A Christmas Sonnet

Each Christmastide we think nostalgically
About the baby born so long ago,
So far away. We dwell on what we know
So well — the mother smiling wearily,
The sage and shepherd there to see,
The husband, angels, and a star to show
The special stature of the child below.
But not alone to distant scenery
Does Christ belong, nor yet to prophecy
Still unfulfilled. Christ comes each day and walks
Among his churches, searching heart and mind,
Calling us away from our iniquity.
He stands outside the door and knocks,
New incarnations in our hearts to find.

Online presentation on the Septuagint

I’ve moved to Florida with my family and will continue teaching for Ashland Theological Seminary almost entirely online.  I need to use YouTube as a host for my lectures, so I’ll be making a good number of these public.  Perhaps they will be useful to others as well.  Here’s an introductory presentation on the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek for the use of Greek-speaking Jews which came to be the primary version of the Old Testament used by the early church: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVoMv4M9ckk&feature=youtu.be&hd=1.

 

Hopefully I’ll cultivate a better “radio voice” as this process unfolds for me. 🙂

Lyrics for All Saints Day

About a decade ago, I was inspired (well, you should perhaps be the judge of that) to compose some lyrics appropriate for All Saints Day to be sung to the tune “Jerusalem” by H. H. Parry (we have this in the United Methodist Hymnal under the title “O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines”).  I just came across this sorting through endless stacks of papers and files in preparation for our move.  Only the second of the two verses has a rhyme scheme.  Don’t know what was up with that.  I guess the main thing was fitting Parry’s meter.

 

As by a veil obscured from sight,

So seem the saints who went before:

While their lives end, their witness remains

As mother lives in heart of child.

Both death and space conspire to divide

The members which in Christ are one,

But God has not left us alone,

Nor have the souls who to God fly.

 

O what a cloud of witnesses

On ev’ry side, in ev’ry mind,

Beckons us still to persevere

Until God’s peace and rule we find —

And like the cloud that led by day

God’s chosen people to their Land,

So let us follow all these saints

Till we at last among them stand.

 

 

Transformation: The Core of Paul’s Gospel

As I work my way towards a full-blown commentary on Galatians, I find myself trying to tackle separate facets of this daunting task in a variety of pre-NICNT publications.  I have two coming out later this year.  The first is an attempt to get a handle on Pauline theology, and to do so in a way that avoids the bifurcation between “justification by faith” and the Christian life (or sanctification).  I think I have found this handle in the metaphor of “transformation,” as seen in Paul’s fairly frequent featuring of words with the “morph-” root at their heart.  At present, this little book represents how I would answer the question, “What does Paul think is at the heart of the good news.”  I offer it not as a slam at more traditional theologies, nor as another sortie in the new perspective/old perspective debates, but as an attempt to look at Paul’s message afresh apart from the way certain understandings of “justification” may have limited our focus in regard to that message (and in regard to what Paul passionately wanted to see happen in and among his converts).  You can see more about the book here:

https://www.logos.com/product/42383/transformation-the-heart-of-pauls-gospel

There will be a print edition coming, perhaps a little later than the electronic edition.  I’m all for e-books, but I swore a decade ago that I’d never write a book that was only going to be published electronically.  Call me old-fashioned. I’m grateful to Logos for supporting both formats in its new program (spearheaded by the division called Lexham Press).

The second book will appear in the Baylor Handbooks on the Greek New Testament series.  It’s a fairly “nuts and bolts” guide to the grammar and lexicography of Galatians, meant as an aid primarily to students and pastors trying to work through the book in Greek as they are growing in familiarity with the language themselves, but I hope it may have some insights that will stimulate even seasoned scholars’ reflections on Galatians.

 

1 Peter 5:1-10

Freshly translated with our seminary’s graduating class in mind, and read at graduation.  Perhaps it will help you hear something fresh in this fabulous passage (and perhaps not — I enjoyed the exercise myself).

“I exhort the elders among you, then, — I, a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and a partner in the glory that is about to be revealed: tend the flock of God in your midst, not as people forced to do so begrudgingly, but willingly, in alignment with God; not with a view to what you can get out of it for yourself, but with a view to how you can offer help freely; not in a domineering and authoritarian manner, but in a manner that gives an example for the flock to imitate. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the wreath of glory that never withers.

“In the same spirit, you younger ones, submit yourselves to the elders. And all of you — clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God ranges himself against the arrogant, but gives favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, beneath God’s powerful hand, in order that he might exalt you in the proper time. Do this, casting all your anxiety upon him, because he is concerned about you.

“Stay sharp. Be on the watch. Your adversary the devil stalks about like a roaring lion, seeking to swallow someone up. Resist him, immovable in your faithfulness, knowing that the global community of your brothers and sisters endures the same kinds of sufferings to the end.

“Now may the God of all favor himself, who calls you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus after you have suffered for a little while, equip you, make you take root, strengthen you, and lay deep foundations for you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen.”

 

The Full Serenity Prayer

The “Serenity Prayer,” made famous through its use by Alcoholics Anonymous, is actually an 18th century German prayer of significantly greater length, appearing on the tombstone of Friedrich Oetinger (1702-1782) and presumably, therefore, of his composition.  It is sometimes attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1892­–1971), which is impossible.

 

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,

courage to change the things which should be changed,

and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other,

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

 

My denomination’s love affair with the insipid, part 1

I used to love the Christmas carol, “What Child is This?”  But now I wince every time I have to play it in church from the United Methodist Hymnal.  The reason?  The version used here has lost much of its force due the elimination of the second half of verses 2 and 3 in favor of repeating the innocuous second half of verse 1 as a refrain after all verses.  Did someone on the editorial board feel a twinge of nausea at the thought of the destiny of this little baby being crucifixion?  But, then, isn’t that really the whole point of Christmas?  And if we forget this core fact at Christmas, we end up trivializing the holiday.  It’s not about the warm, fuzzy feeling we get when we think about a newborn baby; it’s about the love of God shown in what would befall this particular baby.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Or, in the words of a stunning anthem by J. Martin,

Forgive us Lord, and grant us eyes to see
in every Christmas, Calvary;
Implant it in our hearts.
Help us recall amid trees of red and gold
on another tree raised long ago
we hung God’s brightest star.

I do so wish the United Methodist Hymnal contained the original, more profound version of this Christmas hymn.

An Advent Sonnet

“Watch,” said Christ to all, “and do not fall asleep,”
      Lulled into the dreams the world would spin
For us – the dreams that ever seek to keep
      Us focused on our wants and chasing sin
As if it were salvation. Advent roars
      Its bold alarm near each year’s end: “Prepare
For Him who now is standing at the door!
      Throw off your sleep and turn with care
To feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and share
      What God has lent you, and to intervene
           For those whose witness costs them dear.” Renown
In heav’n shall greet the souls who lived aware
      Of what God loves: their wisdom will be seen
           When He shall rend the heavens and come down.

 

(an older poem of mine, published in Trinity Seminary Review back in 2008, I believe)

NRSV now on www.BibleGateway.com

This seems newsworthy — http://www.biblegateway.com, my one-stop shopping site for free online Bible translations, just added the New Revised Standard Version (along with the RSV) to their site, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books!  This will be a great help to pastors and students (who read English) everywhere, and I’m grateful to the site masters for getting the NRSV on board.

Translating Hebrews 10:24

I’ve been waiting for a profound thought for a first blog.  It’s been a few weeks, so I’m giving up and starting with a not-so-profound thought, else I’ll never get started with this whole “blogging” thing.

So here’s an entry about a persistent, bad translational decision that I find in Hebrews 10:24:

CEB: “Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works.”

ESV:  “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”

NIV: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”

NRS “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds”

Common to all of these translations is the idea that the author of Hebrews is calling upon the hearers to apply themselves to getting other Christians to do their job better.  The purpose of our “considering” the other is to get the other to show love and to invest himself or herself in acts of kindness to a greater degree.  This requires, however, importing the idea of “how to motivate” into the text between “let us consider” and “one another.”

The author’s meaning is really much more profound and simple.  The only verb in the clause is κατανοῶμεν, “let us keep considering,” “let us keep observing, noticing.”  “One another” is the object of this verb; “a paroxysm of love and good works” is the purpose or result of the action (taking εἰς in its purposive sense).  He’s calling each Christian to notice his or her fellow disciples, to look closely at them, their struggles, their challenges, to really “see” them with a result to investing in them.  Really seeing is the birth of caring, which gives birth, in turn, to purposeful action to help the other bear his or her load and share in the good that God desires for him or her.

So I would suggest we read this verse, proclaim this verse, and, in the future, translate this verse as follows:

“Let us keep thinking about one another, resulting in an outburst of love and good works,”

or, in “Message” or “Voice” mode, “Let’s continue to look — to really look — at one another, so that we will love and do good for one another all the more.”

It’s about each one of us responding to the other, not getting the other to respond to third parties.