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Review: The Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew

I’m about halfway through this book, and I can say without hesitation that it is the worst language book I have ever had the misfortune to use. It is clear that Webster wrote the book as a complement to his own lectures, and it is possible it works better in that context.1 As a standalone text, however, the book is remarkably badly done. The problems are manifold.

Webster often uses terms without explaining them, or explains them only after he has been using them for the majority of a chapter. Especially when introducing terms almost certain to be unfamiliar to the reader, this is terrible form. A case in point: Webster spends three or four pages discussing the morphological differences between stative and fientive verbs before he defines the two—despite the fact that “fientive” is a term used almost exclusively for Hebrew and therefore certainly outside the knowledge of first-year students. This is typical of his usage throughout the book.

Similarly, Webster will sometimes provide the most useful high-level explanations only after having led the student through the lowest level of details sans any context whatsoever. For example, rather than giving a brief overview of the verb system and then introducing specific patterns within it, Webster provides the overview at the end of a chapter full of nitty-gritty details of one of the verb forms. This gets it completely backwards.

Webster focuses on morphology to the exclusion of actual usage. His examples of usage are few and brief, while his discussions of the changes are lengthy and overwrought. Morphology is incredibly important, and Hebrew morphology is admittedly complex. However, complex changes in word structure are difficult to remember when one has something to which to attach them mentally. The task becomes nearly impossible for most students when the morphological rules are left in the abstract.

The exercises are often frustratingly difficult and obtuse, not least because Webster (or whoever wrote the exercises on his behalf) frequently includes vocubulary terms and grammatical patterns that have (a) not yet been defined or explained, (b) been defined in a single off-hand reference and are not available in reference pages (especially frustrating for vocabulary), or (c) are exceptions to the established patterns, and no explanation is supplied. Nearly every set of exercises contains at least one of these issues, and most contain multiple examples.

Webster’s approach to learning vocabulary is painful, to say the least. He frequently groups similar-sounding but entirely-unrelated words in the same list. He sometimes provides the same word in different forms in different vocabulary lists, and does not note that they are the same word. In the first chapter, apparently to complement his own particular teaching approach, he lists the vocabulary in no particular order at all—not grouped by word type, and not alphabetized. In all subsequent chapters, the words are alphabetized—except when they are separated by word type. As noted above, he sometimes provides words in discussions in the chapter, but does not include them in the vocabulary lists, and then includes them in the exercises.

The typography and layout of the text is horrifyingly amateurish. The book seems to have been printed directly from Microsoft Word manuscripts, left entirely unadjusted: it is on 8½×11ʺ pages, set in 12 pt Times New Roman double spaced. There is no vertical rhythm whatsoever, and no visual hierarchy to speak of: the headings are all at the same size, weight, and relative position on the page. The result is a book that is nearly impossible to read, but which is equally unsuitable for reference, with perhaps the exception of the referenc echarts in the back. (I will be writing up a short blog post separate from this review to demonstrate the issues visually—as well as to show how straightforward it is to fix the issues for anyone who cares to try.)

The only redeeming feature of the material—the included CD—is itself problematic.

  1. The material is small enough to have been much more sensible to make available via download, rather than encumbering the book with an increasingly archaic format (as was the case even at the time of the book’s publication, and still more so now). Further, this would have made updates straightforward and simple—as opposed to impossible

  2. The material was distributed in possibly the worst technological choice available: Adobe Flash. Flash is now essentially dead, because its capabilities have been largely matched by other web technologies, but even at the time the software was distributed it was known to be a poor choice for this kind of application. The software is easily the worst battery drain of any software I use on my device—I can run a Windows virtual machine, an integrated development, two browsers, and iTunes simultaneously on my Mac without draining my battery as quickly as this single program does.

  3. The typographical and design choices here are more amateurish than those in the main textbook. The primary English typeface in use is the much-derided Comic Sans. Navigation through the program is wildly inconsistent: keyboard shortcuts that work in one area do not in another, or produce different behavior. Visual cues (like arrows) similarly mean different things in different places. There are no tooltips to aid navigation through the program, so most of the paths to various parts of the program can only be discovered through trial and error.

In short, Webster’s text is a disaster on nearly every front. The pedagogy is atrocious, and the book and CD are both uniquely terrible at a technical level. I am stunned this made it through editorial in its current form, I cannot recommend it in any way. I am sure Webster meant well, and no doubt he is a decent fellow and in all probability a good teacher. As noted in the beginning of the review, it seems likely that as a complement to his own lectures, the book may work well. As a standaone textbook, however, The Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew is a failure—a pedagogical, technical, and typographical disaster.


  1. Alas, no: a friend who has taken Webster’s class informs me that he actually failed the class, largely due to the book, which he noted “makes no sense whatsoever”—an unfortunately accurate description of the book from my point of view. 

Predestination, the Atonement, and Perseverance Among the Reformers

This short essay was written for Church History: Reformation to Modernity. I trust it will at least not bore you to tears.

The first hundred years of the Reformation saw the rapid proliferation of a wide variety of views on the nature of salvation, and thus the most thorough development of the doctrine of soteriology in history. Luther and Zwingli both dealt with the topic to some extent, (re)introducing the notion of justification by faith alone and righteousness by imputation. It was not until the second and following generations of the Reformation, however, that the particular issues of predestination, the extent of the atonement, and perseverance of the saints became significant issues for debate. Once they had come up, however, the topics became painfully divisive in the Reformed tradition, leading to schism over and over again in the centuries that followed. Did God actively elect the saints to heaven and preserve them while actively electing the reprobate to hell (double predestination), actively elect the saints to heaven and preserve them while simply allowing the reprobate to continue on their rebellious course for hell (single predestination), or passively elect the saints on the basis of his foreknowledge of their free choice and perseverance? Was the atonement intended to extend to all men, or only to some; and was its effect applied generally or only specifically to the elect?

At the fount of the discussion stood John Calvin. Calvin argued for an Augustinian view of the means of salvation. Interestingly, though approaching the issues of predestination, the extent of the atonement, and perseverance in the generally more systematic Institutes of the Christian Religion than Augustine ever had, he ultimately was little less ambiguous than the Father had been. With Augustine, he clearly affirmed predestination, and with Augustine it is unclear whether he affirmed single or double predestination. Similarly, there are currents in his writing that suggest both general and limited views of the atonement. The topics are simply never addressed clearly in his writings, for it was the Institutes that prompted future generations to answer these questions. On perseverance, however, he was clearer: God does preserve all the elect and all those who have made credible professions of faith and are seeking to walk with God may be confident of their salvation.

Calvin’s immediate heir in Geneva, Theodore Beza, set about further systematizing Calvin’s doctrine in the many years between Calvin’s death and his own. He affirmed double predestination, establishing it as a position with lasting influence in the Reformed tradition to this day. In consequence, he also clearly affirmed the perseverance of the elect—but, curiously, he also broke with Calvin by rejecting assurance and suggesting that Christians ought to regularly question their salvation. He also clearly articulated the limited atonement position, arguing decisively that God intended Christ’s death only for the elect.

Beza’s most famous student, Jacob Arminius, was also his most famous opponent. In the latter years of his life, the Dutch pastor-turned-professor began openly questioning the reigning Bezan interpretation of Calvin. Against Beza, Arminius claimed that the atonement was unlimited and applied to all men, not only the elect. Further, he rejected both single and double predestination and argued that God’s choosing of the elect was based on their free choice and perseverance to the end of their lives. Thus, in his view, God did not cause salvation in a monergistic act that decisively changed a human’s heart, but supplied prevenient grace that enabled all men to respond to the gospel when it was preached. This in turn led him to argue that perseverance was also not guaranteed by God, but dependent on the continuing effort and faithfulness of men: the elect were those who persevered, not those whom God kept from falling away. Like Beza, Arminius claimed he was the true heir to Calvin’s theology.

Moise Amyraut sought to find a middle way that recognized both God’s sovereign election and a general atonement. Thus, he embraced single predestination (against Beza’s more radical double predestinarian position), and accordingly embraced a robust view of God’s sustaining the believer to persevere. On the other hand, he agreed with Arminius that the atonement was in at least some sense general and intended for all men. Since he nonetheless acknowledged God’s predestination of some men, Amyraut posited two wills in God. One was the public will, that all men be saved, which corresponded with the intended universal extent of the atonement. The other was his secret, electing will, which corresponding with the actual, limited effect of the atonement. He acknowledged that his view was less logically tight than either Arminius’ or Beza’s formulations, but maintained that his was the most Scriptural (as well, unsurprisingly, as the one most in line with Calvin).

I find Calvin and Amyraut’s restraint on the topic admirable. There are too many passages in Scripture which speak of God’s will that all men be saved for me to embrace double predestination, and too many passages that speak clearly of God’s special election of the saints based not on anything in man but solely in his gracious will for me to embrace Arminius’ views. There is clearly a degree of tension in (our ability to understand) Scripture’s teaching on these matters, and so it seems to me that restraint is best. I thus find myself a Calvinist who holds the five points confidently but with strong sympathies for Amyraut’s position and even stronger sympathies for his recognition that the Scriptures do not present us with a tidy explanation of this difficult topic. With Calvin, I refuse to make predestination the centerpiece of my theology, preferring rather to focus on the glory of God and the life of the church.

Zwingli and Luther: A Comparison

This short essay was written for Church History: Reformation to Modernity. I trust it will at least not bore you to tears.

Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli stand at the heads of two of the most influential streams of Protestant theology—the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, respectively. While the two men were united in their opposition to Roman Catholic doctrines and agreed on many doctrinal issues, they also differed so substantially in a few points of their theology that they were unable to unite their movements in a single front against Roman Catholicism.

Luther and Zwingli both emphasized justification by faith alone and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believers. Both rejected the Catholic doctrines of papal authority, purgatory, priestly celibacy, veneration of saints, Marian devotion, and transubstantiation. Both affirmed sola Scriptura and the necessity and centrality of preaching in the life of the congregation. They affirmed similar views of the atonement and embraced an Augustinian, monergistic understanding of salvation and regeneration. They both wrestled with the question of infant baptism but ultimately affirmed it for political reasons. In the political sphere, both embraced the idea of the Territorial Church, in which the religious views embraced by the magistrates of a given region were to be enforced upon the citizens of that region (making both both “Magisterial Reformers”).

These wide-ranging points of agreement notwithstanding, the two not only could not unite their movements but considered each other heretics. To begin, they embraced substantially different views of the New Testament’s teaching on worship services. Luther took the view that the New Testament’s explanation of the practice of the early church is descriptive, not prescriptive (the so-called “normative principle of worship”). Zwingli understood the New Testament descriptions of the early church’s worship to be prescriptive and binding on the church: anything not explicitly described or enjoined of believers in the New Testament was verboten. Thus, Luther retained much of the language and many of the trappings of the traditional Catholic service, including calling it the Mass, and left decorations and instrumental music in place. Zwingli excluded instrumental music, white-washed the walls of his church, destroyed all icons, and referred to the Eucharist not as the Mass but by its biblical name, the Lord’s Supper. Luther continued to embrace much Tradition as genuinely good and valuable, even if not binding at the same level as Scripture; Zwingli rejected almost all Tradition, moving beyond sola Scripture almost to the point of solo Scriptura.

Most significant of the differences between Zwingli and Luther was their difference on the question of the Lord’s Supper. They differed not only on what to call the eucharist, but also (and much more importantly) on what was happening when the elements were offered to the congregation. While both rejected the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, Luther continued to embrace the doctrine of Real Presence, arguing that Jesus is especially present in the elements. Zwingli, on the other hand, rejected Real Presence and embraced a memorial view, arguing that Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Insofar as Christ might be especially present in communion, he said, it was only by the presence of his Spirit with the church—not physically, as Luther asserted.

This division proved decisive in their break with each other, as it represented not only a difference on the Lord’s Supper but a difference in Christology. Though they were arguing over which words in the institution should receive the emphasis (“this is my body” or “do this in remembrance of me”), they were also arguing over how Christ as the God-man is present everywhere. Luther emphasized the divinity of Christ, noting his omnipresence. Zwingli emphasized the humanity of Christ, noting his especial presence at the right hand of the Father and arguing that his omnipresence is now through the Spirit. Both men died considering the other a heretic because they took this issue of Christology so seriously.

I find Luther more persuasive in some areas and Zwingli in others. Luther’s approach to worship (the normative principle) seems to be the more Scriptural of the two, since there is no injunction in the New Testament against innovation in form or contextualization. Thus, Zwingli’s emphasis on the New Testament as finally authoritative would seem to militate against his stated views on worship practice, though his caution about unauthorized forms of worship is well-taken and many churches would do well to heed it more thoughtfully. On the other hand, I find Zwingli’s emphasis on the continuing humanity of Christ, and thus the continuation of the everywhere-but-especially-somewhere theme so common of God’s presence through Scripture, the most satisfying view of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, the view of Spiritual Presence that Zwingli tentatively expressed in some letters later in life, and which Calvin further developed most closely matches my own position. Yet, again with Luther, I affirm the importance of much of the Tradition, and with him I also see preaching as secondary to Communion in the gathering of the people of God (though only just).

As Sacrifices: Living, Holy, Pleasing to God

The following paper was prepared for my Greek Syntax and Exegesis class, taught by Dr. Benjamin Merkle. I hope even the non-Greek scholars out there can get at least some profit from it.

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Introduction

The faithful Christian must ask every day: “Believing in Christ, how shall I live?” The gospel grounds and shapes the Christian life, but the issue of how best to apply the gospel is often vexing. The interplay between the elements of salvation is sometimes difficult, both intellectually and experientially. The relationship between justification, sanctification, and glorification is complex. The experience of justification and sanctification while awaiting glorification is often painful or perplexing. Knowing, then, how to live day by day—even in a broad ethical sense—can be a major challenge for the believer who is both free from the power of sin and yet forced to confront and reject its alluring promises over and over again.

No less challenging is the question of how to discern God’s will, especially in areas that are morally neutral or ambiguous. Few passages in Scripture speak clearly to the issue, and even the examples that do exist are more often perplexing than illuminating. What exactly were the Urim and Thummim? Should believers cast lots to make decisions? What exactly did the apostles and the church at Jerusalem mean when they wrote, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28)? These are not merely academic matters. Believers must understand how relate to God, one another, and the world if they are to glorify God in their decisions.

As Scripture makes clear, believers cannot begin to tackle these challenges without first understanding what God has done. Only then can one begin to walk out the painful path of sanctification, and only as one grows both in knowledge and in holiness can one begin to discern God’s will in matters of everyday life. Key to understanding these realities is Paul’s thought in Romans, and key to the relationship between them is Romans 12:1–2, where the apostle transitions from theology explained to theology applied, and explains clearly the relationship between the content of the gospel and the believer’s right response to the gospel.

Context

Historical-Cultural Setting

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is set against the backdrop of Roman rule, addressed to believers living in the center of Roman cultural and military power at or near its height.1 This situation, though not substantially affecting the interpretation of Romans 12:1–2 itself,2 does shed some light on the structure of Paul’s letter and on his choice of practical excurses in the latter section of the epistle. Specifically, the cosmopolitan nature of Rome led two realities to dominate the letter.

The first is the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers, who seem to have been struggling (at times sinfully) to relate to one another rightly in light of the Messiah’s advent. Given the major emphasis on God’s saving relationship to both Jews and Gentiles throughout the theological consideration earlier in the book, especially in chapters 9–11, Paul’s audience was almost certainly a mix of Jews and Gentiles. The freedom professed by non-Jewish believers in the early Christian community clearly conflicted with Jewish mores drawn from the Mosaic law.3 Much of the hortatory material in the letter is concerned with resolving this conflict.

The second, which set the context for many of those ethnic and cultural conflicts, was the ever-dangerous cultural and spiritual pressure of Roman life in the middle of the first century. In particular, Greco-Roman practices of cultic and familial worship4 (especially the imperial cult and temple)5 form the backdrop and supply the cultural framework for much of the rest of Paul’s instruction following these verses. These practices were antithetical to both Jewish law and Christian doctrine. Thus, Paul’s admonitions here at the very beginning of the hortatory section of the epistle should be understood in light of these realities. When he writes to the “weak” and “strong,” he is accounting for the challenges that confronted newly mixing ethnic groups with radically different cultural and ethical backgrounds. Likewise, when he reappropriates cultic language, he borrows from both Jewish and Gentile understandings, and then reconfigures them.

Literary Setting

The exhortation offered in 12:1–2, although originally addressed to a Roman audience, is remarkably broad in character—so much so that its immediate applicability to all believers is immediately obvious.6 As such, it is far more important to understand the literary context of the passage than the cultural conditions under which the epistle was constructed. The epistle is broken into two major sections, framed by typical epistolary preliminaries and concluding materials.7 The preliminaries, as is characteristic of the Pauline epistles, serve to introduce Paul and his calling. The conclusion of the book is concerned with Paul’s appeal for aid in his upcoming missionary journey to Spain, along with his greetings to the people with whom he was acquainted in the church at Rome.

The first major section (1:16–11:36) is a lengthy expository discourse, in which Paul explains his view of the gospel and defends it at length. He variously addresses questions of individual justification and sanctification, the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant of grace instituted by Christ, and the relationship between Jew and Gentile in this new era. Though this section is overwhelmingly explanatory in nature, Paul occasionally punctuates the progression with brief asides into hortatory material—asides to which he returns at great length once he concludes his argument. This treatise-like section of the epistle ends, in typically Pauline fashion, with a doxology (11:33–36).

The second major section (12:1–15:13) consists of a series of hortatory excurses related to the theological points Paul makes in the expository section. The various components of this second discourse are not a set of pareneses connected to the previous discussion and each other only insofar as they each relate generically to the indicatives of the gospel.8 Rather, they build on each other, and each ties back to specific elements in Paul’s explanation of the gospel—especially to the notes he sounded on the relationship between individual salvation and the people of God, and on the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles under the New Covenant. In each case, the indicative aspects of Paul’s gospel lead directly to the imperatives with which he now enjoins the Roman believers.

Within this overall structure, Romans 12:1–2 marks the transition from the first section of the book to the second, and thus from expository to hortatory discourse. As such, it serves as a heading for all of 12:1–15:13, and provides the reader with a gauge for how Paul will proceed. It also emphasing the continuity between explanation and exhortation in Paul’s thought. The imperatives he introduces are not a set of rules separate or distinct from the gospel he preaches. Rather, they flow organically out of it and depend on it, and it necessarily includes them.9

Exegesis of the Passage

Romans 12:1–2 is a straightforward text, evoking a minimum of controversy.10 On the basis of God’s mercies, Paul exhorts the Roman believers to offer themselves as a sacrifice to God. They are to accomplish this self-sacrifice by rejecting the pattern of the world and being transformed by their minds being renewed, until they can rightly discern (and obey) God’s will. This pattern of self-offering for the glory of God then serves as the matrix through which all of Paul’s following exhortations are to be understood. The passage consists of a transitionary (discourse boundary) marker, followed by two major hortatory statements: “present your bodies as a sacrifice” and “do not be conformed… but be transformed.” The use of ??? here marks the second clause as subordinate; people present their bodies by means of rejecting the world’s pattern and undergoing the renewal of their minds.11 In the latter case, the statement is a compound construction with ???? connecting the pair as a single unit, so that the first command (“do not be conformed”) and the second (“but be transformed”) must be understood as two halves of the same exhortation.

Transition

The first phrase (???????? ??? ????, ???????, “I exhort you therefore, brothers”) clearly indicates a change in topic and the transition from exposition to exhortation. The first-person present use of the word ????????? is common in Paul’s letters and frequently marks the beginning of a new section in his letters.12 Moreover, the word clearly indicates the transition not only from one topic to another, but from one kind of discussion to another: from indicative-heavy exposition to imperative-heavy exhortation. Similarly, the use of the vocative and the doxology that concludes the previous section (11:33–36) are both strong discourse boundary markers. The presence of all three of these makes for an exceptionally strong indication of the change in rhetorical approach at the beginning of chapter 12.13

The word ????????? can mean “comfort,” “beseech,” or “exhort,” depending on the context. In Paul’s fifty-four uses, thirty besides Romans 12:1 are taken to mean “exhort”;14 most commentators agree that the same meaning is in view here.15 Paul is not merely suggesting or recommending, but strongly urging his audience to act in certain ways in response to the gospel. As throughout the letter, Paul addresses his audience in the plural (both the direct object ???? and the vocative ???????); these commands are to be carried out by each individual as they participate in the life of the congregation.16

The postpostive conjunction ??? typically carries the meaning “then” or “therefore.” While a few commentators suggest that the word here serves simply as a transition word with no connective force,17 most argue that the word should be taken with its full explanatory force.18 Indeed, given the massive shift in topic and Paul’s careful presentation of topics, each one building on the previous, it is nearly inconceivable that the word does not have its full connective force. Furthermore, the word appears in just the same way as a causal connective elsewhere in Paul’s epistles (Eph. 4:1, Col. 3:1, 1 Thess. 4:1, 2 Thess. 3:6).19 The question is not whether ??? links the latter section of the letter to an earlier section, but how far in each direction its force proceeds. At the very least, it includes all of chapters 9–11. More likely, given the exhortations that follow and its position at the transition between major sections of the letter, ??? indicates that Paul views all of 1:16–11:37 as the basis for the entirety of 12:1–15:13.20 As such, each part of Paul’s exhortation flows out of God’s completed work in Christ, rather than resting on human efforts for self-improvement.

The second phrase (??? ??? ????????? ??? ????, “by the mercies of God”) has been variously taken as modifying either the opening verb (????????, “I exhort”) or the following verb (?????????? “to present”).21 The former seems more likely: The mercies of God are the grounds for Paul’s exhortation to the Roman believers. Although some commentators have suggested that the mercies of God are the means by which believers are enabled to perform the actions Paul enjoins, or even the agency behind his own actions, it makes more sense to take the phrase as indicating the basis of all Paul’s instructions going forward.22 Indeed, Paul’s reference to “the mercies of God” clearly points back to the previous section of the book, especially 9–11.23 Again, the exhortation is not hanging freely, but is itself a part of the gospel—a part that cannot be removed without doing harm to the gospel itself.

Present your bodies as a sacrifice

Paul now moves to the first of two imperatives, instructing the believers to present (??????????) their bodies (??????) as a sacrifice (??????). The sacrifice is to be living, holy, and pleasing to God (????? ????? ????????? ?? ???). Almost every word in this sentence is laden with cultic overtones; each was used in Greco-Roman culture and Hellenistic Judaism to refer to the offering of animal sacrifices in the temples.24 However, Paul makes a pair of surprising moves, here. First, he instructs the believers to offer their own bodies as the sacrifice. Unlike the usual cultic practice, Christians do not offer up something else, but their own persons to the worship of God. Paul’s use of ???? here probably refers to the whole human person, but in such a way as to emphasize the physicality of human worship, thereby preventing possible misreadings of Paul’s elaboration on the mental aspects of worship in verse 2.25

Second, he qualifies “sacrifice” with three terms26—two of them are typical cultic terms (?????, “holy,” and ????????? ?? ???, “pleasing to God”27), but the third (?????, the first in the sequence) is rather surprising.28 Cultic sacrifices were killed in the act of offering; the Christian sacrifice goes on living, for Christ already accomplished the only death of this strange new cult. The sacrifice that Paul calls believers make is giving themselves—the totality of their embodied existenced—wholly over to worshipping God. As Moo puts it, “In Rom. 12:1… the sacrifice we offer is not some specific form of praise or service, but our ‘bodies’ themselves. It is not only what we can give that God demands; he demands the giver.”29

Nearly all commentators take the final clause in this phrase (??? ??????? ???????? ????) as standing in apposition to the entire clause beginning with ??????????. That is, the whole act of offering oneself to God is the believers’ ??????? ????????.30 The best meaning of the phrase ??????? ???????? is contested, since the semantic range of both terms is broad: ??????? can mean both “rational/reasonable” and “spiritual,” while ??????? can mean both “service” and “worship.”31 Given the flow of Paul’s argument (particularly noting that he steps almost immediately into a discussion of the transformation of the Christian’s mind), the phrase is best taken as “reasonable worship,” where the worship that a believer offers is doubly fitting. It is an appropriate response to what God has done, and it rightly reflects the rational and volitional nature of humans beings.32 Paul has thus transformed worship from a single, morbid act in the temple to an ongoing, physical and volitional design for all of life.

Aside: On the Tenses and Meanings of ??????????, ??????????????, and ?????????????

Many commentators have emphasized the aorist tense of ??????????, arguing that the tense indicates that believers are to offer themselves up decisively in a once-and-for-all action.33 This view cannot be sustained, however. First, as both Moo and Schreiner comment, nothing in the context suggests such a usage; indeed, the use of two present tense imperatives in the following verse militates at least somewhat against such a reading.34 Second, and more significantly, at no time in the New Testament is ????????? used in the present tense outside the indicative, whereas it appears thirteen times in the aorist in non-indicative moods. The act of “presenting” seems to have been telic by nature, and thus defaulted to the aorist tense outside the indicative. In context, then, Paul’s exhortation to the believers to present their bodies as a sacrifice should almost certainly be read as bearing the same ongoing force assigned to the other imperatives. In each case, this ongoing sense the “ongoing” character of these actions is suggested by the context alone.

Not Conformed but Transformed

The second major imperatival phrase, or rather, pair of phrases (?? ??????????????… ???? ?????????????… “do not be conformed… but be transformed…”) explains and elaborates on the first.35 How exactly are believers bodies to be presented as this kind of sacrifice? Paul supplies a double answer, noting both what believers must reject (the pattern of the age) and what they must embrace (the renewal of the mind), strongly contrasting the two by splitting them with the “strong adversative” ???? (“but rather”).36 Both commands correspond to profound alterations in a believer’s nature, for although the Messianic age has broken into the present age, the tension between the two ages in which the believer lives remains severe.37 Thus, resisting the daily siren call of the world and living in light of Jesus’ finished work marks a deep change in the depths of a person’s nature.38 No one can offer the reasonable worship owed to God and still be persistently shaped by the age of rebellion against his good authority.

Likewise, to “be transformed” (?????????????) is not merely to acquire information and respond at some superficial level, but to experience a radical alteration of one’s mind. Just as human reason was progressively marred by the aftereffects of the Fall as sin increased (Romans 1:18–25), so human reason is progressively restored by the Spirit as holiness increases.39 The latter half of this clause (?? ??????????? ??? ????, “by the renewal of the mind”) is a fairly straightforward and therefore largely undisputed construction. The transformation to which believers are called to submit comes about by means of renewal (taking ?? ??????????? as an instrumental dative), and it is the mind itself that is the object of renewal (taking ??? ???? as an objective genetive). As in Colossians 3:10 and Romans 8:29, the renewal of the human person centers on Jesus Christ, into whose image the believer is being transformed.40

The final major structure in the compound sentence (??? ?? ?????????? ???? ?? ?????? ??? ????…, “so that you may be able to discern what is the will of God”) marks the purpose Paul has in mind for the believers’ rejection of this age and transformation by renewal of the mind.41 As sanctification proceeds, Christians come to more fully understand the will of God. Indeed, the transformation produces Christians “whose minds are so thoroughly renewed that [they] know from within, almost instinctively, what [they] are to do to please God in any given situation.”42 The final clause (?? ?????? ??? ????????? ??? ???????) stands in apposition to ?? ?????? ??? ????, explaining that Christians discover what the will of God—that is, they discern what is good, pleasing, and perfect.43 The Christian is thus called to resist the world and pursue holiness—both ends in which he is utterly dependent on God—and promised that if he does so, he will know the will of God.

Application

Paul’s exhortation is sufficiently straightforward that, quibbles over shades of meaning aside, the commentators agree on the substance of the passage. The challenge comes in putting into practice Paul’s commands. Submitting the entirety of one’s life as an act of worship to God is no mean task; it requires enormous humility and perseverance. The world, though being transformed by the in-breaking eschatological age, still presses in on the believer with the temptations and demands of the old age. The old, fallen mind that characterized the believer before regeneration fades only slowly. The renewal of the mind is almost never an overnight transformation but instaed a gradual experience along the path of sanctification.

It is no coincidence, then, that Paul spent so much time on the indicatives of the gospel, emphasizing time and again the mercies of God shown to Jew and Gentile alike. Nor is it an accident that his exhortations in 12:3–15:13 all entail the life of the community. The Christian cannot hope to faithfully give himself over as a sacrifice to the glory of God if he does not see how God gave himself as a sacrifice first. Nor can the believer successfully resist the lures of the present age and submit to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit—the desperately needed renewal of the mind that allows the believer to clearly perceive the will of God—apart from the people of God. Every believer must hold fast to the indicatives of the gospel and pursue the imperatives of the gospel arm in arm with his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

This hinge in the book of Romans points the way forward for all these commands. God is glorified when believers give their whole selves over to worshipping him—body and mind, rejecting the lies of the world around and submitting to the sanctifying work of the Spirit and so being transformed. And in a surprising turn of events, this (and not any mystical experience) is how one comes to know the will of God.


Sermon Outline

  1. Introduction
    • We all long to know the will of God.
    • The hilarious subtitle of Kevin DeYoung’s book on knowing the will of God: “dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.”
    • God has told us how to know his will, and the answer might be surprising.
  2. By the mercies of God
    • Note Paul’s transition from the whole first section of the book into the second: he has established the indicatives, and now moves into imperatives that flow out of them.
    • What, then, are these “mercies of God” on which Paul bases these exhortations?
      • justification
      • sanctification and glorification
      • grace to every nation
  3. Present yourselves as a sacrifice
    • Bodies: we are physical, and this is a good thing. We offer oiur whole selves, and we cannot give God the worship he deserves without our bodies.
    • Three adjectives: In using these three adjectives of our bodies as sacrifices, Paul takes the language of temple sacrifice (Jewish and pagan alike) and applies it to our whole life.
      • Living
      • Holy
      • Pleasing to God
  4. How?
    • The way we offer ourselves as a sacrifice: both are works of God in which we actively participate.
      1. Do not be conformed to this age. Offer some thoughts on what this may (and may not!) look like, specific to the audience.
      2. Be transformed by the renewal of the mind. Our minds have been corrupted by the Fall and sin (Romans 1) and now the Spirit renews them. It is a gradual process, and one to which we must come over and over again.
    • The result of being transformed: As our minds are made new by the Spirit, in the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:10), we grow to know the will of God. We become people, as Doug Moo puts it, “whose minds are so thoroughly renewed that we know from within, almost instinctively, what we are to do to please God in any given situation.” If you want to know the will of God, pursue holiness!

  1. David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5:832. 
  2. Paul’s argument and admonition is not specific to the Roman situation but explicitly derived from his preceding exposition of the universally applied gospel. 
  3. Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 19–23. 
  4. Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:809–815. 
  5. Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:806–807. 
  6. This is especially so by contrast with Paul’s other epistles of a similar length, those to the believers at Corinth, where many of the exhortations are notoriously difficult to apply to believers today. 
  7. The epistle defies simple characterization because of its complex structure. It includes elements typical of the personal epistle, of treatises or tracts, and more; see David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5:819–820. For an exhaustive list of the various rhetorical elements commentators have or suggested Paul employed throughout the letter, see Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 11. 
  8. So Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bomiley (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 323; contra Karl Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1959), 151. 
  9. Thomas R. Schreiner helpfully comments, “The imperative always flows from and depends on the indicative. Placing the imperative as foundational is a perversion of the Pauline gospel and effectively cancels out the indicative. The indicative of what God has done in Christ ensures that the imperative will become a reality. And yet the indicative does not cancel out the need for the imperative. The imperative is rightly estimated when rooted in the indicative.” Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2001), 254. 
  10. So much so that commentators as varied in their approach to the book as a whole as Dunn, Schreiner, and Käsemann all come to strikingly similar conclusions about the passage. 
  11. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 754. 
  12. Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 264. 
  13. Young, Intermediate Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 253–254. 
  14. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 748 n. 18. 
  15. See e.g. C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, ed. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton, rev. ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Limited, 1989), 2:597; James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9–16, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 38, eds. David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, and Ralph P. Martin (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1988), 708; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 748; Cranfield describes the term as beseeching with authority, while Dunn suggests that Paul is not exerting his own authority but rather reinforcing the importance of imperatives that flow out of the gospel. For the view that the word marks only a “simple admonition,” see Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, 326; even more curiously, Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans, 149 suggests “comfort.” 
  16. The history of interpretation of Romans has ranged from radically individualistic to radically communitarian; in actuality Paul’s emphasis is always on the individual in the life of the community—the two are never separated from one another. 
  17. Those who take this view are mostly following Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, 326. 
  18. So Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:595–596; Dunn, Romans 9–16, 708; Ben C. Dunson, “Faith in Romans: The Salvation of the Individual or Life in Community?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34 no. 1 (2011): 35; D. Edmond Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (July–September 1994): 310; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 748; Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 432; Schreiner, Romans, 639. 
  19. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 432. 
  20. So Dunson “Faith in Romans: The Salvation of the Individual or Life in Community?” 35; Ellis W. Diebler, Jr., A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Romans, ed. John Banker (Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1998), 281, 283. For the view that it connects to 9–11 specifically, see Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 748. For the view that it connects to all of 1:16–11:36, but with special emphasis on 9–11, see Schreiner, Romans, 639. 
  21. The infinitive, though technically a verbal noun, has the force of an imperative verb here as the complement in the indirect discourse begun by Paul’s use of ????????. 
  22. So Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:596; Diebler, A Structural and Semantic Analysis of Romans, 281; Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 312; Schreiner, Romans, 642; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F. F. Bruce (1959; repr. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 2:113. Some have taken the phrase as instrumental, indicating that God’s mercies are the actor and Paul the agent; see Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 749; Dunn, Romans 9–16, 709. Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, 326, supplies “in the name of,” taking the phrase almost as an oath. 
  23. Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 312; Schreiner, Romans, 639. 
  24. See Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 462–463; Dunn, Romans 9–16, 708–711; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 753–754; Schreiner, Romans, 643–644, 646. 
  25. So Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:598; Dunn, Romans 9–16, 709; Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, 327; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 75–751; Schreiner, Romans, 644, 646–647; contra Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:110–111, who sees Paul as specifically referring to consecation of the body in contrast with his reference to the mind in v. 2. See also N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 264. 
  26. The tendency among English translations, stemming from the King James’ rendering, to distinguish “living” from “holy, acceptable to God” by placing “living” before “sacrifice” is unfortunate, as nearly all commentators note. Each of the three adjectives stands in simple apposition to ??????; they each describe the kind of sacrifice to be offered. 
  27. Schreiner, Romans, 646. 
  28. Commentators variously take “living” to mean the new life of the believer in Christ (e.g. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:600; Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 316) or simply that which, unlike ordinary sacrifices, goes on living (e.g. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 751). Cranfield attempts to tie his reading to Paul’s language earlier in the book, but this is pushing too hard on the word. 
  29. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 327. 
  30. So e.g. Dunn, Romans 9–16, 711; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 51 n. 36. Schreiner, Romans, 644. Unfortunately, the commentators uniformly assert this point without justification. The syntax is ambigous, although this reading is strongly suggested by the comma that follows ?? ???. On the basis of syntax alone, it is equally possible that the clause stands in apposition to ??????, in which case it is the sacrifice, rather than the act of offering the sacrifice, that is a “rational worship.” The majority reading is to be preferred, however, because of the semantics of the sentence. To speak of the sacrifice as being “reasonable worship” is difficult to understand; to speak of the act of offering a sacrifice in these terms is much more comprehensible. The majority reading also preserves the semantic connection between the “reasonable” nature of this sacrifice and the mental application of this sacrifice Paul introduces in the next section. 
  31. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 752–753; Morris, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 434 n. 11. 
  32. Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans, 150; Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:112; Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 252. 
  33. E.g. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:607; Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 314; Robert H. Mounce, Romans, The New American Commentary, vol. 27, eds. E. Ray Clendenen, David S. Dockery, Richard R. Melick, Jr., Paige Patterson, Curtis Vaughan, Linda L. Scott, and Marc A. Jolley (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 232. 
  34. See Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 750; and Schreiner, Romans, 643. 
  35. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 463–464; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 754. 
  36. Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 320. 
  37. Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans, 150–151; Schreiner, Romans, 647; Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 264. 
  38. Following Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:605–607; Dunn, Romans 9–16, 712; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 755; and contra Diebler, A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Romans, 282; Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 435; Mounce, Romans, 232. 
  39. Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, 331; Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 264. 
  40. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 264. 
  41. Following Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:609; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 757 n. 70. Several commentators take ??? ?? ?????????? here as indicating not the purpose of the transformation but its result—see e.g. Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 322. Purpose seems more likely, but the difference between purpose and result is quite narrow when speaking of the intended results of future obedience to an exhortation, thus, Schreiner, Romans, 648 has “result… or possibly purpose.” 
  42. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 758. 
  43. Some commentators suggest that this is a series of adjectives modifying ?? ?????? ??? ????; see e.g. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 467; Diebler, A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Romans, 283; Hiebert, “Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1–2,” 323; Schreiner, Romans, 648. This is both syntactically and semantically unlikely, however. The adjectives are grouped under a single article and accordingly are clearly a single syntactical unit. Semantically, it is redundant to note that God’s will is pleasing to him; see Morris, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 436. 

Head Coverings!—An Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraints that it be between eight and twelve pages, with at least eight academic sources, two of which had to be journals.

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Overview

First Corinthians 11:2–16 is one of the most controversial passages in modern hermeneutics. The plain meaning of the text is straightforward: Paul argues that men ought to have their heads uncovered and women ought to have their heads covered when praying or prophesying in the church. The interpretive challenge stems from three interwoven issues.

First, the interpreter must decide how to resolve a number of perplexing textual difficulties in the passage. Second, since Paul’s injunction seems to be culturally situated—no one today wears clothing remotely like that of Paul’s day, head coverings included—interpreters must decide how to respond to Paul’s instructions. It is impossible to follow his instructions as the recipients of his letter would, as it is unclear exactly what the “head covering” was. Moreover, as will be seen, Paul’s argument is complex, leaning on a combination of the creation order, and a universal sense of what is appropriate to men and women. Thus, correct interpretation must respect both the creation order and variations in cultural perceptions of propriety. Third, the interpretation of the passage’s comments on the “headship” relationship between men and women have been the subject of much controversy. These difficulties notwithstanding, Paul’s central thesis remains clear: men and women ought to dress in a way that demonstrates the differences between the genders. Read on, intrepid explorer →

Objectivism and Utilitarianism in The Dark Knight Rises

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Jeremy Evan’s introductory philosophy class.


Among the many interesting philosophical tangles woven into The Dark Knight by the Nolan brothers, one of the most interesting is the film’s implicit contrast between a set of conflicting moral visions: the constrained utilitarianism of Batman himself, the nihilistic amoralism proclaimed by the Joker, and the quiet objectivism displayed by Lucius Fox and Rachel Dawes. Of these, Batman’s utilitarianism is both most dynamic and most interesting in the broader context of the Nolan canon. The objectivist position of Fox and Dawes and the anarchist angle espoused by the Joker are both essentially static points that provide contrasts with Batman’s philosophy throughout the second film. Meanwhile, the ethical dilemmas Bruce faces here provoke him to confront at a deeper level the questions raised by the radical utilitarianism of the League of Shadows in the movies that precede and follow The Dark Knight. As a result, Batman transforms from the idealistic, restrained utilitarian—at times almost an objectivist—of the first movie into a compromised, decidedly not objectivist utilitarian by the conclusion of the second film. Read on, intrepid explorer →

He who made all things restores all things!

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.

Colossians 1:13–23

The meaning of the text

Christ is supremely worthy of worship. The Father made all things by and through Christ, for Christ, who now sustains all things. In Christ, the Father is reconciling all things to himself, making peace for us by the blood of his cross. He is the very image of God, and in him God dwells fully. He is the firm foundation of believers’ salvation and sanctification, and his person and deeds are the center of the gospel to which believers are called. Read on, intrepid explorer →