Preaching Psalm 13 (Exegesis)

28 06 2009

Last week I taught a Summer Class at RTS Atlanta (where I work) – “Advanced Biblical Exegesis”. As part of it we looked at Psalm 13. My own preparation and (more significantly) the students’ great insights were worth posting I thought (RSV):


Notice the strong repetition throughout, wherein the ideas in each line in the left column are restated in a slightly different way in the right column – sometimes intensified, sometimes reduced in force. At two points this pattern is broken as part of shaping the larger movement – note the “one liners” in white. In addition “How long” holds the first part together, even as “lest” gives shape to the second. The psalm gains momentum, by the former being longer than the second. The two form a kind of mirror image (Chiasm), with the cry to God at the start of verse 3 standing between them as a focal point,  just as verses 5-6 lie outside them as Conclusion. A neat tid-bit which came out of class was the echoes in verse 1. In the first line one thinks of the constant OT promise that the LORD will remember his people, and the Aaronic blessing – ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you‘ (Num 6). In this case the Psalmist wonders that the Lord has forgotten and hid his face, leading him to ask in v3a that the lord might “consider” and “lighten his eyes”. Maybe there is something in this second part of the center – the LORD’s face is still shining, what is needed is enlightened eyes to see this.

Something else which came out was the shifting focus in both vv1-2 and in vv3-4 of God / author / problem. Only after mentioning God and his own inner struggles is the substance of the problem (“enemies”) revealed. There is suspense here, in that you are left to wonder what the issue is. Only after he addresses his issues with God and himself does he mention the concrete problem behind it all. There is something to this I think, which resonates with the enlightened eyes part, which may lead us to come up with something like: WHATEVER YOUR PROBLEM, THE REAL ISSUE COMES DOWN  TO HAVING YOUR OWN EYES OPENED TO THE LORD. This resonates with the conclusion too. We have no sense that the problem has gone away. What changes is the author’s confidence in the Lord. When we have a problem, where does the real issue lie?

How would you preach this? Any thoughts are welcome, but next post I will consider this question further…

Posted by Bruce Lowe

Galatians 1.7

21 06 2009

↑ὃ οὐκ στιν ἄλλο,

↑εἰ μή τινές εσιν οἱ ταράσσοντες ὑμᾶς

↑καὶ θέλοντες μεταστρέψαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

Paul clarifies that another gospel (1.6) is no gospel at all, for the simple reason that there is no other gospel. In spite of this, there are some who are troubling the Galatians because they want to change (μεταστρέψαι) the gospel of Christ.

This verse introduces two significant elements to the epistle. First, Paul is deliberately opposing a specific group. It would appear that these ‘troublers’ spread their changed gospel through preaching (1.8–9), and they are regarded by Paul as false brothers (ψευδαδέλφους), who desired to spy on the freedom in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us (2:4). It is no doubt the same group that is described as the circumcision party (2.12), and is the subject of Paul’s rhetorical question Who has bewitched you? (3.1). They are apparently enthusiastic about the Galatians, but for self-interested gain (4.17). A second rhetorical question indicates that they had prevented the Galatians from obeying the truth (5.7), and will pay the penalty for it (5.10); indeed, Paul wishes that they would get themselves castrated (5.12). The motivations of the group are described as wanting to make a good showing in the flesh in order to avoid being persecuted (6.12)—by compelling the Galatians to be circumcised—and to boast about the Galatians, even though they themselves don’t keep the law (6.13).

Second, this verse introduces the concept that to alter the gospel is to create a new—and therefore false—gospel. Much of the epistle will be consumed by this underlying presupposition: the truth of the gospel must not be compromised in any way, and the consequence of proclaiming an altered gospel is no less than anathema (1.8­–9). Paul goes to lengths to demonstrate that his gospel is not his own invention, but was revealed to him by God (1.11–12), a fact that is crucially related to his divine apostleship (1.1). And yet, while he is sent by God to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (1.1; 2.7), he includes himself in the severe warning of 1.8–9: even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! The matter of altering the gospel is of such gravity that it would even undo Paul’s own authority as an apostle, if ever he were guilty of it.

Posted by Con Campbell

Galatians Proposal

18 06 2009

For anyone interested, here’s a proposal that David Peterson and I have sketched out for our planned commentary on Galatians. Keen to hear your feedback, suggestions, and publishing offers!

Posted by Con Campbell

Galatians: from exegesis to sermon

  • A new type of commentary is proposed, particularly designed to help students and pastors with intermediate Greek skills or above move from exegesis to preaching.
  • The proposed co-authors are currently colleagues in the New Testament Department at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia.   Constantine Campbell has published three books on verbal aspect in Biblical Greek, and is keen to apply his knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax to a piece of sustained exegesis.  David Peterson has published several books in the area of Biblical Theology, and has recently finished the Pillar New Testament Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles.  He also wrote Christ and his People in the Book of Isaiah (Leicester: IVP, 2003), dealing with hermeneutical issues associated with preaching Christ from the OT.  Both authors regularly seek to preach from the Greek New Testament.
  • Many seminary graduates are reasonably competent to translate the NT into English, but find it difficult to know how to use commentaries on the Greek text with profit.  These commentaries are often too technical and full of information that is not immediately relevant to the task of exposition and preaching.  Students and pastors can find it hard to discern ‘the wood’ from ‘the trees’.
  • Guidance is rarely given in commentaries about how to expound the biblical text and preach it to a contemporary audience.  Where guidance is given, it is often based on a theological or pastoral theme running through the passage, rather than on the structure and flow of the argument in each paragraph.
  • In particular, students and pastors sometimes fail to see how a knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax can help them discern the structure and meaning of a passage and move on to exposition and application.
  • Books on preaching mostly do not begin at this level of analysis.  But W. C. Kaiser Jr., Towards an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981) offered a helpful way forward, proposing the need for contextual, syntactical, verbal, theological, and then homiletical analysis of a text.
  • To some extent, we would follow Kaiser’s model in the interpretation of Galatians.  The aim would be to fill a significant gap in the literature by applying these different, but related levels of analysis to an important Pauline letter.
  • M. Silva, Explorations in Exegetical Method: Galatians as a test case (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996; 2nd ed. 2001), provided many valuable insights and examples to aid the student of Galatians, without a running commentary or consistent attempt to show how to preach from this text.
  • The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series provides structural diagrams of the English text and has context and structure sections, while also offering guidelines for application. A key difference that the proposed commentary will offer is analysis of the Greek structure and syntax, and how these things contribute to the exposition of each passage. Another important distinction is the goal of providing guidance for the preaching of each passage, and not only application.

Distinctive character and contribution

  1. The proposed commentary will major on showing how the grammar and syntax of the Greek text expose the argument and structure of the letter.  Galatians will be exegeted both as a model for approaching other NT letters, and also because of its distinctive importance in the Canon of Scripture.
  2. The introduction to the commentary will deal with the usual issues in a summary way, but will major on discussing the best way to use Greek for exegesis and homiletic analysis.
  3. As distinctive matters of grammar and syntax emerge in the exposition, footnotes will direct readers to technical sources where they may explore such issues more fully and learn more about the way Greek is used by Paul.
  4. Theological matters will be discussed as they emerge from the exegesis.  When controversial issues are discussed, such as ‘works of the law’, a summary and evaluation of current debates will be provided in a separate paragraph.  The aim at this point will not be to analyse such issues exhaustively.
  5. An introductory section on context will seek to show the place of each exegetical unit and its thought in the argument of the letter as a whole.  The aim will be to make the flow of Paul’s argument clear at all times.
  6. A concluding section to each expository unit will consider the implications of the exegesis and theological analysis for preaching.  In particular, a structure for preaching will be argued from the structure of the Greek text and themes for homiletic development will be suggested.
  7. The commentary will thus show preachers how to move from Greek exegesis to sermon construction.  It will not be exhaustive in dealing with textual, grammatical, syntactical or theological issues, but will equip the reader to explore any of these areas more fully, using other commentaries and resources.

Method of approaching each exegetical unit

  1. The Greek text of each passage under review will first be presented in a sentence flow diagram, using the text of The United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition, 1993).
  2. An English translation will then be provided in a sentence flow diagram matching the way the Greek has been presented.
  3. Textual notes will then follow.  The aim will be to examine significant textual variants and to guide readers in the process of evaluation by regular reference to the judgments of B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition) (2nd ed.; Stuttgart/New York: United Bible Societies, 1994).
  4. The context of the passage will then be discussed, giving particular attention to its significance in the flow of the argument.
  5. The structure of the passage in Greek will then be examined, providing an analysis of the syntax and showing how this is an aid to exegesis.  This step is often lacking in commentaries on the Greek text, leaving many readers confused about the relative importance of various grammatical and syntactical matters.  It will be shown how this step anticipates and prepares for the homiletic structure suggested at the conclusion of each exegetical section.
  6. The exegesis and meaning of the passage will then be explored, drawing on the insights gained from the preceding sections and from close attention to the details of the text.  Interaction with the insights of other scholars will be particularly obvious at this stage in the interpretive process.  As noted above, areas of great debate with regard to theological meaning and significance may be summarised in a separate paragraph, with an indicative bibliography.
  7. Finally a structure for preaching will be offered, together with guidance about the way the main emphases of the passage may be preached.  A series of expository sermons on Galatians will be suggested, unfolding and applying the apostle’s argument to contemporary church situations.

“Why is my radio so cheap?” – The darker side of consumerism

17 06 2009

I don’t know much about Annie Leonard, but I stumbled across this video she’s done. It’s an easy watch – kind of animation-meets-lecture – and she does a good job of uncovering the hidden costs of consumerism.

Here’s a 60 second taster (if you want to see the whole 20min monster, then click on the banner above):

Reading Paul

15 06 2009

9781556351952I’ve just starting reading Michael Gorman’s book Reading Paul (Cascade, 2008). This is his ‘glimpse of Paul’s grand scheme’ in one (very) long sentence (he has clearly been influenced by Paul in more ways than one!):

Paul preached, and then explained in various pastoral, community-forming letters, a narrative, apocalyptic, theopolitical gospel (1) in continuity with the story of Israel and (2) in distinction to the imperial gospel of Rome (and analogous powers) that was centered on God’s crucified and exalted Messiah Jesus, whose incarnation, life, and death by crucifixion were validated and vindicated by God in his resurrection and exaltation as Lord, which inaugurated the new age or new creation in which all members of this diverse but consistently covenantally dysfunctional human race who respond in self-abandoning and self-committing faith thereby participate in Christ’s death and resurrection and are (1) justified, or restored to right covenant relations with God and with others; (2) incorporated into a particular manifestation of Christ the Lord’s body on earth, the church, which is an alternative community to the status-quo human communities commited to and governed by Caesar (and analogous rulers) and by values contrary to the gospel; and (3) infused both individually and corporately by the Spirit of God’s Son so that they may lead “bifocal” lives, focused both back on Christ’s first coming and ahead to his second, consisting of Christlike, cruciform (cross-shaped) (1) faith and (2) hope toward God and (3) love toward both neighbors and enemies (a love marked by peaceableness and inclusion), in joyful anticipation of (1) the return of Christ, (2) the resurrection of the dead to eternal life, and (3) the renewal of the entire creation. [p. 8]

Posted by Con Campbell

Galatians 1.6

14 06 2009

Θαυμάζω ὅτι

οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε (ἀπὸ τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς) (ἐν χάριτι [Χριστοῦ])

(εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον),

Paul ends his greeting abruptly by targeting the heart of the issue that has given rise to this epistle: his readers are turning to another gospel. Quite frankly, Paul is astonished (Θαυμάζω) at how quickly this false-direction has taken root. Paul does not restrain his disapproval, and this move at so early a stage will set the tone for most of the epistle.

It is hard to imagine that turning to another gospel would be acceptable under any circumstances, and so Paul’s use of quickly (ταχέως) does not suggest that a slower migration to a different gospel would have been less problematic. Rather, the adverb adds insult to injury: not only are the Galatians turning away, they are doing so remarkably quickly. The key verb here is turning away (μετατίθεσθε), which refers to a change of mind in allegiance, or desertion (BDAG). The present indicative expresses imperfective aspect, and here depicts an activity in progress; it is a ‘progressive present’.[1]

The rest of the verse is concerned with what the Galatians are turning from and what they are turning to: they are turning from the One who called them; they are turning to another gospel. The first thing to notice here is the fact that Paul does not juxtapose an original gospel with another gospel; rather he juxtaposes a person with another gospel. To turn to another gospel denotes turning away from the One who called them (τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς). The aorist participle is substantival, referring to a person, but also implies a past activity due to its perfective aspect.

The concept of calling occurs three more times in the epistle: once with reference to Paul’s own calling (1.15); twice with reference to the Galatians (5.8, 13). While the subject of such calling is left unstated in all but 1.15—which has God as the one who calls—it seems most likely that he is to be understood as the one calling. This is particularly fitting here in 1.6, since the next phrase indicates the instrumentality of the grace of Christ (ἐν χάριτι [Χριστοῦ]), and, as we have seen in 1.3-5, this instrumentality of the Son works in partnership with the agency of the Father. Thus, it is best to take the One calling you as expressing the agency of the Father, while by the grace of Christ as the instrumentality of the Son. While it is God the Father who calls people to himself, this occurs through the grace extended by the Son. It may be better to say, then, that another gospel is juxtaposed with two persons rather than one.

Paul will announce in the next verse that another gospel is no gospel at all, but for now it is important to note the significance of the contrast achieved here between this ‘false’ gospel and the Father and Son. To turn to another gospel is not simply an issue of incorrect doctrine; it leads away from God himself. And to further underscore the significance of this, Paul has subtly referred to the work of the Father in calling them in the first place, as well as the character of their salvation, which is by grace. This may be intended to contrast the false gospel; elsewhere Paul contrasts grace with being justified by the law: You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace! (5.4; cf. 2.21).

Posted by Con Campbell

[1] Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect, 75.

It’s Official!

13 06 2009
A few posts ago, I mentioned that a senior colleague and I were toying with the idea of writing a commentary on Galatians together. Well, as of Friday, David Peterson and I are ‘officially’ going attempt this.
This is exciting for two reasons.
First, we are attempting to contribute a new type of commentary. It is explicitly for preachers, modeling how to move from Greek text to sermon. It seems to us that there is a bit of gap between Greek exegetical skills and how the insights gained from exegesis should relate to the content of a sermon. We want to help to fill that gap.
Second, it is an absolute privilege to work with David Peterson on this. He has just published an extraordinary commentary on Acts in the Pillar series, and was the Principal of Oak Hill College, London, for eleven years. His experience, insight, and great exegetical ability will contribute a huge amount to this project.
So, I’m going to continue to post my thoughts about the text of Galatians, verse by verse. I’m keen to have your feedback as we go, knowing that your thoughts may end up in our commentary!
PS – no, we don’t have a publisher yet.
Posted by Con Campbell
P 46

P 46

A few posts ago, I mentioned that a senior colleague and I were toying with the idea of writing a commentary on Galatians together. Well, as of Friday, David Peterson and I are ‘officially’ going to attempt this.

This is exciting for two reasons.

First, we are attempting to contribute a new type of commentary. It is explicitly for preachers, modeling how to move from Greek text to sermon. It seems to us that there is a bit of a gap between Greek exegetical skills and how the insights gained from exegesis should relate to the content of a sermon. We want to help to fill that gap.

Second, it is an absolute privilege to work with David Peterson on this. He has just published an extraordinary commentary on Acts in the Pillar series, and was the Principal of Oak Hill College, London, for eleven years. His experience, insight, and great exegetical ability will contribute a huge amount to this project.

So, I’m going to continue to post my thoughts about the text of Galatians, verse by verse. I’m keen to have your feedback as we go, knowing that your thoughts may end up in our commentary!

PS – no, we don’t have a publisher yet.

Posted by Con Campbell

Preaching on Galatians 1.1–5

1 06 2009
1 Παῦλος ἀπόστολος οὐκ (ἀπ᾿ ἀνθρώπων) οὐδὲ (δι᾿ ἀνθρώπου)
ἀλλὰ (διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν (ἐκ νεκρῶν)),
2 καὶ οἱ (σὺν ἐμοὶ) πάντες ἀδελφοὶ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας,

3 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη (ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ)
4 ↑[τοῦ δόντος ἑαυτὸν (ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν)],
↑[ὅπως ἐξέληται ἡμᾶς (ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ)]
↑[(κατὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν)],
5 ↑[ᾧ ἡ δόξα (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων), ἀμήν].

The passage divides into two reasonably distinct sections. Verses 1–2 can be seen as a unit that describes the divinely appointed apostleship of Paul. Verses 3–5 focus on the self-giving of the Son for sins in order to rescue people from the present evil age, all according to the will of the Father. A unifying feature between 1–2 and 3–5 appears to be the agency of God: it is through God that Paul is an apostle, and Jesus’ rescue of sinners is according to the Father’s will. The ultimate agency of God stems from his will and results in his glory.

In this way, the agency of God is an all-encompassing theme that binds these verses together, and thus is properly viewed as the key message of the passage. While it will no doubt be tempting to focus—perhaps exclusively—on 1.4b–c and the death of Christ to rescue sinners, this needs to be appreciated within the broader theme of the agency of God. This is not to say that preaching on the passage should not include a serious treatment of 1.4b–c, but simply that it should be taken in its proper context.

As such, I would suggest a sermon structure with two main sections: 1. God’s apostle; 2. God’s glory. Within section 1, I would include subpoints dealing with Paul’s divine apostleship as opposed to any human authority or agency. Within section 2, I would include subpoints dealing with Christ’s death for sin and rescue from this evil age, and the will and glory of the Father. The structure of the talk might look as follows:

1. God’s apostle

a. Not by human authority

b. Divinely appointed

2. God’s glory

a. Death and rescue

b. The will and glory of God

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on what I’d leave out of a sermon on this passage. The main criteria for these decisions rests with what issues or items are least related to the main points of the passage. As such, I think verse 2 can safely be excluded, though perhaps a passing reference to the fact that Paul is addressing a group of congregations could be in order. More controversially, I don’t think I would give much time to the Father’s raising the Son from the dead (1.1b), except to highlight the agency of God in the passage. While it seems counterintuitive to ‘ignore’ the resurrection, the fact is that it is not an explicit theme of Galatians, and does not feature in this passage. Having said that, it might be mentioned with reference to the aforementioned agency of God, and possibly also in relation to the Son’s rescue of sinners; while this is explicitly connected to his self-giving in death, the resurrection might be included as part of that discussion.

Posted by Con Campbell

Thinking Like a Christian

1 06 2009
Close shot of Rodin's The Thinker at the Musée...
Image via Wikipedia

I have been reading Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus” (don’t stop reading… its gets better!). Epictetus was a slave of Nero and a Stoic philosopher. These two things together are very important –given that Nero was a great persecutor of Christians and that many of us today think like Stoics! We rely on rationalizing a bad situation into a good one as a way of coping with life’s difficulties, which is exactly what Stoicism was all about. What is interesting is that Epictetus doesn’t interpret the mindset of Christians in his own day this way!

Speaking about “Freedom from Fear(4.7.1), he rationalizes that if a person doesn’t really set his heart on living or dying he may come into the presence of a tyrant (Nero?) and not be afraid of what he might do. He then goes on to speak about two kinds of people who don’t rely on the power of reason to get them through such a situation. The first is the madman who for some reason doesn’t care about losing children or wife and thus won’t mind losing themselves.

The second is “the Galileans” which all scholars believe is a reference to Christians. He says they are able to make face death because of “custom / practice” (Grk: ethous). This is tantalizing as to what he might mean. My best take is that it is pack mentality. Its was seen as “the thing to do” among Christians to die under the tyrant – part of what had become the custom or the thing to do. This would make sense that he would think of categorizing Christians this way. But what’s interesting to me is what he doesn’t lump Christians in with Stoics who rationalize it like this: “cannot reason and demonstration teach a man that God has made all things in the universe and the whole universe itself, to be free from hinderance, and to contain its end in itself, and the parts of it to serve the needs of the whole.”

For Epictetus the secret to happiness is to rationalize your own misfortune in terms of some greater good. And isn’t this what we who are Christians do as well? I’m not at all sure that being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12) means quite what we think it means. In the context of Romans 11, the will of God is not easy to understand, it is mysterious (11:30-33), it is not at all what you expect. And after we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds it is only then that we understand this (strange) will of God (Rom 12:2b). I think we think that the transformed mind is the mind that can rationalizing things better and better. But this is Stoicism. In the entire context of Romans 11 and 12:1 having a transformed mind seems to have more to do with responding to God’s mercy aright, and submitting your will and lack of understanding to him whose mind is greater (see again 11:30-33). Like Job who never knew why it all happened… but in the end put his hand over his mouth, the transformed Christian mind is a mind which has reconciled itself to not knowing a great deal of the time.

Do we worship the mind, as Christians today? Are we a closet Stoic, thinking this is actually Christianity?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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