Friday, October 8, 2010

Gezer 2011 - Sign up Now!

I am recruiting for the 2011 dig at Tel-Gezer. The dates are June 13 to July 15.

Ashland Theological Seminary is a consortium member of the Tel-Gezer Excavation and Publication Project. In 2009 ATS sent eight students to excavate at Gezer for five weeks (See Photo above). It was a very good experience. This is a well-run dig that is education focused.

We began EARLY each day so as to avoid the hottest part of the day. We left the Tel everyday at noon for lunch. After a few hours off and a dip in the pool, we washed pottery and heard lectures on a variety of topics including archaeology, the history and geography of ancient Israel, and life in modern Israel and Palestine. On the weekends we traveled around the country learning more as we visited various sites associated with biblical events.

If you have never been to Israel this a good opportunity to spend a quality amount of time in the country for less than what it would cost for a ten day tour. If you have never been on a dig you need to participate at least once. If you are minister it will change the way you read the Bible. If you are professor you definitely need to go.

The cost for ATS student is $2,500 plus airfare. Also, you can receive credit towards a biblical studies elective at ATS for no additional cost.

If you are not an ATS student the cost is $300 more.

We will be finalizing our plans in February so if you want to join me next year let me know soon.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who is your God? Take the Test

This is the focus of a new book by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader entitled America's Four Gods: What We Say About God and What That says about us (Oxford University Press, 2010). In this volume the authors use original survey data, interviews and something called "the God Test" to determine how Americans view God. They boiled down their results into four different categories of God. They are the authoritative God, the benevolent God, the critical God and the distant God. Here is how they explain the categories. :

What distinguishes believers in an Authoritative God is their strong conviction that God judges human behavior and sometimes acts on that judgment. Indeed, they feel that God can become very angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly. Americans with this perspective often view human suffering as the result of Divine Justice. Approximately 31% of Americans believe in an Authoritative God.

Like believers in the Authoritative God, believers in a Benevolent God see His handiwork everywhere. But they are less likely to think that God judges and punishes human behavior. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn individuals. Believers in this God feel that whether sinners or saints, we are all are free to call on the Benevolent God to answer our prayers in times of need. Approximately 24% of Americans believe in a Benevolent God.

Believers in a Critical God imagine a God that is judgmental of humans, but rarely acts on Earth, perhaps reserving final judgment for the afterlife. The Critical God appears to hold a special place in the hearts of those who are the most in need of help yet are denied assistance. Approximately 16% of Americans believe in a Critical God.

Believers in a Distant God view God as a cosmic force that set the laws of nature in motion and, as such, the Distant God does not really “do” things in the world or hold clear opinions about our activities or world events. In fact, believers in a Distant God may not conceive of God as an entity with human characteristics and are loathe to refer to God as a “he.” When describing God, they are likely to reference objects in the natural world, like a beautiful day, a mountaintop, or a rainbow rather than a human-like figure. These believers feel that images of God in human terms are simply inadequate and represent na├»ve or ignorant attempts to know the unknowable. Approximately 24% of Americans believe in a Distant God.

I took the test and apparently believe in a critical God. But I may have over thought some of the questions. Take the God Test and let me know your results. You can also take a test that asks you what God looks like, but I found this less interesting.

Let me know your results.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

God and Sex: What does the Bible really say?

This is a topic that is often front and center in American society. Over the centuries laws have been enacted, debates have raged, and court battles waged on a variety of issues related to sex. At one time it was not only illegal to commit adultery in most states, it was also illegal for married couples to express their sexual love in ways that were not legislated.

The Bible has often been used to support various aspects of the debate. And not just by pastors and their flock. As this current political season will demonstrate, politicians also use the Bible in order to "stake out" their position on the various issues. The current hot topic issue is, of course, homosexuality.

My purpose today is not to weigh-in on the sexuality debate, but to point out that often times those who are quoting what the Bible says about sex have either not read it or did not understand it (of course we could say this about a host of issues). For example, young boys were (still are?) often warned against masturbation since this was the sin of Onan in Genesis 38:8-10 (also called Onanism). The problem, of course, is that in the story Onan is NOT masturbating, but practicing coitus interruptus. In fact, there is nothing in the Bible about masturbation. One could talk about lust, but not masturbation.

In an interesting interview with the Boston Globe, Michael Coogan talks about his new book God and Sex: What the Bible Really says. He is also goes through a series of questions with the interviewer where he points out that some things we think are in the Bible are not and how at other times the focus is not really on sex, but something else.

Here are a few of the things he points out:

  • Monogamy is not mandated in the Bible, in fact polygamy is more the norm.

  • Abortion is not mentioned in Bible

  • Views on divorce depend on which Gospel you read

  • Jesus never mentions homosexuality

The above are oversimplified and I am sure that, given the time, Coogan would explain in more detail what he means. And, to be fair, one cannot accept or dismiss something in the Bible simply because it is not explicitly stated. The task of exegesis and theological refection is much more complicated than using the Bible like a phone book or an answer key to a test. One should not presume that you can simply open the Bible and find the definite answer on a topic. Such an approach shows a patent failure to understand the nature of the Bible.

But whether you agree of disagree with Coogan, he does raise some important issues that should be considered by those who use the Bible. Coogan argues that everyone uses the Bible selectively and he is correct. He also faults biblical scholars for not working hard enough to inform the public debate. I have to agree with him again. Too often we are focused on our work with not much thought on how it informs society as a whole.

So what do you think about Coogan's efforts? I am not looking to debate his stances on various issues of sexuality, that is not the purpose of this blog. But I am curious about his complaint that the Bible is used improperly or ignorantly. Could we do better? If he is right, how then should the Bible inform our views on societal issues?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaching Romans

Well it is another new term and I am teaching Romans again this year. This is one those courses that all seminary students should be required to take. Romans is a complex, difficult book and it requires some deft handling. Anyone who tells you they have got the whole epistle figured out is probably selling something.

Luckily I have some wonderful teaching assistants to help me. I bring the class some of the most experienced teachers in the form of textbooks and commentaries.

Once again I will be using Luke Timothy Johnson's Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2001). Johnson does a superb job at boiling the epistle down into digestible sections. He not only covers the letter, but also gives attention to some of them more important debates and aspects of interpretation.

Following close behind (if not out in front in my notes) will be J.D.G. Dunn's two volume commentary (Word, 1988). For expert exegesis in the area of the New Perspective on Paul, Dunn's commentary is still unbeatable. And for Dunn theology matters as much as history.

But in case I overlook balancing out my sources I also include Peter Stuhlmacher (T & T Clark, 1994), who is going to provide something closer to the standard Lutheran interpretation. Complementing him is the Jesuit scholar Joseph Fitzmyer (Anchor, 1993). Although not as detailed and theological in format as Dunn, Fitzmyer cannot be beat for linguistic and historical insights. Dunn is a master of controlling secondary literature and Fitzmyer fills the same spot for the primary sources. I can't imagine studying Romans without both of them.

Along with these are some older favorites like C. K. Barrett (Blacks, 1957 repr Hendrickson, 1991) and C. E. B. Cranfield (T & T Clark, 1975). Both of whom, incidentally, still live in Durham although both are at least 90 and older!

Finally, this will be the first year that I will add Robert Jewett's commentary (Fortress, 2007) to the list. The last time I taught Romans it was fresh out and I had not been able to get my hands on it. At 1140 pages this is Jewett's magnum opus (though read Dunn's review).

Of course I use a variety of other sources, but these are some of the best available. I suppose that I will end up posting something about Romans at least once over the course of the new term.

Which books/commentaries/articles do you find most helpful when studying or teaching Romans?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Do we have too many translations?

That seems to be the gist of a recent article in Christianity Today entitled Good News Glut. The article is about how the release of the Common English Bible brings more clutter to an already crowded translation market.

In the article Ken Walker points out that no one seems to know exactly how many English versions of the Bible exist. The American Bible Society says 32, Christian Book Distributors offers 50 and Paul Wenger at Phoenix Seminary says there were nearly 100 in 1950 and that the number has probably doubled by now.

I am not sure if these are all translations or versions. I doubt there are 100 different English translations. But when you throw in the various designer study Bibles that are on the market I guess it is possible there are that many versions. (Update: Jeremy tells me that Rick Mansfield lists a number of available English Bibles up to 2005)

With so many Bibles you would think people would be happy. But Wegner is not. In the article he is quoted as saying "It may be doing more damage than good. It's gotten to the point that people are making money". And Leland Ryken of Wheaton College ( a member of the ESV translation team) says "With the proliferation of Bibles, the public has become confused."

Now I want to be careful with the above quotes since I know too many people (including myself) who have been misquoted. But they do raise some interesting points.

Bibles are big business. It is difficult to determine exact numbers, but a quick scan of a Christian bookstore (those that still exist), Amazon or your local Walmart will reveal that there is almost as much choice in Bibles as there is Baskin Robbins ice cream. The question is, do we really need all these flavors?

Now, by way of disclosure I need to reveal that I am one of the Common English Bible translators. I translated the book of Judith in the Apocrypha. But I also was a bit unsure about the whole project. And my biggest question before I agreed to participate was "do we need another translation." In the end, I agreed to do it because I thought it was important that there be another Protestant Bible available that included the Apocrypha. The NRSV also includes those books, but they are not found in the NAS, NIV, ESV, NLT, or the Message (although I admit it would be interesting to read them in the Message). So, since most of the commonly used translations do not include the Apocrypha, I signed on. And yes, I was paid. Satisfactorily, but by no means handsomely.

But I am still nagged by the question, do we need so many translations, let alone so many versions. In the article Ryken makes the statement that the CEB's title is ironic since the "numerous versions have created a lack of common understanding of scripture." Perhaps he is right. In some cases you can open five different translations of a verse and read it five different ways. I wonder if it is really helping people to get the sense of what the Bible is saying.

The availability of multiple Bibles is not a new one. There have been numerous English versions before and after the 1611 KJV. But the number of Bibles produced in the 20th and 21st centuries has certainly overshadowed anything previously. The question is, though, do we need them? Are we producing and collecting Bibles the same way we do other collectible items? Have market forces come to dictate which version/translation the faithful read?

What do you think? Do we have too many translations? Is money a factor?