New article in JETS on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants

As I was researching various possibilities for the research proposal I ultimately submitted to various doctoral programs, I continued to come across the question about whether the quotation of Psalm 118:22 at the conclusion of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants was original to Jesus, or whether later Christians added it. The parable and Psalm 118:22 text appear in all three synoptic gospels as well as the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, as shown in the table below (the psalm quotation is in blue):

Matt 21:33-46

Mark 12:1-12

Luke 20:9-18

Thomas 65,66

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

10 Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;

11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

(65) … Because the tenants knew that it was he who was the heir to the vineyard, they seized him and killed him. Let him who has ears hear.”

(66) Jesus said, “Show me the stone which the builders have rejected. That one is the cornerstone.”

Continue reading New article in JETS on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants


ΠΙΠΙ and the Use of Hebrew in Greek Manuscripts

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a full day seminar at Cambridge before Christmas dealing with ancient manuscripts and writing systems (papyrology and paleography), hosted by the Tyndale House. During the conference we spent several hours working on reading old Greek manuscripts, including both biblical texts (Septuagint and NT) and non-biblical texts. It’s quite a demanding task for the newbie who is used to reading nicely printed, uniform Greek text in print (yes, I know, that’s a very first-world problem to have).

One of the most fascinating parts of the seminar involved reading an old fragment of the Greek translation of Deuteronomy 31, during which one of the professors in attendance made what we thought was a joke about early Christians misreading the name for the LORD in the synagogue and saying “Pipi.” Turns out…he wasn’t joking. The reason behind this embarrassing mistake provides a nice little (short) tour into the world of scribal habits and ancient manuscripts.

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Twelve Memorial Stones

The changing out of the calendar offers an opportunity to take stock on the significance of the preceding twelve months. I rarely do this, however. Maybe it is the latent runner in me; you are taught as a runner never to look behind you in a race, but to keep pressing onward. In busier times of life, it’s easy to do just that.

There is biblical wisdom in remembering, however. I was reminded of this when reading Joshua 4 the other day, which records how each tribal leader was to place a memorial stone in their camp after they crossed the Jordan river: “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that  the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel  a memorial forever” (Josh 4:6-7).

In honor of this episode in the life of Israel, I offer 12 memorial stones to answer the question posed by a friend, “What did I learn in 2013…?”

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The Nativity: A Behind-the-Scenes Look

Mary in Nazareth. Engagement to be married. Visit from Gabriel. Everything changes. Miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit. Caesar Augustus. Empire-wide census. Bethlehem. No room in the inn. Stable and manger. Angelic host. Shepherds. Magi in the east. Gold, frankincense, myrrh.

Screen shot 2013-12-22 at 8.51.01 PM

By now I hope we have all had time to soak in the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. It’s a special time of year to revisit the simple but profound retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ in human flesh to be the savior of the world. Maybe your family re-enacts the story using a nativity scene; maybe you’ve visited a live nativity; maybe your kids participated in a Christmas play at church.

But let’s not forget that there is actually, somewhat surprisingly, a third nativity story in the Bible. It doesn’t get a lot of airplay this time of year, but it should. It’s the behind-the-scenes look at the manger scene in the book of Revelation. And it involves a dragon. Yes, a dragon.

Because when Jesus took on human flesh, he did so as a warrior. I want to suggest that during this time of year, when it’s easy to let the infancy story fall on deaf ears due to our familiarity with it, a text like Revelation 12 can re-inject the drama and danger into the manger scene that we almost always forget.

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The Not So Silent Night

“Sleeping like a baby.”

Typically, this idiom is meant to conjure up images of quiet, peaceful slumber. Uninterrupted. Silent. Restful. Cuddly. Wake-up-feeling-really-refreshed. All night long.


All lies.

Anyone who has ever actually had a baby realizes that what this idiom really means is exactly the opposite. No one actually wants to “sleep like a baby” if you know what a baby sleeps like. The dreaded 45-minute sleep cycle. Waking up crying every 3 hours to feed. Waking up every 1 hour if they have a cold. Frazzled parents wandering around drowsily and asking each other how often they are allowed to give ibuprofen before it becomes a “problem.” The shared longing with other parents of real babies for that magical “sleeping through the night” stage, only to find out that, clinically-speaking, “through the night” only means “5-6 hours at a time.”

“Like a baby.” Who came up with that anyhow?

Kind of like the Christmas song, Silent Night. What on earth were they thinking?

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On Not Being Mary’s Baby’s Daddy

There should be a support group for teenagers who grew up in the nineties before the Internet and Dish Network came along to provide a wider array of wholesome entertainment outlets during the long summer afternoons when you had nothing else to do but turn on the television and watch the major networks’ star-studded 3pm-5pm lineup of pre-Dr. Phil talk shows: Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Geraldo Riviera (before it became just Geraldo), Ricki Lake, and whatever that lady’s name was who looked like she was on the Golden Girls.

Of the many psychologically damaging things one could observe on those shows – which, I suppose, in an odd way anticipated the bizarreness of most “reality” shows today in how they exposed the worse of the human condition on live-ish TV – the most prevalent was the paradigm for how a baby-daddy should respond when the paternity test comes back implicating him. (Note: I believe that is the only time in recorded history that “paradigm” has been used with reference to Jerry Springer). The formula involves (a) denial, (b) yelling, (c) name-calling, (d) more denial, (e) attempted punch by the baby-mommy who is restrained somewhat too late by the security professionals, (f) swearing, (g) scurrilous accusations by the baby-mommy’s friend or sister or cousin, who is also on stage, (h) booing from the audience, (i) cut to commercial break, (j) some ridiculously forced reconciliation by the show host and / or someone storming off set, whichever comes first.

The emotional scarring of my mid-90s adolescence aside, this all makes me think of how Joseph must have reacted when he found out that “before they came together Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).

[Yes, believe it or not, with that high-class introduction, this is a Christmas-themed post after all.]

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The Harry Potter Jesus

This evening, I gathered our children around for our Advent devotionals, and I began sharing some of the great stories of Jesus as a small boy in Nazareth. Pulling down one of the Jesus storybooks we have on the shelf, I began reading:

“When Jesus was six, he was playing with his cousin John and his half-brother James, who sort of resented him, and they began making mud pies in the back alley behind Joseph’s carpenter shop. Some poor peasants came walking by, and Jesus, taking pity upon them, spoke to the pies and transformed them into real beef pot pies. He then gave them to the peasants, who went away rejoicing and telling all their neighbors about the great things that had happened.”

“A few years later, Jesus was playing a game with his friends on the playground, and one of them stumbled over a rock on the edge of the field, fell into a crevasse, and was instantly bitten by a viper. The teachers could not figure out how to help him, as he was quickly dying, and Jesus calmly approached. ‘Oh you teachers of little faith. How long must I endure this school?’ And he spoke to the boy, and he was instantly healed. The classmates were amazed, but some of the jocks said, ‘He has a demon.'”

“When Mary heard all these things, she treasured them up in her heart.”

Then we sang a few Christmas carols and called it a night.

Wait … WHAT?

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Law, Grace, and Rescuing Moses from Exile, Pt 4

booksThe Carolina Way. It used to mean something special for students and fans of UNC Chapel Hill basketball. Some are questioning whether it does anymore. The very fact that it can be questioned, however, shows that there’s something to it. You can tell when it’s there. You can recognize it when it’s not. It’s a certain philosophy, a way of life, handed down from player to player, from coach to coach that defines what it means to do things the right way.

The roots of The Carolina Way can be traced back to Frank McGuire, who coached UNC to its first (real) national championship, put the program on the map, and hired Dean Smith. It was Dean, of course, who fully embodied (and still does) The Carolina Way. When Dean retired in 1997, his assistant Bill Guthridge took the helm. Though everyone assumed his tenure would be short given his age, no one doubted that the most important thing – The Carolina Way – would survive under his leadership. He lived and breathed it just like Dean.

But a funny thing happened in 2000. The coach who was to be the rider on the white stallion, the up-and-coming coaching phenom who, in fact, played on the UNC national championship team with Michael Jordan, the coach of the future – Matt Doherty – arrived on the scene. Though we made it to the Final Four in his first year, something wasn’t right. Something about him, about his methods, about his coaching philosophy, about his treatment of players – something about his way of life was not The Carolina Way. It was hard to put a finger on it, but everyone knew it.

When Roy Williams arrived from Kansas, a new era of The Carolina Way began. One could argue a more successful age began – more championships, faster pace, lots of guys going pro, boost in ticket prices, national prestige after years of mediocrity – but The Carolina Way (at least until recent days) was intact.

Frank_McGuire Dean Smith Bill Guthridge Matt Doherty Roy Williams

Roy is not Dean. Matt was not Dean. Both systems were startling changes to the tradition established before them. But you could tell which one was of the same essence with that which came before, and which was not. One was the further development and flowering of the same basic thing, while the other was a huge departure. Matt’s system was “new” like a new healthcare system is “new”: yeah, it’s still basketball, but it is totally and dramatically different at its very core. Roy’s system is “new” like a new iPhone model is new: same basic philosophy but changes and improvements here and there.

I think the latter is something like what we have when we see the Old Covenant flower into the New Covenant.

Continue reading Law, Grace, and Rescuing Moses from Exile, Pt 4

2,400 Bible Scholars Walk Into a Bar…

I’ll admit it was late in the day, I was jet-lagging, my stomach was stuffed (thanks to my parents’ splurging on good Baltimore meals), and I arrived about five minutes after the paper presentation started. Nevertheless, the next forty-five minutes were more or less an existential crisis for this rookie Bible scholar: “I understand the words he is using to present his case for this theological issue. But I haven’t the foggiest what they mean in combination. In fact, I don’t think I’ve understood a single sentence he has uttered. So either I am completely losing my mind, or he is the smartest man on planet earth. Or both.”

Thus was my introduction to the world of Bible conferences, where thousands of Bible professors, researchers, and pastors get together to talk shop. Fortunately, my first experience at these things was overall quite positive, and maybe there’s still hope that I’ll start understanding some of these guys in the future.

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Law, Grace, and Rescuing Moses from Exile, Pt 3

Zeus-blog-post-keep-calm-follow-the-rulesThe other day I realized I was taking the easy way out on disciplining our oldest daughter. Multiple times during the day I had verbally warned her about her behavior and, in particular, her newfound skill at pushing the limits of our patience and our enforcement of house rules. As these episodes of bending and flexing our “rules” piled on, I expressed my frustration with her willful violations of our rules.

Then I caught myself. I was doing the easy thing of harping on rules and, hence, communicating to her that what really matters is “don’t break the rules.” This can easily translate into, “I can do whatever I want so long as the letter of the rule is not violated” – which, in fact, is what she was doing even if she didn’t realize it. So I talked with her and tried to explain as best I could to a 3.5 year old that it wasn’t about the rules themselves, but rather that she develop a heart of willful, joyful obedience which yields blessing. The rules are important, for they give shape and structure to help her learn what this heart obedience is really like, but what we as parents are after is not in itself rule-keeping, but a soft heart.

Once again, our experience as parents provides a gateway into understanding how God relates to us as our Father, for within the Covenant of Grace (of which our family structure is, in a sense, a dim reflection) the same basic principle applies.

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Connecting Biblical Scholarship to the Church