Severian of Gabala on Mark 10:17-18 and John 20:27-29


Recently, I was contacted by a regular commenter here, Stephan Huller, about translating a passage from a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom.  The sermon, entitled “On the Ascension,” was edited by Montfaucon, and eventually appeared in the PG 52.773-92.  Though originally attributed to Chrysostom, in the past century it has been definitively assigned to his rival, Severian of Gabala.  Ironically, most of Severian’s surviving works come to us under Chrysostom’s name.  More information can be found in De Aldama’s Repertorium Pseudo-Chrysostomicum.  This homily is n. 415 in that work, and the entry may be translated:

Montfaucon had advised that this homily (which appears variously in different manuscripts) was a pastiche of several homilies, perhaps composed from several authors, and that the second part (sections 8-10) mostly consists of material taken from Chrysostom’s lost second homily on the beginning of Acts.  Marx, however, in OCPer5 (1939) 283-291 showed that this homily actually belongs to Severian of Gabala, though granting the possibility that two homilies may have indeed been conflated into one.  Altendorf admits the attribution to Severian in a letter.

I don’t have the CPG number on hand, but it appears there under Severian’s name.  

Stephan asked me to translated section 6, along with the last bit of section 5 and the first bit of section 7.  His own interests, as I understand them, relate to early understandings of Mark 10:17-18, where Jesus rebukes his interlocutor for calling him “good teacher” by saying “why do you call me good?  No one is good except God, who is one.”  

In our homily here, Severian takes aim at Arians by using John 20:27-29, where Thomas calls Jesus “my Lord and my God”  after seeing him resurrected.  Arians, who taught that Christ was a created being, rather than co-eternal with the Father, naturally turned to Mark 10:18, as it seems that Jesus is refusing divine honors.  Severian compares the passage in Mark with the passage in John, as in John, Jesus accepts the title “Lord and God.”  Severian’s solution is that in Mark, Jesus is really rebuking his interlocutor for calling him “good teacher” rather than “good Lord.”  In Severian’s mind, “teacher” is an unworthy epithet for the son of God, and so he rejects it.  

My translation here is fairly literal.  We’re not dealing with highly polished rhetoric (like Gregory of Nazianzus), so putting the work into highly polished English prose would be disingenuous.  I’ve occasionally added bits for clarity, but I’ve tried to put [square brackets] around what I’ve added.  The bolded numbers in parentheses denote section numbers.  I’ve modified the paragraph structure from the PG (by ending section 5 sooner) because it’s clear (at least to me) that a new topic begins with the citation of Jn. 20:27.  

English Translation

(5) Thus Thomas’s finger has ended the quarrel of the heretics, for this is the finger, over which the the Egyptian magicians could not prevail, saying “this is the finger of the Lord” (Ex 8:15).  It was thus fitting for St. Thomas, after this assurance, to proclaim the words of David, “in the day of my affliction I have pursued God” (Ps. 77:2/76:3 LXX), and after enquiring with his hands to declare also what follows, “in the night, my hands are stretched out before him, and I have not been deceived” (Ps. 77:2/76:3 LXX) [1].

“Do not disbelieve, but rather believe” (Jn. 20:27).  Thomas, then, having recognized from the wound the one who suffered, due to Jesus’ foreknowledge, called him God, saying, “my Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). (6) Let the heretics hear this!  If the son had actually rejected this, and does not possess identical honor with the Father, why then does he not dismiss this all-surpassing honor?  For he heard from someone else, “good teacher,” and he said, “why do you gall me good? No one is good, except God, who is one”  (Mk. 10:17-18), even though the word “good” is in use among us.  By your understanding, he refused the epithet “good.”  How much more should he have refused to accept “Lord and God”? [In that passage, the man says] “Good Teacher,” and [Jesus] replied, “why do you call me good?” But here we have, “my Lord and my God,” but he did not say, “why do you call me ‘Lord and God?’” In the prior case, since the word used was unworthy of him (for [the man] did not say, “Good Lord,” but “Good teacher”), he dismissed the worthless title and accepted the honorable one.  In this instance, he also offers a rebuke, but on opposite grounds: he rebuked Thomas because [Thomas] spoke too late.  He did not rebuke him for saying “my Lord,” but because he spoke later than he should have.  “After you have seen, you have believed, but blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (Jn 20:29).  Though only one man [Thomas] has been summoned, all of us have been blessed, for this blessing was spoken over all of us and those after us.  Because we have not received these miraculous things by sight, but rather received them in faith, we become fellow partakers in this great and renowned blessing.  


(7) But let us turn from this story, which we have treated succinctly, and move on to another word of the prophet, lest you all grow weary from an abundance of words. Which passage shall we discuss? “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Is. 2:3 / Micah 4:2)…  [2]



[1] The Greek reads, “I have not been deceived” at the end of this verse, which differs from the Hebrew (or at least our English translations of the Hebrew), which reads something like, “my soul refused to be comforted.”


[2] Severian discusses in this section the “mountain of the Lord” and the Mount of Olives, before turning back to a discussion on Acts.

If anything is unclear, let me know in the comments.

ἐν αὐτῷ,

ἄλλος, John 14:16, and Gregory of Nazianzus

If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the nature of the Holy Spirit, the speaker may have used John 14:16 as a reference:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give another comforter to you, one that will be with you always.”

The Greek behind the English word, “another” is the adjective ἄλλος.  It’s common to hear that there are two words for “another” in Greek: ἄλλος and ἕτερος.  I can’t think of any English derivatives of ἄλλος, but ἕτερος is where we get our “hetero” words, like heterogenous.  At any rate, ἄλλος (which is used here), means “another of the same type” in classical Greek, while ἕτερος means “another of a different type.”  This distinction is still felt in the New Testament period, though the two words start to overlap more and more.

As always, with points of Greek usuage like this, I like to refer to the Greek fathers when possible.  Their Greek is better than mine will ever be!  Gregory, in his Oration on Pentecost (Or. 41), supports the distinction between the two words, and puts it to good use when discussing the Holy Spirit:

Διὰ τοῦτο μετὰ Χριστὸν μέν, ἵνα Παράκλητος ὑμῖν μὴ λείπῃ·  «Ἄλλος» δὲ, ἵνα σὺ τὴν ἰσοτιμίαν ἐνθυμηθῇς. τὸ γὰρ «ἄλλος» οὐκ ἐπὶ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τῶν ὁμοουσίων οἶδα λεγόμενον.

Because of this, after Christ (the Spirit came), so that you would not lack a helper.  This helper is “another” (ἄλλος) so that you may know that he is one of equal honor.  For the word “ἄλλος” does not refer to things of a different type, but we know that it said about things that are of the same nature (gk. ὁμοούσιος, the word used in the Nicene Creed to refer to the “consubstantiality” of the Godhead).  

Scholars of Greek often lament the poor use of Greek in sermons, but this particular point is well-founded in our knowledge of Greek, and has precedent in the Church Fathers. One could, I suppose, argue against it, but it’s always nice to have Gregory of Nazianzus on your side.

ἐν αὐτῷ,


Unpublished Material from John Chrysostom on the Psalms

First, I must say that I am enjoying my week in Oxford immensely.  I’ve learned a good deal from the Palaeography summer school: we’ve been able to read a goodly number of texts, in all sorts of different hands.  There have been quite interesting lectures in the evenings, and great library exhibits during the day.

While I’m here, I’ve decided to make use of the special collections access that came with my card.  Use the excellent Pinakes website, I came across Ms. Barocci 55, a codex containing a large number of homilies from John Chrysostom.  Of particular interest to me were 6 homilies on the Psalms which are not included in the Patrologia Graeca volume.  According to the catalog, the materials on the psalms dates from the 10th century, which means it’s quite early.

The psalms covered in the ms are: 41, 50 (2 homilies), 71, 92, and 100 (all LXX numbers).  I transcribed some material today from the homily on ps 100 (about a folio, front and back’s worth).  Though I’m no expert in such matters, it is consistent with what I’ve read from John’s material on the Psalms (especially his contrast between worldly songs and spiritual ones).

If proven authentic, these are important homilies!  Robert Hill recently published an English translation of Chrysostom’s material on the Psalter, and these homilies were not included (given they are not in the PG).  Likewise, Hill has an article on Antiochene interpretation of Psalm 41, which does not mention the homily contained here.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do some more work with this while I’m here, and perhaps in the future too.  The recent discovery of the Origen codex will only increase interest in our early exegetical material on the Psalms. In the meanwhile (as they say in the UK), let this serve as a humble reminder:  The PG, while vast, does not contain the entirety of the Patristic tradition!

Oh, and if someone is aware of a publication of these homilies, do let me know in the comments!

τῷ χείρι τοῦ ταπεινοῦ Ἀλεξάδρου ἁμαρτωλοῦ

ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ and John Chrysostom (Part 5)

This post is a part of a series: parts one, two, three, and four.

Unfortunately (or fortunately considering the length of the last post), I forgot a fascinating portion that comes right before John’s discussion in Eph 2:8. It provides some prior context for his discussion on faith then. After talking at length about the being raised and seated with Christ, he goes into this passage:

We are in need of the Spirit of revelation, so that we may know the depth of these mysteries. Then, so that you will not disbelieve, see what follows. “So that he may display, in the coming ages, the surpassing riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” As he said these things concerning Christ, do they matter to us? Some say, “what is it to us, if he rose?” But he shows that these things are indeed for us, if he is joined to us. Else, he would be saying these things about himself, “while we were dead in transgressions, he raised us and seated us with him.” Thus, as I have been saying, don’t disbelieve! He takes up this demonstration to show his goodness from the first things and the head. How does he show this, if these things have not yet happened? [being seated in the heavenlies] They happen in the coming ages. What [is proved]? That his good works were astounding, and that he was the most faithful of all. Currently these things seem foolish to the unbelievers, but then all will know.

Some of this I’ve found very difficult. The bolded part has had me puzzled for several days now. The emphasis here is on faith. John wants to tie Christ’s destiny (his rising and being seated with the father) with the believer’s destiny. The passage says such extravagant things about believers that he warns them to “not disbelieve.” The bolded bit has something about the “first things,” (προτέρων), the head (κεφαλῆς), and “wanting to show him(self?) to be the best,” as the reason for “taking up this demonstration.” He will demonstrate in the coming ages the greatness of his deeds, and that he was the most faithful of all. It’s not entirely clear here to me John here is referring to Christ or the Father. Is it the Father who “shows himself to be more faithful than all” or Christ? Ephesians 2 suggests that it’s the Father. “God, who is rich in mercy…” But Christ gets much more mention by name in this passage. My money is on the Father, but perhaps it’s a silly question. Whatever the case, part of this “demonstration” is to prove that God/Christ is the “most faithful of all.” God’s faithfulness provides a perfect basis for our faith

We have another interesting passage right before this. Discussing the transition from 2:3 to 2:4 we get, “‘On account of his great love, with which he loved us.’ Then he shows just how he loved us. These were not worthy of love, but of wrath and punishment on the last day. Thus, this was from great mercy! ‘And while we were dead in in our transgressions, he made us alive with Christ.’ Again Christ is the middle, as is his accomplishment that is worthy of faith (καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἀξιόπιστον). For if the firstfruits lives, so shall we. He made him alive, and so too will he make us.

Here it is evident that we are “made alive with Christ” by his “worthy-of-faith” deed. Our faith is rooted in Jesus’ accomplishment in the incarnation-life-death-resurrection. Christ’s “deed” or “accomplishment” here probably does refer to his entire life. In Philippians, John talks at length about the necessity of faith in the incarnation and the resurrection, at one point saying that “these things accomplish righteousness.” I’d imagine that he has a similarly wide view here. God’s love is expressed chiefly through the coming, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of his son.

As for the πίστις Χριστοῦ, these are only tangentially related. Human faith is clearly in view. John urges his listeners to “not disbelieve,” and he also describes Jesus’ life as “worthy-of-faith.” God’s faithfulness, however, is also in view. God (or Christ) will prove himself in the coming ages to be a “doer of great deeds” and the “most faithful of all.” When it comes to 2:8-9 (discussed in part 4), it shows that God’s faithfulness (or Christ’s) is on his mind. What I need to do there is see how John uses δῶρον elsewhere. In 2:8, after saying, “this faith is not ours,” he says, “The gift (δῶρον) is of God. What is the gift? faith? Jesus? salvation? Faith is the most likely candidate in the immediate context. Later he talks about a woman “offering her firstborn son, the son of prayer [ie, an answer to her prayer], the entire gift (δῶρον), back to God.” (PG 62.173) Alas, we shall see!

ἐν πίστει τῃ του αὐτοῦ,

Here are the Greek passages (please look at the bold and offer suggestions!):

Ὄντως Πνεύματος χρεία καὶ ἀποκαλύψεως, ὥστε τὸ βάθος νοῆσαι τῶν μυστηρίων τούτων.
Εἶτα, ἵνα μὴ ἀπιστήσῃς, ὅρα τί ἐπάγει· Ἵνα ἐνδείξηται ἐν τοῖς αἰῶσι τοῖς
ἐπερχομένοις τὸν ὑπερβάλλοντα πλοῦτον τῆς χάριτος αὑτοῦ ἐν χρηστότητι ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς
ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ εἶπε τὰ περὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ταῦτα δὲ οὐδὲν ἦν πρὸς ἡμᾶς
(Τί γὰρ, φησὶ, πρὸς ἡμᾶς, εἰ ἐκεῖνος ἀνέστη); ἔδειξε μὲν οὖν ὅτι καὶ πρὸς ἡμᾶς, εἴ γε
οὗτος ἡμῖν ἥνωται· πλὴν ὅτι καὶ τὰ ἡμῶν κατ’ ἰδίαν φησίν· Ὄντας γὰρ ἡμᾶς νεκροὺς
τοῖς παραπτώμασι συνήγειρε καὶ συνεκάθισεν. Ὥστε, ὅπερ ἔφην, μὴ ἀπίστει, ἀπό τε
τῶν προτέρων ἀπό τε τῆς κεφαλῆς ἀπό τε τοῦ βούλεσθαι ἐνδείκνυσθαι αὐτὸν τὴν
ἀγαθότητα λαβὼν τὴν ἀπόδειξιν.
Πῶς γὰρ ἐνδείξεται, ἂν τοῦτο μὴ γένηται; Καὶ
ἐνδείξεται ἐν τοῖς αἰῶσι τοῖς ἐπερχομένοις. Τί; Ὅτι καὶ μεγάλα τὰ ἀγαθὰ ἦν, καὶ
πάντων πιστότερα. Νῦν μὲν γὰρ λῆρος εἶναι δοκεῖ τοῖς ἀπίστοις τὰ λεγόμενα, τότε δὲ
πάντες εἴσονται. (PG 62.33)

∆ιὰ τὴν πολλὴν ἀγάπην αὑτοῦ, ἣν
ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς. ∆είκνυσι πόθεν ἡμᾶς ἠγάπησε. Ταῦτα γὰρ οὐκ ἀγάπης ἄξια, ἀλλ’
ὀργῆς καὶ τιμωρίας τῆς ἐσχάτης. Καὶ οὕτω οὖν ἀπὸ πολλοῦ ἐλέους. Καὶ ὄντας ἡμᾶς
νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασι, συνεζωοποίησεν ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ. Πάλιν ὁ Χριστὸς μέσος,
καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἀξιόπιστον. Εἰ γὰρ ἡ ἀπαρχὴ ζῇ, καὶ ἡμεῖς· ἐζωοποίησε κἀκεῖνον, καὶ
ἡμᾶς. (PG 62.32)

Chrysostom and Paul

Currently, I’m trying to puzzle through what I want to write about for my final paper in my Paul class. I know that I want to write about some aspect of John Chrysostom’s exegesis on Paul, but I’m not sure what to write about. I’d thought about discussing John’s analysis of Paul’s “image” language (Col 1:15, 3:10, etc). I’m shying away from that, as he doesn’t seem to have much to say in his commentaries on “image” except for some polemic against Arianism in Col 1.

I could also do some comparative study on some of the early exegetes. I could do some comparison of the Antiochene interpretation versus Alexandrian by comparing Origen and John for example. Romans 7 might be worth examining, as it’s a tricky passage where opinions abound. I could also pull in some of the other Antiochene exegetes like Theodoret.

In the mean time, I’ve been reading John and reading about him. I particularly enjoyed working through his comments on the end of 2 Corinthians 3, with its notoriously tricky, “ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν.” (Either “The Lord is Spirit,” or “the Spirit is Lord”). I’ve also been reading through J.N.D. Kelley’s excellent biography: Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom-Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop. I’m almost 200 pages in, and I’ve immensely enjoyed the work. I’ve also worked through a good bit of Margaret Mitchell’s The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation. (Which is still $4.99 as of this date at CBD!). I really enjoyed this one early on, but I’ve become slightly blogged down in the middle though.

Any ideas? Or even some good background reading?

On Allegory

One of the things you have to come to terms with when studying early Christianity is allegorical exegesis.  Most academics don’t care for it (or actively despise it), but most of the early Christians had no such inhibitions.  They saw Christ hiding behind every corner of the Old Testament.  Origen was known to embrace apparent contradictions on the surface level to find the eternal meaning of the text.  Of course, it wasn’t just Alexandrian flights of fancy where we find allegory.  Paul tells the Galatians, after doing some OT exposition on the Hagar and Sarah, that “these things may be understood allegorically.”  Likewise, he tells the Corinthians, “these things [the stories of the Israelites in the desert] happened as models for us, so that we wouldn’t desire evil, as they did.”  Hebrews is in many ways, one extended meditation on Psalm 110, Jesus being a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.  Jesus himself, of course, actively modeled his own work after those of the prophets, and employed parables (allegorical stories) in much of his teaching.

So how do we properly appropriate allegory?  There are all sorts of weird pitfalls.  I come from a movement where OT texts are regularly interpreted “prophetically” to say some strange things (ie, whatever the pastor wants the text to say at the moment).  Allegorical exegesis often is far more dependent on the ingenuity of the allegorist than the text as the author construed it.

On the other hand, we are invited, even commanded, to read the Old Testament in light of Jesus.  This doesn’t mean we can’t read them for historical content, or reconstruct what they would meant to their original audience (even if such a reconstruction is terribly fragile most of the time), but can we give these readings (valuable though they are) hermeneutical priority when “the reality, however, if found in Christ” ?  Epistemologically, do we not have to start with Christ and work back into the OT, especially as Gentile believers?

Honestly, I love reading the OT through the eyes of the early Church.  While I might be able to appreciate the history and language of early Christianity without a particularly strong faith, I don’t think I could ever appreciate the Old Testament without faith to spur me on.  The early Church has been my entry way into the Old Testament.  I never understood or enjoyed the Psalms until I started reading them in Greek, with John Chrysostom and Eusebius of Caesarea to guide me.  I know one day I’ll learn Hebrew and be able to appreciate the OT without necessarily reading it along with the early Church.  However, I’m quite content until then to read the OT in Greek, with some of the most brilliant saints of old to teach me.

So I suppose I’m a son in search of an answer.  How do we embrace allegory without going off the deep end?  How do affirm both the “original meaning” (insofar as it can be known), and what Christians down through the ages have seen it pointing to?  What is the relationship between the two, and which has primacy?

Thoughts are welcome!

A Fun Dabbling of Textual Criticism

As I’ve been reading some of Chrysostom’s commentary on the Psalms, I had wondered how long it would take me to notice a difference between his text of the Psalms and mine. It’s quite funny that it took me this long to find one, because there is one right at the beginning of the work! Chrysostom is great for this kind of thing because he loves to make rather detailed points about the text. He’s fond of saying things like, “The prophet didn’t say this (insert slight difference), but this.” The change in the text with Rahlfs is very minor, but it would break his argument at this point (or hinder this particular point any way).

The text in question is the fourth Psalm. Here’s Rahlf’s text:

Εν τῷ ἐπικαλεῖσθαί με εἰσήκουσέν μου ὁ θεὸς τῆς δικαιοσύνης μου

And here’s Chrysostom:

Εν τῷ ἐπικαλεῖσθαί με εἰσήκουσέ με ὁ Θεὸς τῆς δικαιοσύνης μου

Can you spot the difference? It’s very slight, it occurs in the word following εισηκουσεν:

Εν τῷ ἐπικαλεῖσθαί με εἰσήκουσέν μου ὁ θεὸς τῆς δικαιοσύνης μου (Rahlfs)
Εν τῷ ἐπικαλεῖσθαί με εἰσήκουσέ με ὁ Θεὸς τῆς δικαιοσύνης μου (Chrysostom)

Why is this important? Well Chrysostom goes on to make this point:

Πρὸς γοῦν τοὺς ἐν πονηρίᾳ μὲν ζῶντας, προσδοκῶντας δὲ τῷ μήκει τῶν
ῥημάτων δυσωπεῖν αὐτὸν, ὅρα τί φησιν. Ὅταν πληθύνητε τὴν δέησιν, οὐκ εἰσακούσομαι
ὑμῶν. Ἐὰν ἐκτείνητε τὰς χεῖρας, ἀποστρέψω τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς μου ἀφ’ ὑμῶν. Ἄρα πρὸ
τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων παῤῥησίαν δεῖ τὸν εὐχόμενον ἔχειν, καὶ πάντως ἕψεται τὰ τῆς
αἰτήσεως. ∆ιά τοι τοῦτο καὶ ὁ Προφήτης οὐκ εἶπεν, Εἰσήκουσεν ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ, Τῆς
δικαιοσύνης μου
, τὴν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν αὐτοῦ παῤῥησίαν δεικνὺς, καὶ ὡς μετὰ ταύτης
αὐτῷ προσῄει διὰ παντός.

And a rather rough translation.

To those that live in evil, who give to Him lofty words, see what is written: Whenever you utter your request, I will not hear you. If you stretch out your hands, I will turn my eyes from you. Before all others your prayer must have boldness, so by all means follow the boldness of this prayer. Because of this the prophet didn’t say, “He heard me,” but “He heard my righteousness.” Having shown God this righteousness, he prayed through all things.

I’m not so sure about the “So before others…” line, so for the Greekers out there please double check that one for me.

First, the difference between the readings. As I understand it, Rahlfs reading would be translated like this:

In my cry to him, God, who is my righteousness, heard me.

Chrysostom’s would go like this:
In my cry to him, God heard my righteousness.

I don’t have easy access to a textual apparatus, though I could find no mention of the variant in Swete’s apparatus (which is online at Swete’s LXX followed Chrysostom’s text on this one though.

So what is Chrysostom up to here? As always, he’s extremely concerned with the moral character of his congregation. In teaching them to pray, he is goes out of his way to point out that one prays through good works. The opposite is true too. Sin blocks prayer, and he trots out the famous passage from Isaiah where God castigates Israel for observing religious ceremonies while failing to do justice. Thus, he naturally points out that God hears our actions just as loud as our words. The argument is summed up nicely in a short sentence early in the homily:

Οὐ γὰρ δὴ ῥημάτων πλῆθος πείθειν τὸν Θεὸν εἴωθεν, ἀλλὰ καθαρὰ ψυχὴ καὶ ἔργων ἀγαθῶν ἐπίδειξις.

For it is not the fullness of words that convinces God, but a pure soul and the demonstration of good works. (again, not sure about ειωθεν).

Textual Criticism is normally of no interest to me, but I found this little bit interesting ;-).

Romans 12:6 and the Charismatics

I read quite a bit about the charismatics gifts back when I first started following God, but I was never satisfied with the explanation of this verse:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;” Romans 12:6 (ESV)

Most of the teaching I heard around this verse seemed to have some almost “magical” definition of faith behind it. If we prophesy past our “faith bar” it’s not proper prophecy anymore! Of course that’s a parody and caricature, but it still seemed gets at how I viewed this verse. The ESV Study Bible’s note proved a little more helpful, “Paul instructs prophets to speak only when they have confidence that the Spirit is truly revealing something to them, and not to exceed the faith that God has given hem by trying to impress others.”

A thought occurred to me as I read this, what if Paul’s talking about trustworthiness instead of faith? The same Greek word πιστις is used for both concepts. This word plays a big part in the Pastoral epistles, particularly with the formula, “this saying is trustworthy.” Thus, the idea Paul would be communicating is to not prophesy past the trust you’ve established with the community. With itinerant prophets roaming around, this could be a problem.

That said, I’d have to argue for the whole passage being read that way, and look at how exactly Paul uses the word throughout the whole letter. It might be anachronistic to read the Pastoral Epistles back into Romans since they came later. However, this does make more sense of the passage, particularly in the context of Romans 12 and the ethical instruction to the church. Whether it makes sense in context with the whole of Romans is not yet clear to me.


Quote of the Day

“Since I welcome every available opportunity to pontificate on subjects that I know nothing about, a colloquium on discourse analysis provides a singularly apt occasion to display this rare skill.” Moisés Silva

I can identify… ;-)


Reflections on exegesis

I recently finished three books which are relevant to the task of exegesis (a close reading of the biblical text, with the purpose of discovering the intent of the biblical author).  The three authors are fairly well respected in evangelical circles (and often wider ones as well).  I read D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, and David Alan Black’s Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.   All contributed added to my knowledge of the task, though some were more interesting than others.  Here I’ll collect some various thoughts that resulted from reading and reflecting on the books.

From Carson’s book, I was reminded of the absolute necessity of humility in scholarship.  Scholarship which isn’t humble (and in turn, self critical) usually ends up veering off into some fallacy or another.  Going hand in hand with humility is the need for intellectual honesty.  It’s very easy to get an idea and run with it, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.  Usually this results in ignoring important evidence.  When the scholarship in question surrounds scripture, it’s even more important to be honest and humble.  Reading about all the ways which people misuse and abuse the Greek text of the New Testament warned me as I study Greek:  tread softly and be hesitant about making broad statements.  Don’t try to bend the text to a preconceived notion.  You do yourself and the text a disservice in this case. 

Fee’s book was the most fascinating for me.  As a Pentecostal scholar and minister, Fee has a very strong appeal to me as someone raised in and involved with Pentecostalism, and as someone who loves intellectual pursuits.  The combination is still rare, though slowly changing I hope.  Fee impressed on me the wealth of all the resources that we’ve been given.  Between the lexicons, the commentaries, the synopses, and dictionaries, it’s astonishing.  Seeing a process laid out for doing detailed reading was also helpful, and I know it’s something I’ll return to in the future, Lord willing, when I preach or teach.  The final thing which struck me in Fee’s book was his deep appreciation for the Spirit’s activity in the text.  His appeal, in the middle of all of the scholarship, to encounter God in the text, and to let God examine you through the text, is something that I hopes stays with me. 

Finally, there was Black’s book on Linguistics.  In all frankness, this book was the most difficult.  Perhaps it’s because my lack of exposure to linguistics, but I found it rather boring.  Black did a good job of presenting the basics of linguistics and giving examples from New Testament Greek.  He claimed throughout that the linguistics discipline has much to contribute to New Testament studies.  While I believe him, he didn’t show this very much.  Perhaps that was beyond the scope of the book, but it would have kept me much more interested in the book.  That said, he did cause me to think more about how language works in general.  This definitely helps one not make bogus conclusions when studying Greek, especially when doing word studies. 

All three books were valuable for trying to growing in the art of Scripture reading.  I’d recommend any of them, with the caveat that the linguistics book may not be the most exciting, and also that all of them might be hard to follow without some exposure to Greek.