Believe it or not, I’m still (slowly!) working through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Not a lot has grabbed me as ‘share-able’ recently, so I’ve been quiet on the book for a while, waiting for part 3 (Paul’s theology). However, here’s a little taste of Part 2: Paul’s worldview.
So what does Paul do with the many worlds he finds himself in? How does he make sense of them, and what aspects of each world does he keep, discard, or reconfigure?
A Bird in the Hand? The Symbolic Praxis of Paul’s World
This is a longer chapter at just over 100 pages, but my summary will be brief. The chapter is broken down into two larger sections, firstly Paul’s attitude towards the symbols of his world(s), and secondly his own unique worldview rearranged around Christ and His people.
In regards to the world of Judaism, Wright examines Paul’s attitude towards Temple, Torah, land, family, ‘zeal’, prayer, and scripture. There is too much here to summarize, but this was one of my favourite sections of Paul and the Faithfulness of God so far, primarily because it made sense of so much of Paul’s thought. At first I didn’t really get why Wright considered Paul’s worldview separate from his theology. What could there be to say? How could the two be separated? But in this chapter I saw topics that are often neglected in Pauline Theologies, but very dear to Paul’s own mind and heart.
As one example, Paul’s attitude toward food purity laws (excluding Gentiles and certain kinds of food) have been totally reconfigured. “[H]e reached his new position not because he had come to regard the previous one as unsatisfactory or wrong-headed in itself but because, so he believed, God’s new age had arrived through the crucified and risen Messiah and the gift of the spirit” (p359). The food and company was of no matter anymore; but that doesn’t mean that purity was suddenly unimportant, rather the purity of the community itself was the focus. Therefore, Gentiles were no longer excluded de facto; all are welcome in the community of Christ. However, false teachers and those who contradicted their faith with their practice were to not be part of table fellowship. Purity was still essential, but it had been reconfigured in light of Christ’s coming.
I’m thrilled to be reviewing John Walton’s Old Testament Genres course from the new Logos Mobile Ed program (other posts in the series are here)! In my previous post, I praised the video and overall style as top-notch, but what about the supplemental materials, such as the assigned reading, quizzes and video tutorials?
The Workbook & Assigned Reading
The hub for each course is the workbook. Feeling much like a seminary experience, the workbook contains a syllabus with course description, intended outcomes, and a outline that (unlike a seminary syllabus) hyperlinks to the individual segments and quizzes.
This required reading helps the student dig in more depth and get a comprehensive perspective on each issue. Judging by the Mobile Ed podcast, the required reading is considered an essential part of the experience and prevents the lecturer feeling that their talk was incomplete. It is reassuring that the lecturer has chosen the reading, as the student is guided in their self-study.
As a randomly-chosen example of the required reading, Segment 16: The Significance of Story, has “Narrative” from The Handbook to Bible Study, and “Genres of Hebrew Literature” from Believers Church Bible Commentary.
As you can see on the left image, all but “Narrative” is locked for me. This means I don’t have the resources in my Logos library, though I could buy them, of course. For Walton’s Old Testament Genres course, I had 52 of the 69 assigned “Required Reading”; however the vast majority of the “See Also” readings were locked.
I have the Bronze (lowest) Logos package with a much smaller (but still substantial) library of books, so each user’s package will determine which readings they have access to. Logos recommends the Platinum Edition for use with Logos Mobile Ed – no doubt because it frees up the teachers to recommend a wide selection of resources. This is just one of those things. For Walton’s course at least, I could access most of the required reading, but to really take full advantage of Logos Mobile Ed, one will need the Platinum base package.
The videos remain excellent, but they are not intended to be used alone. I expect that some users will be very frustrated to purchase a Mobile Ed course and then realize they don’t have everything required. It would be ideal if the Mobile Ed course included clippings of all the required readings, so that even if a user didn’t have the entire book in their library, they could at least access the section that is required required by the Mobile Ed course. For example, many of the readings are from dictionaries. If the user was given limited-access only to the dictionary entry required by the course, then they could read what is required without having to purchase the entire book.
Scattered throughout the course are quizzes at the end of each unit, and a midterm exam. These consist of a mix of 10-30 multiple-choice and/or true-false questions drawn from the lectures (not the readings). The questions are carefully chosen to reenforce the lecturer’s primary points, and basically serve as listening checks.
While the quizzes are not a major selling point of Logos Mobile Ed, I do think they are a weaker element for anyone expecting a mobile classroom experience. The quizzes are very basic: many (if not most) answers could be guessed correctly and they feel much like a simple online quiz. Considering the student has Logos at their disposal, regular “homework” assignments – perhaps a series of tasks using Logos – could really ramp this up to the next level and better integrate the lectures with the Logos software.
Interspersed throughout the scholar’s lectures are screencast video tutorials by a member of the Logos staff that instruct the student on how to use Logos – and your library – better. These tutorials are closely associated with the course material, and often follow up on a point that the lecturer has just made. There were ten of these tutorials in Walton’s Old Testament Genres course; ranging from identifying genres on any given OT text, creating filters that highlight repeated Hebrew words, and guides for preaching OT narratives.
I thoroughly enjoyed each of these tutorials, and was constantly surprised at what Logos can do. I must admit that I barely scratch the surface of what Logos can do, but I suspect I’m not alone here. These tutorials helped expand my mind a little as to how I can study the Bible better using Logos.
Logos Mobile Ed is all about the excellent video lectures from top scholars. As I mentioned in my last post, it really shines in this area. But what about the reading, quizzes, and tutorials? The reading is certainly top-notch, though anyone with a Logos package lower than Platinum may want to look into each course to see if they will get the full experience. However, I could access most of the Old Testament Genres reading, despite having the lowest Logos package. The quizzes are satisfactory, but have the potential for so much more. The tutorials are exceptional and useful for bridging the gap between video and software.
Lastly, I think there is more room for integrating Mobile Ed and the Logos software. Again, and in light of these tutorials, research assignments for the student would help integrate Mobile Ed and Logos. The lectures are excellent, Logos is powerful, the tutorials help bring the two together, but I think more integration can be done to push Mobile Ed to the next level – basically, more of an already good thing.
Check back soon for a post on the iPhone App.
Whilst in Philippi during his second missionary journey, Paul and his group run into a slave girl who has a spirit of divination (lit. a “python” spirit, Acts 16:16). She follows them, crying out “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation”. After a few days of this,Paul is fed up, rebukes the spirit, and casts it out of her in the name of Jesus.
This passage has always left me with questions. While I understand Paul wanting to cast out a demonic spirit, I never understood why the spirit appeared to be supporting Paul’s mission, rather than opposing or subverting it. And why was Paul so angered by the spirit’s endorsement?
Reading through Charles Quarles’ Illustrated Life of Paul (p89-90), he argued that upon a closer reading of the text it appears that the spirit is certainly not supporting Paul, but subtly attempting to subvert him. Here are the reasons:
- While “Most High” is a common name for the Lord in Luke’s writings (Luke 1:32, 35, 37, 76; 6:35; Acts 7:48), interestingly, “Most High God” is only used by demons. So what’s the difference? Most High God implies polytheism, as in “He’s the most high, amongst other gods, that is”. In a polytheistic culture, Most High God supports the status quo.
- The woman claims that they present “the way of salvation” but the Greek is actually missing the definite article, so it could be better to translate it “a way of salvation”. Again, the woman appears to endorse these men, but in an inclusivistic context!
So if Quarles is correct on these two points, then this demon-possessed woman is certainly not supporting these men, but subversively opposing them by presenting Christ as “a way” rather than “the way”.
I’m unsure if I’m fully convinced, simply because both arguments are very subtle. However, it makes good sense of the facts that the woman would oppose the men and that Paul was so angry with what she was saying. The two arguments simply make that a more natural assumption work, so in that light they are quite compelling.
So what do you think?
The little book of Obadiah is much like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone: destined to be forgotten, being the most minor of the minors (prophets, that is)! In fact, Obadiah is the least read book of the Bible. This is why I was so glad to read and review a commentary on it! Maybe I’m a sucker for the underdog, but if you hold to a high view of Scripture then surely the least popular book of the Bible will also be one of the most underestimated and one that rewards close study.
So if you want to study this neglected OT book then now is a great time to do so, since Zondervan has a new series called Hearing the Message of Scripture and the volumes for Obadiah and Jonah are out. Even better, the Obadiah volume is by veteran commentator Daniel I. Block, known for producing top-notch commentaries for difficult books such as Ezekiel and Deuteronomy.
Obadiah (Hearing the Message of Scripture)
Before looking at Obadiah itself, what does Zondervan’s Hearing the Message of Scripture series offer in the midst of a multitude of other commentary series? Quite a lot, it turns out. The goal of the commentary series is to enable serious students and teachers “hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard” (p10). There is a strong emphasis on rhetorical and literary analysis; paying attention to the structure and flow on the book, chapter, and sentence level. Why did the author(s) use this word, or structure their book this way? Other commentaries incorporate these features, but few make it their primary focus. To achieve this end, all Hearing the Message of Scripture commentaries include the following sections for each “literary unit”:
- Main Idea of the Passage. One or two sentence summary of key ideas.
- Literary Context. How it fits the larger context and book as a whole.
- Translation and Outline. Graphically arranged to highlight the flow and argument of the text.
- Structure and Literary Form. Highlighting and summarizing the literary and rhetorical styles.
- Explanation of the Text. More traditional commentary on the unit, with particular focus on how words, phrases and syntax are used.
- Canonical and Practical Significance. How the material is used elsewhere in the OT and NT, and how it can be applied today.
In Block’s Obadiah commentary these features are certainly well-utilized. This is not one of those commentaries that promises to be different but is virtually a clone. Block consistently focuses on Obadiah’s literary strategy throughout. I particularly enjoyed the fact that where the text of Obadiah is awkward (e.g. Obad 1:5, 8) Block recognizes a rhetorical purpose, rather than textual corruption or later editing! Obadiah knows what he is doing.
To emphasize the literary features, Block constantly keeps the big picture of the book in the reader’s view. Numerous tables and charts (averaging one every few pages) are incredibly helpful for visualizing the flow.
The charts are also very helpful in displaying that Obadiah is a “magnificent study in intertextuality, inasmuch as at least one half of the total involves adaptations of prior prophecies” (p38), such as Jer 49:9-10, 14-16. It was surprising to learn that Obadiah has drawn heavily from the other prophets, and this commentary certainly makes this easy to grasp.
Each section begins with the commentator’s own translation with comments on the side. Again, it cannot be redundant to re-emphasize that these tables greatly assist the series’ intention of literary sensitivity.
Not being particularly familiar with the interpretation of Obadiah, I have little to say regarding Block’s exegetical decisions; however, it is obvious throughout – particularly in his footnotes – that he is a thorough and fair scholar. There are numerous cross-references in the footnotes, and Block’s commentary work elsewhere makes constant appearances. Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, it is clear that Block is thorough.
A few comments. The introduction (25 pgs) is particularly excellent, covering Obadiah’s placement in the Twelve, historical background, rhetorical aims and strategy (speaker, audience, message) and structure. I liked that Block’s outline was structured around the usage of “day/days”, which not only allowed the text to determine its own outline, but also highlighted a distinct literary feature in the book. I found the majority of his exegetical decisions to be reasonable, and most were convincing. However, I was surprised that relatively little was said about Obad 1:21, the most intriguing verse to me for potential messianic flavours. Even in the canonical section, Block’s focus was more on YHWH’s Lordship through Christ than looking for any Christological implications of Obad 1:21.
Obadiah certainly is a gem in the Scriptures. There is a lot of wealth in such a tiny book – each verse is surprisingly dense – and Block’s Obadiah commentary will help bring this to the surface. I thoroughly enjoyed working through Obadiah in my morning reading and can recommend it for personal study as well as for students and teachers. The Hearing the Message of Scripture series attempts – and succeeds – something unique by relentlessly prioritizing the text’s flow, and I’ll certainly be eagerly awaiting the next releases (check the Zondervan catalog for the lineup). It’s time to give Obadiah the attention it deserves!
[Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a copy of Obadiah in exchange for a balanced review.]
Jesus’ statements are regularly controversial. This is unsurprising since He is often challenging, divisive, surprising, and always profound. When it comes to Mark 2:23-28, His words are exceptionally controversial because here He appears to be wrong. When recounting the story of David eating the showbread, Jesus refers to Abiathar being the high priest, when in fact it was actually his father Ahimelech (1 Sam 21).
How can we account for this discrepancy?
Numerous proposals have been offered to resolve this problem:
- Tampering or corruption in the original text.
- Jesus’ words should be translated something like “in the text about Abiathar” rather than “in the time of Abiathar” (see recent post by Craig Blomberg).
- The event in 1 Sam 21 was commonly associated with Abiathar’s priesthood.
- Mark or Jesus made a mistake and referred to the wrong high priest in David’s time (like in John Byron’s “aha” moment).
Obviously, the last suggestion is not an option to those with a high view of Scripture, but it’s unsurprising that may land on that conclusion given the alternatives! This is certainly a tricky passage, and new suggestions for how to resolve it are always welcome.
In From Creation to New Creation - a series of essays in honor of G. K. Beale – I think Nicholas Perrin gives a compelling reason for Abiathar being in this story; a purposeful and theological reason. His essay must be read in full to gain the entire argument, but I’ll attempt a summary here.
The Temple, a Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity
There are two basic stages to Perrin’s argument:
- The term “high priest” is “more elastic than most commentators are willing to grant” (p166). While there was only technically one high priest at any time, the high priesthood was an oligarchy, where the title is also extended to others fit for the role. This claim is supported by the writings of Josephus and some examples in the NT such as Sceva (Acts 19:14), who was certainly not the high priest at the time, but is referred as one. He was most likely descended from the high priest and it was fair he be called “high priest”. All this to say, in first century usage it would be fine to refer to Abiathar as high priest, despite Ahimelech sitting in the formal role.
- So it’s not technically incorrect for Jesus to call Abiathar high priest, but the why question still remains. Why refer to Abiathar as high priest when Ahimelech would still have been the more natural choice, since he was both sitting in the formal role of high priest and played a part in the story? This answer requires a little more unpacking.
Perrin argues that Mark 2:23-28 must be read in light of the larger conflict between Jesus and his followers and the high priest and his followers, particularly with Jesus’ continual rejection of the current temple priesthood. Jesus redefines who meets the purity standards (Mark 7:18-23), He cleanses the temple (Mark 11:15-19), proclaims Himself to be the true source of forgiveness (Mark 2:1-12) and refers to Israel’s leadership as wicked tenants, His followers as true tenants, and Himself as the cornerstone of the new temple (Mark 12:1-10).
Mark 2:23-28 is another scene in this ongoing conflict between Jesus and his followers and the religious establishment. The point is that just as David and his followers were allowed to eat the showbread in 1 Sam 21, so also Jesus and His followers have the same prerogatives, as the true temple people. Mark 2:23-28 should not be understood as an ethical debate about the Torah, but rather an announcement that YHWH is going to transfer the “priestly mangle” from the official temple leadership, who “in their resistance to the true Son of David were liable to judgment, to his very own disciples” (p175).
This leads to the answer of “why Abiathar”. Abiathar is a descendant of the unfaithful high priest Eli, who was promised God’s judgment (1 Sam 2:30-36). This judgment is fulfilled when Abiathar joins in with Adonijah’s rebellion against the Davidic king Solomon (1 Kings 1:7). Solomon responds to this treachery by deposing Abiathar in favour of Zadok (1 Kings 1:8; 2:26-27). So while Ahimelech was the high priest in David’s story, Jesus chooses to refer to Abiathar, “as an emblem of a rebellious and therefore failed priesthood” (p175). Jesus is saying that He and His followers are like David and his men, but the religious leadership are like Abiathar and faced a similar future rejection from God.
As always, Jesus is controversial, but not by misremembering a detail! Something more profound and ironic is at play here. While this is a fairly convoluted explanation, in essence it is elegantly simple. Jesus identifies Himself with David (the chosen of God) and his opponents with Abiathar (the priesthood under God’s judgment).
So does this explanation work? Perrin gives far more detail than I have been able to in this post, but hopefully I have done his essay justice.
The first thing I noticed when firing up the course is that the videos are excellently and professionally filmed in crisp high-quality HD widescreen (1920 x 1080). This is a far cry from the typical crummy-camcorder-in-the-back-of-the-room found in many online theological courses! Instead, this is slick, crisp, and clear. You are not peeking in on another’s class; these are made with you in mind. It feels like a personal lecture with a scholar.
The style is minimalistic. The teacher stands in front of a plain white background and looks directly at the camera/viewer. Helpful text appears from time to time to accentuate the teacher’s main points, which is all tastefully done. There are no other images, such as maps, 3D models, screensaver-like images, etc. – at least, not in Walton’s Old Testament Genres Course. I’ll admit that I’m glad, because these things almost always look dated quickly (often as soon as they’re released!). Of course, minimalist design will no doubt go out of fashion eventually, though I do think these will age well and, in the end, clean and simple is always cool.
Of course, the charisma of the teacher will no doubt impact the effectiveness of this simple style. Walton seems to have all the qualities of a great teacher – he chooses his words well, varies his delivery, uses his hands, and is overall enjoyable to listen to and watch. Weaker teachers may feel a little more uncomfortable with the “naked” set up, and this may result in weaker classes. This is all speculation of course. Logos no doubt is selective in not only choosing reputable scholars in their respective fields, but also good communicators (as, of course, those two things don’t always go together!). If all the teachers are like Walton this won’t be an issue.
The video can be viewed either full-screen or in its own panel alongside other material like notes, Bible, transcript, etc. The streaming-quality also smoothly adjusts (like Netflix) depending on one’s bandwidth.
The lectures are broken into smaller 5-10 minute bite-sized segments and this reveals significant thought and care being put into adapting a seminary course for this new context. Each segment aims to only make a few points, which ends up more memorable as a result. They also require less commitment from the viewer than a single 40 to 90-minute lecture. I got into the habit of squeezing in a 7 minute video each day.
In Walton’s Old Testament Genres course this works well: for example, one video will be on the Psalms, another on ancient history writing, and another on Apocalyptic literature. I’m interested to see how the segmented videos will work in an exegetical course; if they break up the passages too much, it may result in disjointedness. This will no doubt come up in the Genesis 1-3 course that I’ll review later.
Inserted among Walton’s lessons are specific training videos from the Logos staff that help integrate Walton’s material into Logos. For example, using Logos to find other ANE legal texts or using Logos to research prophet figures in the Bible. I will talk about these in the next post.
Download or Stream?
Since this is Logos Mobile Education, one may ask “do I need an internet connection at all times?”. I have iffy internet at times – resulting in constant video quality shifts, or pausing to buffer – so I prefer to download things where possible. I was glad to discover that the lessons could be downloaded to be played back at full quality anytime. This is also helpful for those using a laptop and traveling.
Simple, right? Well…
The first time I tried this, it didn’t work, and unfortunately, there’s absolutely no indication that anything is happening even when it is working. I couldn’t find any sort of download manager within the Logos software or through the help forums. I expect Logos has never needed such a thing until Mobile Ed came along. It would be fine if I were only downloading a book (probably a few megabytes at most), but a multi-gigabyte video package is another story. How big are the files? When is the download done? What is my download speed? Etc. A download manager would be a lifesaver at this point. The only indication of when the download is complete is that “Delete downloaded media” becomes an option.
The next time I tried, I decided to leave it for a good hour or two, and everything downloaded fine. I found the location where the videos are being downloaded and got some of the info I couldn’t find within Logos. Walton’s 4-hour Old Testament Genres course came to 4.99GB in hard drive space. While the videos have irregular file extensions (see left image) I was able to play them individually by dragging into VLC, so if someone wanted to use the videos in another context, they could copy them out of this folder and rename them and give them an .mp4 extension.
So the download experience was a mixed bag. Someone with good internet may never need to download the videos. Or if they do, it will be quick and virtually unnoticeable. Those who don’t have good internet (and/or limited hard drive space) will want some indication of download size, speed, and location. In this case, the download experience may be frustrating. Once the videos were downloaded, everything worked smoothly.
I’d suggest for future updates that a download manager is profoundly needed, and also helpful would be the option of downloading a chosen video, rather than the entire course.
What You See vs. What You Get
Not wanting to be a downer with another criticism, I still must say I was a little disappointed at first that the video looked significantly different than the preview image on the Logos Mobile Ed page. The lecturer in the Logos promo pictures took up the full window, but in mine there was a lot of white space. It turns out that Logos’s image was just for promotional purposes.
Some may find it disappointing that what you see isn’t exactly what you get, but within a few minutes I tweaked my setup to maximize my workspace and minimize the white space, and soon forgot! For those with multiple displays, the video can be viewed fullscreen on a separate monitor.
The experience also allowed me to try Logos’ support forum, on which I received a helpful reply within a few hours (here’s my forum question). I’ve spoken with a few Logos staff so far and have found them extremely (almost unnervingly) helpful and friendly with every question and concern I’ve had so far.
At its heart, Logos Mobile Ed is all about video teaching, so the quality of the video and the content are key. Fortunately for Logos, the video is of extremely high quality and a pleasure to watch. My frustrations with downloading pale in comparison to the overall video experience. Logos prides itself in quality, and – visually – Logos Mobile Ed only reinforces their convictions.
So the video is top-notch, but what of the supplemental material? And what of the content of the lectures themselves?
In the next post, I’ll summarize the additional material (workbook, tests, reading, etc).