Category: NT studies

Logos has released Shibboleth, an interesting Greek/Hebrew text-entry program to the general public. While it’s not very useful for a Greek student who needs to know how to key in Greek text directly into a word processor, it could be helpful to someone who needs to do an occasional one-off in Greek without needing to install a Greek keyboard. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out how to use the program with my Greek keyboard layouts–it seems you are obligated to use the keyboard layout that comes with the program.

You can download it here:

Westerholm, Stephen. Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004.

The amount of material published on Paul has grown exponentially over the past two decades, due in no small part to the explosive popularity of the New Perspective on Paul.  In Perspectives Old and New on Paul, Stephen Westerholm (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario) surveys contemporary Pauline interpretations, critiquing the New Perspective and advocating a traditional perspective of Paul.


Traditional understandings of Paul, which saw Paul’s opponents as focused on salvation by works, were challenged in 1977 with the publication of E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Sanders argued that Palestinian Judaism held to “covenantal nomism,” a belief that salvation was by grace, though only to those who participated in the Sinaitic covenant. Sanders saw Jewish Christians as believing that Christianity was simply the next stage of the Sinaitic covenant, and Gentile Christians were, fundamentally, Gentile proselytes to a grace-centric Judaism. Since, in Sanders view, Gentile proselytes to historical Judaism also believed in salvation through grace, the “works of the law” described by Paul were simply “boundary markers” which demonstrated faith in the God of the Sinaitic covenant. Paul’s opponents, then, were Jewish Christians who saw themselves as saved by grace but who failed to recognize that the Sinaitic covenant had ended—rather than evolved—through Christ’s work on the cross. Christ had come to put away the law and fulfill the primordial covenant to bless all nations and ethnicities through Abraham’s seed. Sanders believed that Paul sought to dispel his opponents’ Judeo-centrism and desired to show that God was now reaching out to the broader world, beyond ethnic Judaism, in fulfillment of his promise to Abraham. Proponents of one variety of covenantal nomism or another have come to view their position as the “New Perspective on Paul” (or NPP) and have—for a variety of reasons—labeled the traditional understanding of Paul as “Lutheran.”

While traditional interpreters of Paul may voice assent to a number of points in the NPP interpretation, they fundamentally differ with the NPP in their understanding of Paul’s opponents. It follows from this essential distinction that traditional interpreters also disagree with the interpretation of many passages in which the NPP sees Paul as arguing against ethnic exclusion. Those passages are viewed by traditional interpreters as arguments against salvation by law-keeping. Westerholm has added his opposition to the NPP in this greatly-expanded update to his 1988 publication, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith. In Perspectives Old and New on Paul, Westerholm advocates a traditional interpretation while accommodating several proposals from the New Perspective.


In part one, Westerholm begins with a historical survey of interpretation leading up to the twentieth century and the emerging New Perspective on Paul. A humorous imaginary vignette in the book’s introduction is followed by helpful summaries of the soteriology of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. The chapters move through the biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption, reflecting the story through the eyes of each theologian. Since so much of Christian theology emerges from the writings of Paul, this first section comprises more than an introduction to Pauline theology, serving more broadly as a historical overview of the Christian doctrine of soteriology.

In part two, the author follows the development of Pauline theology through the twentieth-century in a globe-trotting, roughly-chronological fashion as each generation of scholarship interacts with the work of the preceding generations. Westerholm traces threads of Pauline theology from William Wrede and Albert Schweitzer through Claude G. Montefiore, Hans Joachim Schoeps, E. P. Sanders, W. G. Kümmel, Krister Stendahl, Rudolf Bultmann, Ulrich Wilckens, John W. Drane, Hans Hübner, Heikki Räisänen, N.T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn, and Terence Donaldson.  Through this historical survey, Westerholm shows that the New Perspective on Paul is the product of successive stages of New Testament scholarship throughout the twentieth century, the tenor of which became increasingly resistant to the Reformation perspective of Paul and, in particular, against Luther’s perspective. Several “Lutheran” responses from the last two decades are brought in toward the end of the section (C. E. B. Cranfield, Thomas Schreiner, Andrew Das, Frank Thielman, and Mark Seifrid), as well as several alternative twentieth-century views of Pauline theology (Timo Laato, Lauri Thurén, Jean-Noël Aletti, J. Louis Martyn, and Jürgen Becker).

Westerholm’s treatment of these writers is refreshingly objective, and one gets the impression that Westerholm has really gone out of his way to give his readers the arguments with as little filter as possible. At times this is a distraction, because one wonders whether each thinker will play positively or negatively into Westerholm’s later arguments for his own position. Many of his subjects are left without rebuttal or appraisal, even when Westerholm moves into his own theology in part three.

In the third section, Westerholm lays out his own explanation of Paul, an interpretation trending generally toward the traditional perspective. However, Westerholm modifies the historical interpretation by admitting a more positive appraisal of Rabbinic Judaism (350-351). Westerholm concedes to the NPP that Paul’s fellow-Jews may very well have viewed themselves as being saved by grace. In fact, Westerholm goes so far as to say that Paul himself, pre-conversion, seemed to share this view with his contemporaries. As a consequence of his salvation, Paul was pushed to re-examine his Judaism asking why it was that, if righteousness could have come by the law, Christ would have had to have died. What problem was his death was solving? Westerholm’s admission that Paul moved in this way—“from solution to plight”—is a generous concession to NPP proponents. Westerholm says, “To this extent E. P. Sanders is certainly correct in insisting on the movement of Paul’s thought ‘from solution to plight’” (421). However, Westerholm explains this movement in such a way as to shore up the correctness of traditional Pauline theology: rather than fabricating the lostness of the human race and the powerlessness of the law as an answer to his dilemma, Paul read back through the scripture, and, for the first time, realized that he and his contemporary Jews had a self-confidence in their righteousness which was unsupported by the biblical narrative. Westerholm contends that Paul read the answer out of the text rather than into the text (as is sometimes contended by NPP proponents): “Like the reader of a novel with an unanticipated ending, Paul may well have felt that he first grasped the seriousness of scriptural appraisals of human sinfulness when he returned to ponder them in the light of the story’s climax” (421). In the closing pages of the book, Westerholm states, “Paul’s arguments bear all the marks of a Christian reevaluation” (438). This acceptance of a basic concept in the New Perspective—“the occasion that elicited the formulation of Paul’s doctrine” (445)—is commendably authentic, and it does not jeopardize the ultimate “Lutheran” outcome of Westerholm’s theology.

Key to Westerholm’s Lutheran interpretation is his view of righteousness and the law. Explaining that the New Perspective views righteousness as “transfer terminology” depicting justification through membership in the covenant, Westerholm counters by explaining that Paul viewed righteousness in two ways: first, as blamelessness through law-keeping (“ordinary” righteousness, found in the Old Testament) and, second, as a declaration of blamelessness for those who do not keep the law (“extraordinary” righteousness, found in Christ). Paul, according to Westerholm, viewed all humanity—Jew and Gentile alike—as incapable of achieving full justification before God without the advent of this second kind of “extraordinary” righteousness. The law, while given to man as a gift and accompanied by promises for obedience, did not help the Jews achieve any more righteousness than the Gentiles around them: only the law’s curses—not its blessings—befall those who follow the law. Reviewing NPP literature and alternative views of the law, Westerholm moves through the Pauline epistles (particularly Romans and Galatians) and develops his portrait of the law as something given to highlight human sinfulness and to contain the impact of sin—not as an avenue to achieve full justification before God.
Westerholm says,

The law, in the divine plan, is not an alternative competing with the promise that God would justify the nations by faith (3:21a); still less does it set that promise aside (3:17-18). Rather, it sets the stage for the promise’s fulfillment: it is precisely those confined by the law to the rule of sin who are to be declared righteous by faith in Jesus Christ (3:22). Extraordinary righteousness, made possible through the death of God’s Son, comes into play where ordinary righteousness, demanded by the law, is demonstrably silent. (378)

Westerholm holds the reformation perspective on the multiple functions of the law, arguing that the law contains principles of righteous living drawn from an internal moral compass which outlive the law and in respect of which the Christian life is to be lived.

Westerholm closes with a final chapter clarifying the basic distinction between NPP and traditional interpretations: “Grace Abounding to Sinners or Erasing Ethnic Boundaries?” His own position is neatly summarized in the final paragraph of the book: “As I see things, the critics have rightly defined the occasion that elicited the formulation of Paul’s doctrine and have reminded us of its first-century social and strategic significance; the ‘Lutherans,’ for their parts, rightly captured Paul’s rationale and basic point” (445).


Westerholm’s book contains an open-minded appraisal of the New Perspective and a willingness to work with elements of that research program, including acceptance of facets of the solution-to-plight argument. Yet his doctrinal core, argued from the text with extensive interaction with the history of interpretation, is traditional. The fact that Luther saw so much of his own opponents in Paul’s opponents was not, in Westerholm’s position, Paul’s fault: the “Lutheran” Paul was not Lutheran—Luther was Pauline. To assume Luther read his own opponents—the self-righteous Romanism of Renaissance Europe—back into the text is to argue from the conclusion rather than from the evidence.

Several gentle critiques may be offered. First, while the book’s doctrinal summary would have been strengthened by a more extended treatment of Paul’s interpreters, including a few paragraphs of positive or negative assessment from Westerholm himself, it remains a helpful primer on Pauline theology. Second, some readers will be unsatisfied with Westerholm’s promising, but unexplored, both/and approach to Romans 7, in which Westerholm argues that neither a believer nor an unbeliever is in sight: “To seek to define whether he has in mind the Christian or the pre-Christian struggle with sin is probably to ask a question he did not intend to answer; indeed, his account seems to mix elements from both” (397). Third, many readers will be left wondering how Westerholm viewed the salvation of the lost before the Cross. Westerholm’s passing reference to this topic on page 284 leaves the reader looking for more. While at first glance it may appear that Westerholm is simply responding to the fact that Paul himself makes little reference to this topic, this does not elsewhere stop Westerholm from pushing into topics on which Paul provides only rare comment. Since Westerholm likely has his own position on the matter, one gets the impression that Westerholm was not prepared to discuss that topic in this book. That is unfortunate, as this book would have been an appropriate context for that discussion.

Nevertheless, the value of this book, both in terms of its historical survey and Westerholm’s own interpretive work, far outweighs these minor inconveniences. The clear writing found throughout the book is aided by the book’s scope and its fairness in treatments of opposing points of views. Additionally, the reader will enjoy the humorous elements Westerholm has scattered throughout the book, from a “Whimsical Introduction” describing Martin Luther’s surprise appearance in the Religion aisle of “The World’s Biggest Bookstore” (xiii) to the understated humor found in several footnotes, one of which mentions, as a matter of course, Paul’s Baptist affiliation (358, n.21; Westerholm himself is a Baptist).

Tightly argued and thoughtful in its presentation, Westerholm’s comprehensive, honest treatment of Pauline theology will likely remain¬ for some time a standard primer into Paul’s view of redemption-history for those who adopt the “Old” perspective of Paul.

Benji Overcash posted a priceless entry on January 19 regarding the value of learning the biblical languages. This is highly recommended reading, particularly for Greek students (including me!).

The full text of this post appears below. I have had a bad experience with blogs going offline and wishing I had made a hardcopy.

Does Your Pastor Read Greek and Hebrew? I sure hope so.

By BenjiOvercash ⋅ January 19, 2009

Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, (as every Minister does,) not only to explain books which are written therein, but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of every one who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretence? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms; or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?

-John Wesley, An Address to the Clergy

Languages are the scabbard that contains the sword of the Spirit;
they are the casket which contains the priceless jewels of antique thought;
they are the vessel that holds the wine;
and as the gospel says, they are the baskets
in which the loaves and fishes are kept to feed the multitude. . . .
As dear as the gospel is to us all,
let us as hard contend with its language.

-Martin Luther

I have become increasingly frustrated as of late with the unabashed ignorance of many clergy men and women when it comes to the knowledge which is absolutely necessary to interpret and teach Scripture properly. Within this category fall such things as the cultural, social, and literary backgrounds of the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds; however, the most important skill for proper interpretation is without a doubt the ability to read the Scriptures in their original languages, namely Greek and Hebrew. Indeed, it is the inability to read the Scriptures in their original languages that lead to exegetical blunders like this one and this one, and far worse.

David Alan Black, a well known author and professor of New Testament Greek, has rightly said:

Consider … the alternative-pastors who do not know Greek are forced to borrow their ideas from others. They are slaves to the commentators, but have no means to check their accuracy. The best tools of interpretation are beyond their reach. Not even the English translations they use are completely trustworthy. Worst of all, without thorough training in Greek they may discover that they are passing on in the name of God their own ignorance, based upon erroneous interpretations.

-David Alan Black, Using New Testament Greek in Ministry: A Practical Guide for Students and Pastors (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1993)

Unfortunately, this appears to be a problem especially in evangelical Protestant churches. I had classmates both in college and in seminary who, because of a variety of factors including laziness, disinterest, and lack of diligence, barely made it through their required original language courses with a passing grade. I had other classmates who dropped their original language courses or transferred to a different degree program or school which didn’t require them simply because learning to read the Scriptures in their original languages was “too hard.” Most of these former classmates of mine are now pastors.

It is true; learning Greek and Hebrew is hard. I will readily admit that I still struggle with properly understanding the Scriptures in their original languages (and I will doubtless continue to struggle with it until the day I die!), and I read Greek and Hebrew every single day. Indeed, it takes a great deal of time, commitment, and self-control, not to mention a great sense of calling, in order to endure the pain and frustration that often accompany learning Greek and Hebrew. But aren’t these character qualities that ordained clergy should possess anyway? Should those who lack the self-control even to acquire the skills necessary to properly interpret the living Word of God really be ordained clergy? To put it another way, Do pastors who can’t even read the Scriptures in their original languages-and therefore must rely on what others say about them-have any business teaching them to their congregations who regard their teaching as authoritative? Moreover, how can they authoritatively proclaim and exposit Scripture if they haven’t acquired the skills necessary to do so?

While I have some strong disagreements with the über-Calvinism to which John Piper subscribes, I appreciate his enthusiasm for Scripture and his commitment to reading them in their original languages. Following is an article by John Piper (used by permission) about the topic at hand, and it is well worth reading (and perhaps passing on to your pastor!).


Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker!

by John Piper, The Standard, June 1983, 18-19. Used by permission. 
A slightly revised version of this article now also appears in Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Broadman & Holman, 2002).

“As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us as hard contend with its language”

Last year Baker Book House reissued a 1969 book of daily Scripture readings in Hebrew and Greek called Light on the Path. The readings are quite short, and vocabulary helps are given with the Hebrew verses. The aim of the editor, who died in 1980, was to help pastors preserve and improve their ability to interpret the Bible from the original languages.

His name was Heinrich Bitzer, and he was a banker.

A banker! Brothers, must we be admonished by the sheep what our responsibility is as shepherds? Evidently so. For we are surely not admonishing and encouraging each other to press on in Greek and Hebrew. And most seminaries-evangelical as well as liberal-have communicated by their curriculum emphases that learning Greek and Hebrew well is merely optional for the pastoral ministry.

I have a debt to pay to Heinrich Bitzer, and I would like to discharge it by exhorting all of us to ponder his thesis: “The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry! (p.10).

A Plague of Uncertainty

What happens to a denomination where a useful knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not cherished and promoted as crucial for the pastoral office? (I don’t mean offered and admired. I mean cherished, promoted and sought.)

Several things happen as the original languages fall into disuse among pastors. First, the confidence of pastors to determine the precise meaning of biblical texts diminishes. And with the confidence to interpret rigorously goes the confidence to preach powerfully. You can’t preach week in and week out over the whole range of God’s revelation with depth and power if you are plagued with uncertainty when you venture beyond basic gospel generalities.

Second, the uncertainty of having to depend on differing human translations (which always involve much interpretation) will tend to discourage careful textual analysis in sermon preparation. For as soon as you start attending to crucial details (like tenses, conjunctions and vocabulary repetitions), you realize the translations are too diverse to provide a sure basis for such analysis.

So the preacher often contents himself with the general focus or flavor of the text, and his exposition lacks the precision and clarity which excite a congregation with the Word of God.

Expository preaching, therefore, falls into disuse and disfavor. I say disfavor because we often tend to protect ourselves from difficult tasks by belittling or ignoring their importance. So what we find in groups where Greek and Hebrew are not cherished and pursued and promoted is that expository preaching (which devotes a good bit of the sermon to explaining the original meaning of the texts) is not much esteemed by the clergy or taught in the seminaries.

Sometimes this is evident in outright denunciation of schoolish exposition. More often there is simply a benign neglect; and the emphasis on valuable sermonic features (like order, diction, illustration and relevance) crowds out the need for careful textual exposition.

Another result when pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew is that they (and their churches with them) tend to become second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. For one thing, it is easier to read. It also gives us a superficial glow that we are “keeping up” on things. And it provides us with ideas and insights which we can’t dig out of the original for ourselves.

We may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book, but second-hand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness.

The Mother of Liberalism

Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.

Where pastors by and large can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended relativists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.

Further, when we fail to stress the use of Greek and Hebrew as crucial in the pastoral office we create an eldership of professional academicians. We surrender to the seminaries and universities essential dimensions of our responsibility as elders and overseers of the churches.

Acts 20:27 charges us with the proclamation of “the whole counsel of God.” But we look more and more to the professional academicians for books which fit the jagged pieces of revelation into a unified whole. Acts 20:28 charges us to take heed for the flock and guard it from wolves who rise up in the church and speak perverse things. But we look more and more to the linguistic and historical specialists to fight our battles for us in books and articles. We have, by and large, lost the biblical vision of a pastor as one who is mighty in the Scriptures, apt to teach, competent to confute opponents and able to penetrate to the unity of the whole counsel of God.

Is it healthy or biblical for the church to cultivate an eldership of pastors (weak in the Word) and an eldership of professors (strong in the Word)?

The Pastor Debased

One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the debasement of the pastoral office. From the seminaries to the denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips, but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars and personal example show that it is anything but foremost.

One glaring example is the nature of the Doctor of Ministry programs across the country.

The theory is good: continuing education makes for better ministers. But where can you do a D.Min. in Hebrew language and exegesis? Yet what is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures?

Why then do hundreds of young and middle-aged pastors devote years of effort to everything but the languages when pursuing continuing education? And why do seminaries not offer incentives and degrees to help pastors maintain the most important pastoral skill-exegesis of the original meanings of Scripture?

No matter what we say about the inerrancy of the Bible, our actions reveal our true convictions about its centrality and power.

We need to recover our vision of the pastoral office which embraces, if nothing else, the passion and power to understand the original revelation of God. We need to pray for the day when pastors can carry their Greek Testaments to conferences and seminars without being greeted with one-liners. The day when the esteem for God’s Word and its careful exposition is so high among pastors that the few who neglect to bring their Testaments will go home to study. The day when prayer and grammar will meet each other with great spiritual combustion.

Never Too Late

In 1829 the 24-year-old George Muller wrote, “I now studied much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew … [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees…. I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary” (Autobiography, p. 31).

In the Methodist Archives of Manchester you can see the two-volume Greek Testament of the evangelist George Whitefield liberally furnished with notes on the interleaved paper. He wrote of his time at Oxford, “Though weak, I often spent two hours in my evening retirements and prayed over my Greek Testament, and Bishop Hall’s most excellent Contemplations, every hour that my health would permit” (Dallimore, Whitefield, I, p. 77).

Brothers, perhaps the vision can grow with your help. It is never too late to learn the languages. There are men who began after retirement! It is not a question of time but of values.

Continuing education is being pursued everywhere. Let’s give heed to the word of Martin Luther: “As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us as hard contend with its language.” Bitzer did. And Bitzer was a banker!

Ancient Greek Texts

I found a tremendous resource this week, thanks to the B-Greek listserv. This page provides links to current major Greek text search tools and a short guide on how to use them. I’ve used TLG and Perseus in the past, but I wasn’t certain about all the ways they differed from each other. This page provides information on each resource and hints on when to use each.