Biblical studies: April 2006 Archives

It's somewhat unusual to see a complementarian arguing for women deacons, but see Andreas Köstenberger's arguments here. I'm earnestly awaiting his commentary on the pastoral epistles. Two of the most important academic commentaries on those books are by complementarians (George W. Knight in the NIGTC and William Mounce in the WBC), but the best introductory level commentaries have largely been by egalitarians who seem to me to take positions at odds with the text (e.g. Gordon Fee's NIBC, Philip Towner's IVPNTC, the forthcoming Cornerstone by Linda Belleville; I must admit that what I read from Walter Liefeld's NIVAC does justice to the complementarian position and doesn't push egalitarianism very strongly). John Stott (BST) and Kent Hughes and Brian Chapell (PTW) are the exceptions, but they aren't primarily scholars but pastors, and these works are more sermonic/homiletic than commentary. Köstenberger is really on the forefront of the scholarly debate, and I think he's done some of the best work on the issue.

Ephesians Study Notes

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John Glynn has posted his study notes for Ephesians, which will be appearing in the forthcoming HCSB Study Bible. For some reason the number of quality study Bibles is increasing. I've heard about several study Bibles that have just come out or are in process right now that look to be on the same scholarly level as the NIV Study Bible or the Reformation Study Bible. Given that most study Bibles are simply marketing ploys to get people to think they need something directed specifically to their particular demographi rather than simply to promote actual study of the Bible for its own sake, I think this is great.

This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries. For more series, see my post on commentary series.

The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC) and Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (TNTC) are some of the best basic level commentaries out there. The perspective is fairly conservative and clearly evangelical, and the intent is to package careful research into a popular-level commentary that can be read cover to cover fairly easily by someone with no background in academic work in biblical studies. It's not as basic as the NIVAC or BST series, but that just means it's more helpful to someone seeking a little more reasoning behind the exegesis and interpretation taken in the commentary. Many of the authors are top scholars who have also written detailed commentaries, usually on other books.

A few volumes stand out as particularly excellent. All of the ones by Joyce Baldwin are great (Samuel, Esther, Daniel, Haggai-Zechariah-Malachi). Selman's two volumes on Chronicles and Hubbard's lengthy volume on Hosea were allowed far more space than normally happens in this series. Colin Kruse's new one on John is the best basic level commentary on John, and John Stott's volume on I-III John is probably the same for that book. I've seen some refer to I. Howard Marshall on Acts as the best commentary in the series, though I think I'd reserve that for Stott's. Derek Kidner did some fine work for this series too (Genesis, Ezra-Nehemiah, Psalms, Proverbs), though his are probably among the most dated in the series.

The following list is in canonical order. If you prefer to see the volumes in their chronological release order (as best as I can reconstruct), see here.

This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the NIV Application Commentary. For more series, see my post on commentary series.

The NIV Application Commentaries (NIVAC) are truly of their own category. After what's usually a fairly brief exposition of what the text says in its original context, there's a section raising considerations on how we should bridge from that context to our own, and then a third section presents some ways to apply the text in our own context. This is an admirable aim, since it gives a model for how each person should be reading the Bible with an aim to applying it in our own contexts. The downside is that the author isn't in exactly our context, and we have to do that kind of work ourselves and not allow a commentary to do it for us, or else we won't have truly bridged the contextual gap from the text to our own context. But the model presented in these volumes is often very helpful to begin that work.

There's much of value in these commentaries, even if the exposition itself is fairly brief, since it's not really much briefer than most basic level commentaries, but the additional portions are extra help in matters that commentaries don't often deal with. With caution, they can be quite helpful. The NT is finished, with the OT coming along pretty quickly.

Volumes released:

Ben Witherington now has two more Judas posts. He discusses yesterday's NPR discussion of the Gospel of Judas, which I missed and now will have to try to listen to from their website when I get the chance. Several issues come up in the post. I think the two most notable points are his further discussion of whether this Coptic text had a Greek antecedent and his claim about the moral content of this work. He particularly frowns on its portrayal of Jews. I left a comment wondering what he meant. Is the Gospel of Judas is anti-semitic in a way that the canonical gospels are not? I doubt he accepts the claims of many scholars that the internal criticism of Jesus and his followers of their fellow Jews counts as anti-semitism. Is just a further development in the direction that isn't really anti-semitism but that scholars have pretended is anti-semitism, or is it really anti-semitic in a way that the canonical gospels aren't? I'd be reluctant to consider it anti-semitic simply because it says some things that Jews didn't agree with, but that's all he mentions. If it can be established that the motivation was hatred of Jews, then I could see it, but simply having a different cosmology from the Hebrew one doesn't seem to me in itself to be anti-semitic. I'm still awaiting his response on this.

Witherington also has a discussion of what the canonical gospels say about Judas. I'm a little more confident that Judas never repented than he is (I think the suicide is a pretty good sign that he didn't), but he doesn't think we have any reason to think Judas did repent. What he does think is clear is that Judas did wrong in betraying Jesus and that this was really just a continuation of his character all along.


Andreas Kostenberger also posts on this
. I don't think he's saying much that wasn't in any of the other various things I've linked to except one point that I partially disagree with. The Gospel of Judas is bad for several reasons, one of which is that viewpoint it expresses. Gnosticism treats the body as unimportant and thus devalues one aspect of how God created us. It's not really a gospel, because it's message isn't good news but in fact bad news. I agree. But he adds one further thing that makes me hesitate. He says the Gospel of Judas is morally dangerous because it promotes betrayal as good. I don't think it's exactly fair to say that the Gospel of Judas portrays betrayal as virtuous. What it does is say that Judas didn't betray Jesus but was carrying out his instructions. In effect, it exonerates someone who in reality was a traitor by saying something false about what he did. But it doesn't take the moral stance that betrayal is virtuous. I think the author would have agreed that Judas would have been doing wrong if he had betrayed Jesus. But the book doesn't portray Judas as having done that.

I've been watching National Geographic's special on the Gospel of Judas (see here for my first post with links to all sorts of information on this work). I'm trying to catalogue all the unscholarly things they've been saying. I think I missed at least one, but there's plenty here to criticize.

First of all, they selected mostly scholars known for Gnostic sympathies or more radical reconstructions of the history of the development of Christianity. Many of these were not mainstream scholars but fringe elements like Bart Ehrman (see the links here for evaluation of his latest popular work) or Elaine Pagels (best known for minority views about Gnosticism that most scholars reject). Craig Evans was the one voice of reason in the whole production, and it felt to me as if they were excerpting him most of the time to fit with what they wanted to get across, putting his rejection of any historical value in this work regarding the actual Judas immediately before a fallacious argument of Elaine Pagels that ignores much historical information about the differences between what we know about the gospels and what we know about this work (see 6 below). My conclusion is that the people who put this together absolutely failed in terms of their journalistic integrity. But what else is new? That usually happens in these specials. There was much that I found enjoyable and interesting in this special, but I'm disgusted enough with the negatives that I'll have to refer you to Mark Goodacre for the positive elements.

On to the specific criticisms:

The Gospel of Judas

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I wish I had the time to comment on the media failure about the Gospel of Judas, but enough people have already done so that I can just link to them.

David Kopel at The Volokh Conspiracy has The Judas Gospel, which mainly refutes the ridiculous sorts of claims being made by most of the major media outlets who have been suggesting that anything in the Gospel of Judas has some bearing on scholarship on the historical Judas and will force everyone to reevaluate this man.

Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping has Judas Gospel a Yawner at Winds of Change (he also has it at his personal blog, but he's got comments and trackbacks at Winds of Change), which fills in more details on the apostolic origins of the NT canon and the rejection of non-apostolic works like the Gospel of Judas.

Ben Witherington has The Gospel of Judas et. al. -- Part One, which has some inside information about the process that has led to the publication of this new English translation of the Coptic translation that scholars we have had for years but has been unreadable by most NT scholars who know no Coptic (and the original Greek, if there ever was one, has not been found). He says he intends to follow up on this more.

Mark Roberts focuses more on the actual content of the Gospel of Judas in Excursus: The Gospel of Judas -- A Special Report, in an extended aside in the midst of a series evaluating the claims made by characters in The Da Vinci Code. It's not wholly off-topic, since both works raise issues related to Gnosticism, but this post is a stand-alone treatment of the Judas "gospel".

Lying Under Duress

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I've been thinking through the ethics of deceit with respect to April Fools jokes and other kinds of false statements that may or may not be considered lying. The Jill Carroll case has raised an important further sort of case that I hadn't been thinking about. What about when someone says something they don't believe to be true under duress? For background on the details of her case and her deliberate statements (under threat) of things she didn't agree with, see the Moderate Voice's excellent roundup. There seem to me to be at least three issues that may have a moral bearing on how we should evaluate such false statements, and I think the end result is much more messy than we would generally like moral issues to be.

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