Conversation with an Atheist Friend (06)

30 04 2009
The repute and reality of being a Roman emperor
Image by howard_riches via Flickr

And further….

Me: give me some references

Friend: isn’t that your job?

Me: Nothing like this comes to mind.

Friend: but my point is that he was supposedly performing lots of miracles, and had crowds.

Me: We have the discovery at Oxyrhynchus of thousands of letter if this is what you mean but that’s in Egypt. I don’t know of such records for Judea. Besides the letters were pretty sporadic. The guys who wrote these records down almost certainly wrote at a time when people who were there were alive. Your point is also a good one about the Romans. What they were obsessive about was good history. SO… if four (and possibly more) different records are circulated to people who are still alive and then the movement gains momentum to the point where the empire is Christianized, this says something. How does it take root in a history obsessed society if it is historically crappy?

Friend: but it didn’t take root until the 4th or 5th century!

Me: Rome wasn’t built in the day.

Friend: it just looks like a political movement.

Me: We know for sure that several Roman Emperors tried to kill people off on mass – that’s got to slow things down a little. Nero for one. There must have been a significant number of Christians to feed the hungry lions. And still regroup after. The problem in all this – and I’m not trying to be smart in saying this – is that the Kuhnian discussion I began with about enlightenment optimism is very important. I am not anti-science in the least. There just has to be level headed realization that no one is objective as they think and questions must be asked like this – if God really wanted to prove he existed what might he do? Put his fingerprints all over the world in terms of order… yes but this will be dismissed as rubbish… no proof at all… you just think this because you have an un-evolved sense of complexity and probability. But why does evidence look good to one person and bad to another? It is because they are functioning within a paradigm to look for what fits and to discard what doesn’t – you and me both. Like the broad generality about religion being evil and causing evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up. I heard a statistic the other day (from an official source) that conservative Christians give more money to the poor than their counterparts and that if everyone in the US gave as much blood as these people they’d be turning people away. Sure when it becomes an ideology in the hands of divisive or greedy people it gets distorted, but the same could be said of any ideology throughout history – whether political systems or football supporters, or whatever. All this proves is that we have evolved follow a pack mentality – Kuhn again!

Friend: I find it hilarious that evangelicals are now in bed with post-modernists. You are so far out on a subjectivist limb, that you can’t climb down. You know, it’s fine to admit that you can’t ARGUE about this stuff. You can just throw your hands up and say, “You just gotta believe me, because I just believe it, OK?” And I can say, “Huh?” As Dennett says, there are many reasons why people SAY they are christian.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Evangelistic Preaching (08)

30 04 2009

hands_shakingjpg8. Introductions.

Chappo says that the introduction to a talk needs to be written last. I think it’s good advice, and normally works for me. The main advantage in this is that the tail doesn’t wag the dog. That is, you don’t write a great introduction that you have to keep pushing towards what your talk is really about. Write the talk first, then write a good introduction that suits it, rather than the other way around.

Another thing that comes from Chappo is that an introduction works best when it raises a problem or a question that is answered by the body of the talk. In other words, the introduction raises the ‘so what?’ issue: why should I listen to this talk? What is this talk going to offer? A good introduction will resolve those issues and encourage the listener to stay with you.

A final Chappo thing. You only have about 2 minutes before people will decide if they’ll listen to you or not. So don’t waste it. It’s pretty commonplace to say hi and introduce yourself and all that, but I think it’s much better to launch right into it and make those 2 minutes really count. I guess there all kinds of exceptions to this though: if you’re the pastor of a church, you may have things you want to raise before getting into the talk; that’s fair enough. And if you haven’t been interviewed before an evangelistic talk you’ll need to say something to build a bit of rapport. But I think it is much wiser to break the ice with an interview (not immediately before the talk), and then launch right in: let the beginning be the beginning.

Well, I guess it’s all Chappo for me on introductions. Not a bad thing.

Posted by Con Campbell

Conversation with an Atheist Friend (05)

26 04 2009
ufo, jesus-question-answer
Image by The Random Act via Flickr


Me: You are making out that my whole point is what I cannot prove. This isn’t about disproving, it’s about dealing with the evidence (in this case for Jesus). My point is simply that you have to go beyond science. Neither am I bagging science or its value. In its realm it is good and fine. But it is a constructed paradigm meant not only to discover true, but to perpetuate the pursuit of an understanding of the closed system we call planet earth.

Friend: How, exactly, do you “go beyond science”

Me: One simple example. You have a manuscript which is evidence for something…

Friend: literature is not science.

Me: That’s what I mean. The evidence for the UFO may be the guy’s burnt feet, but this is a piece of evidence which you must decide on… how does science help you make this decision.

Friend: but in the case of the UFO, there isn’t even burnt feet and in the case of Jesus there is nothing except what is in the bible. Aren’t you studying biblical archeology? You know there are million dollar prizes for evidence that Jesus existed? What have you found?

Me: Now we’re talking – of course I’m just in it for the money like everyone else

Friend: I don’t know what it would take. Seems like even the fate of your so-called immortal soul isn’t enough to conjure anything at all.

Me: OK. Let’s start by asking what kind of historical evidence you might expect for a carpenter who gets killed like a common criminal and has a bunch of fishermen as his followers… Actually you could start by asking why he got crucified in the first place.

Friend: I would expect the Romans, obsessive record keepers, to have written something down.

Me: In Rome perhaps, but not in the backwater of the empire.

Friend: but they wrote lots of less impressive stuff down.

Me: Who are you referring to? Seneca, Pliny?

Friend: no in the roman province of Judea there are lots of records about all kinds of mundane stuff.

Me: give me some references

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Advanced Greek (03)

26 04 2009

2806jpgHere’s the reading list for my Advanced Greek course, followed by the reference bibliography.

You’ll notice a mix of theoretical material with readings that focus on exegetical applications of linguistic method. My intention has been to introduce a number of advanced issues in Greek, and introductory issues in linguistics as they apply to Greek, in order to provide an overview of what’s out there and to give students ideas for their own research presentations and papers.

As we read through Greek text together (in our second hour each week), it’s been encouraging to see students applying the principles and methodology that we’ve been reading about in the set readings.

Posted by Con Campbell

Set readings:

Black, David Alan

Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications. Second edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995, 1–21. [22 pp.]

Silva, Moisés

Biblical Words and their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 101–135. [36 pp.]

Harris, Murray J.

‘Appendix: Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament’. Pages 1171–1215 in New Interational Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Volume 3. Edited by
Colin Brown. Carlisle: Paternoster, 1976. [44 pp.]

Köstenberger, Andreas J.

‘The Two Johannine Verbs for Sending: A Study of John’s Use of Words with Reference to General Linguistic Theory’. Pages
125–43 in Linguistics and the New Testament: Critical Junctures. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and D. A. Carson.
for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 80. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993. [19 pp.]

Porter, Stanley E.

‘Discourse Analysis and New Testament Studies: An Introductory Survey’. Pages 14–35 in Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and D. A. Carson. JSNTSS 133. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995. [22

Levinsohn, Stephen H.

Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek. Second Edition. N.p.: SIL, 2000, 271–84. [14 pp.]

Smith, Jay E.

‘Sentence Diagramming, Clausal Layouts, and Exegetical
Outlining’. Pages 73–134 in Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis. Edited by Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006. [60 pp.]

Klutz, Todd.

‘Naked and Wounded: Foregrounding, Relevance and Situation in Acts 19.13-20’. Pages 258–79 in Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Jeffrey T. Reed. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 170. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. [22 pp.]

Erickson, Richard J.

‘The Damned and the Justified in Romans 5.12-21: An Analysis of
Semantic Structure’. Pages 282–307 in Discourse
Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results
. Edited by Stanley
E. Porter and Jeffrey T. Reed.
Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement
Series 170. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. [26 pp.]

Louw, Johannes P.

‘A Discourse Reading of Ephesians 1.3-14’. Pages 308­–15 in Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Jeffrey T. Reed. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 170. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. [8 pp.]

Levinsohn, Stephen H.

‘Some Constraints on Discourse Development in the Pastoral Epistles’. Pages 316–33 in Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results. Edited by Stanley E. Porter
and Jeffrey T. Reed.
Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 170. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. [18 pp.]

Wendland, Ernst R.

‘“Let No One Disregard You!” (Titus 2.15): Church Discipline and the Construction of Discourse in a Personal, “Pastoral” Epistle’. Pages 334­–51 in Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Jeffrey T. Reed. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 170. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. [18 pp.]

[309 pages]

Reference bibliography:

Bauer, Walter, et

A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament
and other Early Christian Literature.
edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

David Alan, et al. (eds.)

Linguistics and New
Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis
. Nashville:
Broadman, 1992.

F., et al.

A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University
Press, 1961.

Bock, Darrell L. and
Buist M. Fanning.

Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to
the Art and Science of Exegesis
Wheaton: Crossway, 2006.

O’Donnell, Matthew

Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix
Press, 2005.

Campbell, Constantine R.

Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Campbell, Constantine R.

Verbal Aspect and Non-Indicative Verbs: Further Soundings in the Greek of the New Testament. Studies in Biblical Greek 15. New York: Peter
Lang, 2008.

Campbell, Constantine R.

Verbal Aspect, the Indicative Mood, and Narrative: Soundings in the Greek of the New
. Studies in Biblical Greek 13. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

Caragounis, Chrys C.

The Development of Greek and the New
Testament: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission
. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 167. Tübingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 2004.

D. A.

Second edition. Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1996.


A Dictionary of
Linguistics and Phonetics.
5th edition. Malden: Blackwell Publishing,

Rodney J.

Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal
Studies in Biblical Greek 10. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

T. V.

Verbal Syntax in the Greek Pentateuch: Natural Greek
Usage and Hebrew Interference
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Buist M.

Aspect in New Testament Greek.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

John A. L.

Greek Accents in
Eight Lessons
. Sydney: Macquarie University,

J. P. and E. A. Nida.

Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament.
New York: UBS, 1988.

Lyons, John.

Language and Linguistics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

K. L.

A New Syntax of the
Verb in New Testament Greek: An Aspectual Approach. Studies in Biblical Greek 5. New
York: Peter Lang, 1994.

C. F. D.

An Idiom Book of New
Testament Greek.
2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1959.

Olsen, Mari Broman.

A Semantic
and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect.
Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics. New
York: Garland Publishing, 1997.

Stanley E.

Idioms of the Greek New
. 2nd edition. Biblical
Languages: Greek 2. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.

Stanley E.

Verbal Aspect in the
Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood. Studies in Biblical
Greek 1. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.

Porter, Stanley E. and D. A.
Carson (eds.)

Biblical Greek
Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research.
Journal for the Study
of the New Testament Supplement Series 80. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic
Press, 1993.

Porter, Stanley E. and D. A.
Carson (eds.)

Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement
Series 113. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

Porter, Stanley E. and
Jeffrey T. Reed (eds.)

Discourse Analysis
and the New Testament: Approaches and Results.
Journal for the Study of the New
Testament Supplement Series 170. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.

Porter, Stanley E. and D. A. Carson (eds.)

Linguistics and the
New Testament: Critical Junctures
. Journal for the Study
of the New Testament Supplement Series 80. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic
Press, 1993.

A. T.

A Grammar of the Greek New
Testament in the Light of Historical Research
. 4th
Nashville: Broadman, 1934.

Glen G., et al. (eds.)

The Challenge of
Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World.
Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2003.


God, Language and
Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics
. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1990.

Daniel B.

Greek Grammar Beyond
the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament.
Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1996.

Conversation with an Atheist Friend (04)

22 04 2009
UFO (via

Friend: Sorry, which god have I expressed a disbelief in? People have proposed a lot of different gods. If you mean Yahweh from the bible, then it is meaningless to say whether you believe in him or not — some people have proposed that he exists but haven’t demonstrated it in any way that can be verified. (Equally, people have proposed that UFOs have secretly abducted them in the night but have failed to back it up with any evidence.). The UFO claims have actually got more veracity because they are made by people who are still alive. As I said at the beginning, the claims that the bible does make that can be tested have all been shown to be wrong, or simply obvious even to the jewish goat herders who wrote them. The onus is on the proposer to back up their claims with honest, open debate and with clear instructions on how anyone can reproduce the effect or experiment. If you just want to state something, especially something as extraordinary as what is claimed by Christians, then don’t expect people to take you seriously unless you can back it up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

[break… and other “chit chat”]

Me:… Well anyway here is my response to our ongoing discussion… “Enlightenment optimism” means you are overly optimistic about what scientific method can achieve. Science cannot prove non-repeatable events. Thus science cannot prove history. Science can help in the establishment of history by creating analytical methods (my own PhD specialty) for testing the validity of historical evidence or by refining information about it, but it cannot actually prove a non-repeated event. You have to be able to repeat an experiment enough times statistically to show it must definitely be the case.If the UFO guy has burn marks on the soles of his feet and his car had the top ripped off, this is evidence but what you do with that evidence has nothing to do with science. Science has no comment to make (except probably to say that it could have naturally been caused by, x y or z). It has everything to do with how skeptical or otherwise you decide to be with the evidence. Add to this 100 different things and science still cannot prove whether he was abducted or not. Now let’s say you were the guy. How do you know you weren’t just tripping out somehow? In fact you may know of David Hume the philosopher, who essentially said that if you experienced a miracle you’d be safer going for any other explanation than to accept that it was a miracle. Can science prove that Jesus didn’t walk on water? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t do miracles? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t rise from the dead? Of course not. If God is Jesus how else is he going to give evidence to humans except to become a person so we can identify with him, and then do things that show he’s not bound by the laws of nature? Actually now I think about it, Jesus did give scientific evidence that he is God – he did miracles on repeated occasions under varying experimental conditions (there’s a thought)! But of course this is crap, and you’re 100% sure god can’t exist. Why? Because you are operating on a pre-disposition (due to a marriage with science) that the supernatural doesn’t exist. You’ve made a prior decision, and through this you interpret everything. But don’t pretend this is scientific. It is a paradigm, as Kuhn would put it. Check out Alistair McGrath (a not so unintelligent) microbiologist and theologian who teaches at Oxford and has had a few things to say to Richard D about his enlightenment optimism.

Friend: But despite what you say, science does work, and scientific truth is nothing more than common sense and places no demands on you than following instructions. On the other hand, Christianity requires you, to paraphrase Saint Doug, “to believe 10 impossible things before breakfast.” And your ‘critique’ of science that says that, because science can’t prove a negative — i.e. that something DOES NOT exist — belies a lack of understanding of how science works. For example, you can’t prove that Zeus or Thor don’t exist. See But if you really want to have an argument about proving or disproving the existence of supernatural stuff then science actually does have something to say. It says, “show me any effect, however slight, on anything, anywhere, that cannot be explained by known science,”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Athiest Friend (03)

18 04 2009
Tooth Fairy, Where Are You?
Image via Wikipedia

From this point there was a free flowing discussion, as you will read…

Friend: I am as close to certain that there is no god as I am certain there is no tooth fairy. You can’t prove there are no leprechauns

Me: There’s one living in our back yard actually!

Friend: now we’re getting somewhere

Me: My thoughts precisely. As one author put it – God is Jesus… no smart arse responses please.

Friend: that’s all I have

Me: Now we are really getting somewhere

Friend: I realized a long time ago that the reason the US is the last refuge of religiousity in the west is simply because the Americans worked out how to make money out of it. Everywhere else people have left the old superstitions behind.

Me: I wish my salary was a little higher then

Me: Did I ask you yet your reason for such (18th -19th) century enlightenment optimism about science and who you are 99.999% certain there is no God?
Friend: you gotta write a book and go on a speaking tour like your pal Tim. Set up a little cult — they are always a good money spinner.

Me: Good thinking!

Friend: base it on Christianity — there are 17,000 different sects so you can do just about anything. BTW, why do you say I have ‘enlightenment optimism’ about science?

Me: With the enlightenment came optimism that science would answer all our woes, all our questions, that the answer to everything would turn up sooner – or in the present case much later than expected.

Friend: did I ever say that?

Me: Well you suggested it answers questions about God, which is a stretch. You imply that it can define bias individuals from those who alone can weight up truth objectively. That seems pretty optimistic to me.

Friend: when did I say it answered questions about god?

Me: Are you saying your disbelief is based on somthing else?

Friend: sorry, disbelief in what?

Me: In the tooth fairy of course.

Me: My further thought was just this. It was interesting when I undertook my PhD in Chemistry to see just how much fudging was happening, especially as you move away from the more pure sciences like Maths. Francis Bacon’s quote is a good one about what often drives some of the “lesser sciences” – Truth arises more readily from error than confusion. And the same kind of market forces are at work when it comes to justifying your field of research and the results you are getting.

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Evangelistic Preaching (07)

8 04 2009

7crayonsjpg. Illustrations.

Some people seem to think that illustrations in a sermon are from the devil. Others think they’re more important than the Bible itself (caricatures, both). Most of us are somewhere in between. Personally, I’m a fan of well-aimed, helpful, and relatable illustrations as a basic tool of good communication. It seems crazy to me to use illustrations whenever I teach pretty much anything, but when it comes to a sermon—well that tool should be left at home. But I also understand the critiques of preaching that overuses illustrations, or that uses them for cheap laughs, or does not handle them with care. They certainly shouldn’t blot out the sun, so that all that people remember are a string of illustrations with little substance or Bible.

As for evangelistic preaching, I think illustrations are all the more important.

a. First, because our hearers will probably need more help to grapple with biblical concepts, since it may well be the first time they’ve encountered such ideas. A good illustration can be the key to understanding something for the first time, especially an abstract concept.

b. Second, since there will be little or no existing rapport with our hearers, illustrations can help to bridge that gap. This is especially so with illustrations that come from our own experience and lives. Dominic Steele encourages itinerant preachers to use personal stories over other people’s stories for that reason: your hearers don’t know you, so throw them a bone and connect.

c. Third, illustrations can be used to provide some mental relief. The fact is that most people find it hard to listen to a talk for 20 minutes, and anyone who has been going to church for years has developed some staying-power. So, we can forget how hard it is for those who are not used to it. An illustration can be placed right at the spot in the talk where you think you’re going to lose people: help them to get back on board and stay with you till the end.

d. Fourth, illustrations can be used to model application, or a right response. This is one the best uses of an illustration in my view, because it can give an example of what it looks like to put truth into action. How does someone turn to Jesus as Lord? What difference does it make? This can make the whole thing far more concrete for our hearers.

Posted by Con Campbell

Advanced Greek (02)

6 04 2009

alpha_omega_logo_bw_small2. Course outline

We have two hours a week in our Advanced Greek class. One hour is given over to the discussion of theory. Part of that involves reviewing and discussing the set reading, and part of it involves delivery of theoretical content.

The second hour is given to reading Greek text together in close detail, while seeking to apply the theoretical insights we have been exploring. In term one, we’re reading 1 Timothy; in term two we’ll be reading from a variety of non-biblical texts.

Here’s an outline of our first term:

1. Introduction (including a brief history of Greek scholarship)

2. Linguistic Theory

3. Lexical Semantics and Lexicography

4. Verbal Semantics (mainly deponency)

5. Idiolect, Genre, and Register

6. Discourse Analysis I

7. Discourse Analysis II

Posted by Con Campbell