before he died. He gave a Torah scroll to each tribe and placed another scroll in the ark as a testimonial, as [Deuteronomy 31:26] states: "Take this Torah scroll and place it [beside the ark…] and it will be there as a testimonial."

כל התורה כתבה משה רבינו קודם שימות בכתב ידו. ונתן ספר לכל שבט ושבט וספר אחד נתנהו בארון לעד. שנאמר לקוח את ספר התורה הזה ושמתם אותו וגו'.

"The mitzvah" - i.e., the explanation of the Torah - he did not transcribe.6 Instead, he commanded it [verbally] to the elders, to Joshua, and to the totality of Israel,7 as [Deuteronomy 13:1] states: "Be careful to observe everything that I prescribe to you." For this reason, it is called the Oral Law.

והמצוה שהיא פירוש התורה לא כתבה אלא צוה בה לזקנים וליהושע ולשאר כל ישראל. שנאמר את כל הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם אותו תשמרו לעשות וגו'. ומפני זה נקראת תורה שבעל פה.

Even though the Oral Law was not transcribed, Moses, our teacher, taught it in its entirety in his court to the seventy elders. Elazar, Pinchas, and Joshua received the tradition from Moses.

Scriptures About the Love of Money or Greed

1 Timothy 3:3; 6:9-10; Lk. 16:14; 2 Tim. 3:2; Eccl. 5:1ff; Eccl. 7:12; Prov. 30:6-8; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Mt. 6:33-34; Luke 12:15.

Persistence Conditions (Corcoran)

Many things persist, and that includes human memory. But in order to understand persistence conditions, we should make a conceptual distinction between personal and impersonal identity. The persistence conditions for something impersonal (X) are different for something/someone personal (call the personal entity, S).

Kevin Corcoran illustrates persistence conditions for X by using the example of a banana. X, in this case, may be green at one time, yellow at another, and brown or black at yet another. However, X is still the same banana or the same X in each case. What permits me to make such an assertion?

Rene Descartes gives an example of wax in his work Meditations. Even if we melt the wax (X), something remains that lets us know it's the same parcel of matter, even if melted wax does not have the same properties as non-melted wax. What are the persistence conditions for bananas and for wax?

However we answer that question, Corcoran reasons that persistence conditions for persons (S) apparently exist too. Some suggestions for what makes a person (S) the same at T1, T2 . . . Tn are the soul theory, memory theory, the body theory, and the illusion theory. All of these discussions are framed within the context of Leibniz's absolute identity theory. There is no unanimous answer on the persistence conditions for X or S.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Matthew 6:9b-c (Betz and the Divine Name)

Matt. 6:9b-c reads:


I am primarily interested in how one might undeerstand the sentiments of 6:9c. What is meant when someone petitions God the Father to sanctify His name? H.D. Betz suggests that the request could either mean (1) That God is the implied subject who is being asked to sanctify His name (the Jewish idea of passivum divinum) or (2) Human worshipers are the subject (the worshipers of Jehovah God are asking Him to ensure that we humans sanctify His name).

Someone once associated John 12:28 with Matt. 6:9, which appears to show that God is the implied subject in Matt. 6:9c. This example also illustrates that certain exegetical problems aren't solvable by grammar alone. Betz is inclined to say that there is no easy answer to this question, and that the passage may be a case of deliberate ambiguity: "Which of these possibilities is the right one and whether we must make a choice of one over the other is difficult to say . . . Since prayer language tends to be general, one need not decide on only one of the possibilities of interpretation. Probably all shades of meaning are intended, or at least suggested" (Betz 389-390).

In the end, however, Betz admits that God must ultimately be the subject of
the Pater Noster prayer since Jesus follows the first petition with a second
concerning the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, the OT background of this verse strongly indicates that God is the subject who will sanctify, magnify, and make holy His peerless name (Ezek. 38:23).

In Ezek. 20:9, 41 we read: "But I acted for the sake of my name, that it
should not be profaned in the sight of the nations . . . I will manifest my
holiness among you in the sight of the nations."

These OT verses coupled with John 12:28 and the context of Matt. 6:9 point
to God as the One who will hallow His name.

See Betz, Hans D. The Sermon on the Mount (Hermeneia Series). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1995.