Thesis Research

Well, the proposal was accepted in January – and now on to the task of writing a dissertation… so far my initial research is underway.

I am enjoying entering into the world of the NT and Mark’s Gospel and scholarship in these two areas.

A key for effective research and writing is to have a healthy long view of the task at hand and maintaining the daily discipline needed to stay on track. On one hand it is easy to be overwhelmed by the size of the project and on the other to be let days slip past due to the tyranny of the urgent. It is an interesting tension.

Critiques against Narrative Criticism: A quick summary

Months ago I listed the advantages of narrative criticism in biblical studies, especially in the Gospels. Here are a few arguments against NC for your reading enjoyment. NB: all critical methods have their advantages and disadvantages and I am not assuming that NC is the ‘correct’ method for interpreting/exegeting the Gospels. Rather, it is a method that offers a different approach than previously used by NT scholars). Three main arguments emerge in current discussions in NT studies;

1. First, the Gospels are historical documents and must be read as such.

2. Second, it is anachronistic to apply modern literary methods, like those applied to works such as “The Lord of the Rings,” to ancient literature. Ben Witherington III asserts, “Mark is not a work of ancient or modern fiction, and this means that some things which apply especially to modern fiction do not apply to Mark” (The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001, 56).

3. The Gospels, particularly Mark’s Gospel, are redacted theological documents not intended to be read as an organic or unified whole.

Well, there are some thoughts to consider. Each one has merit, yet they do not engage in the whole discussion of NC, i.e., NC uses literary techniques developed by Aristotle in his Poetics (e.g., three act structure) and not modern literary techniques. Although, some Narrative critics might erroneously use modern techniques, this does not negate the usefulness of NC. Like any critical method, it is beneficial, and necessary to be aware of the shortfalls of your chosen method and the benefits of using other methods when interpreting a given text. Some methods provide insights into a passage or pericope that might have been missed just using one method.

Philippians 1:18 ; Simple contrast or Rhetorical Device?

The question posed for this verse is: “What is the meaning of the contrast εἴτε προφάσει εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ?” As the title of this post suggests, is Paul simply contrasting two opposing parties or using a rhetorical device? If this phrase is a rhetorical device, then to what effect is it being employed? However, it is erroneous to categorize this phrase in such black and white terms (i.e., it has to be ‘this way’ or it has to be ‘that way’ and there can be not middle ground or synthesizing of the two ideas). The language here is ambiguous as to whether Paul wants his reader to understand this phrase as either a simple contrast or a rhetorical device. I argue that the language can allow for both.

Paul is expressing two opposites as a rhetorical (or literary) device for a specific reason in the text. Previously, Paul mentions those who seek to discredit Paul because of his chains and have selfish motives (v. 15-16). In verse 18, Paul contrasts those who preach out of false motives and those [who preach] with honorable/truthful motives. Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t mention which conduct is better or worse; Messiah is proclaimed by both parties, despite their internal motives, and Paul rejoices (ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω). He then emphasizes his rejoicing with the contrastive coordinating conjunction Ἀλλὰ (Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, 657) followed by the future passive indicative 1. singular χαρήσομαι. Paul will rejoice even if the motives of some are unworthy, because Messiah is proclaimed. The internal motives are overshadowed by the proclamation of Messiah.

A second option is that this phrase is a subtle backhanded verbal twist against those with impure motives. Paul implies to his listeners that for all the efforts of the selfish, vain and with false motives are in vain. He deftly brushes aside their feeble attempts to belittle Paul’s imprisonment and equates them with those who preach Christ out of love and truth. Essentially, Paul says that they are of one accord. They preach the same message, which is more important to Paul than his honour or self-esteem.

How would you respond to those who besmirched your ministry, yet preached the resurrected Christ? Like Paul? Some thoughts to ponder as a I contemplate if I should enter into full time ministry.

Mediation verse of the week and reflections

I have been challenged to begin memorizing scripture again. In the church bulletin there is a weekly verse to memorize, which spurned me into meditative action. The only difference is that I am going to make the attempt to begin memorizing passages from the Greek (UBS 4th Revised ed.) This weeks verses are from Mark 1.17-18: καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων. 18 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.
Today’s thought as I reflected (a nicer evangelical term instead of meditation? :)) on this passage was the phrase “ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα” and I thought ‘what net, or thing, or idea, etc., am I holding on to? What do I need to immediately drop and follow Jesus in my life? This phrase is interesting when contrasted with the response of the disciple in Mt 8:21 who hesitates before following Jesus and wants first to bury his father (κύριε, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι πρῶτον ἀπελθεῖν καὶ θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου). Then Jesus leaves the crowds with his disciples and gets into a boat. Am I like the sons of Zebedee who drop their nets and immediately follow Jesus, or am I like the disciple who has other things to do before he follows Jesus?

Discussion on Philippians 1:15-17

Several questions arise when one reads this text, particulary Paul’s use of φθόνον καὶ ἔριν (v. 15), θλῖψιν ἐγείρειν (v. 17), ἐξ ἐριθείας (v. 17), and the repetition of the μὲν…δὲ construction in verses 15, 16 and 17. I am following along with some questions that Dr. Larry Perkins has made to assist our breakfast and Greek group in exegeting, analyzing, etc., our way through Philippians. The question that interested me was how does one proclaim the Gospel out of strife, jealousy, and selfish ambition?

Four possible answers come to mind. (NB I haven’t read any commentaries or journal articles at this point; these are my musings; however, I will follow up on them and see what other scholars say. If I’m way off target, then I will rethink my answers accordingly). First, is it possible that there are leaders, (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις) who are jealous of Paul’s status as an apostle? Second, perhaps they are Greek Christians ,who with good intentions, don’t like Paul because he’s Jewish or vice versa. Third, are they Jewish Christians who maybe question Paul’s preaching to Gentiles and disagree with him. Fourth, these proclaimers of the Gospel out of jealousy, strife and selfish ambition do so to advance their honour or social status amongst their fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Then Paul contrasts them with those who ‘out of love’ (ἐξ ἀγάπης) know that Paul is appointed in the defense of the Gospel (εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμα). They respect his status as an apostle, despite his chains, and they don’t find him a threat to their social status or honour. In addition, they do not place him in a status of shame because of his chains for Messiah.

Those who seek to gain from Paul’s imprisonment probably consider Paul’s situation shameful. How could an apostle of the Most Holy God be in chains, especially in the custody of the Romans? What a disgrace, and thus they seek to cause strife and besmirch Paul’s name. Yet, for Paul, he is glad that the Gospel is preached even if it is with bad intentions (Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω, v. 18). So how does this situation apply to our modern context? Can it? HOw is it good that the Gospel is preached when the preacher does so out of selfish ambition or to cause strife or from simple jealousy? I guess, for Paul the fact that the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the hope of salvation in Messiah is preached outweighs the motives; therefore, it seems that the motives are irrelevant and Paul continues to proclaim Christ as Lord and leaves the matters of motive to God.

I wonder how this would translate into today? If my motives were out of jealousy (i.e., I was a sessional faculty and was jealous of the Professor of NT studies and did everything to get that position, even cause discord in the academy) but Christ was preached, would that be a good thing?

A musing on my Master’s thesis

Yesterday I received my master’s thesis in the courier. I defended my thesis on March 25, 09 and passed with an amazing mark (to my surprise, but excitement). After a final edit I submitted my thesis to my program chair (Dr. Bruce Guenther – a history professor at ACTS) and then he forwarded it off to a format checker to ensure my thesis is following the precise formatting for binding and placement in the library. I laboured for 10 months on my thesis and still it comes back riddled with the infamous red pen. I always find it amazing what another reader finds in a paper, thesis or probably a dissertation even after you have spent many hours meticulously searching every page for grammar, editing and spelling errors. Now I’m back at it and hopefully I can get this beast of my shelf and start thinking about a proposal for a PhD in NT Studies (but first I need to find a job so I can pay for a PhD program…)