Thoughts on Craig Keener’s Review of MacArthur’s ‘Strange Fire’

While perusing Dr. David Alan Black’s blog a couple weeks ago (specifically, the entry on December 30), I saw that Black had pointed to Dr. Craig Keener’s review of Dr. John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire, a work exposing some of the faulty theology and practices within Pentecostalism/charismaticism.  Keener, who puts out multi-volume scholarly works every week (OK, it’s not quite that frequently, though it seems so), reviewed MacArthur’s work at length, providing a fair, even analysis, criticizing the author for unnecessarily condemning one whole segment of Christendom.  (I state this without having read the book, though I’ve read other critiques, and have no reason to disbelieve Keener and the others in this regard.)  The reader is encouraged to view Keener’s review it in its entirety (at hyperlink above). 

I’ve selected portions of the review from which to add comments of my own.  The reader here should feel free to cut and paste other parts of Keener’s critique to add to the comments section and provide further commentary.

Assuming Keener’s (and others’) charge that the author has painted with a very broad brush is correct, I’d fully agree with the following statement:

 …Reactionary teaching like MacArthur’s, however, is more likely to polarize than to invite.

While I’m certain that hyper-charismaticism is dangerous, I’m just as certain that hyper-dogmatism is the same.  A few years ago, the teacher of a study I was attending, using an analogy from bowling, offered the general advice of steering clear of either gutter (though he didn’t use either of my “hyper-” terms) as I was seeking his input on my concerns over doctrines and practices of another student who was attempting to influence me.  Without stating so explicitly, it was obvious he agreed with me that the other individual’s ball fell into the hyper-charismatic gutter.  I never forgot that analogy.  I eventually left the group over the teacher’s own promotion of others with unorthodox and heretical doctrines of the hyper-charismatic variety (after enjoying a few lunches – my treat – in which I expressed concerns).

Since then, I’ve tried to steer clear of the other extreme, the one of hyper-dogmatism.  I don’t know that I’ve been entirely successful in that endeavor; I’d say my bowling ball may have a slight tendency toward the hyper-dogmatic side rather than the other gutter – much as I’d like to remain in the middle.  I suppose I’m continuationist in theology (I cannot read 1 Corinthians 12-14 and conclude cessationism), but not so much in praxis – at least not as many charismatics practice it.  My view is that spiritual gifts are not “practiced” so much as individuals are given gifts “just as He (the Holy Spirit) determines” (1 Cor 12:11) as we submit to the Spirit, on an individual and circumstantial basis.  MacArthur, however, has a definite tendency towards hyper-dogmaticism.

I suppose in many ways he’s much like some other denominational teachers who tow the party line, i.e., teaching doctrines in view of particular denominational slants to the exclusion of other possible, valid interpretations in non-essential matters, even perhaps stretching a bit to do so.  The following should go toward illustrating my point.  In MacArthur’s book Truth Endures (Panorama City: Grace To You, 2009), a collection of sermons he’s preached over the years, is one on Revelation titled “A Jet Tour through Revelation”.  In it he states:

…People often ask, ‘Where does the Rapture come in?’  It’s in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4.  You have the church on earth in chapters 2 and 3; all of a sudden we appear in heaven in chapter 4. [p 132]

The “white spaces”?  I understand that he’s not the only one who, in part, supports the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine by this, but I can only imagine MacArthur’s critique of similar exegesis to promote continuationism!

Yet, it’s his hard cessationism that overshadows his views of anything remotely continuationist, as Keener observes:

MacArthur’s indiscriminate condemnation of anything charismatic is little different from some bigoted secular condemnations of all evangelicals because of the behavior of some. Someone prone to generalize could even use the offenses in the book to blacklist all evangelicals, or all Christians, using the same logic that MacArthur uses against the entire charismatic movement…

Good point. 

More from Keener:

…[S]ome extreme Word of Faith teachers do promulgate teachings that, at least at face value, cannot but be viewed as heretical, especially believers being gods (rightly noted on pp. 11-12). But have such beliefs in fact “become the rule” among charismatics (p. 12)?…

One heresy that I did on occasion run into, which probably took matters more literally than did those MacArthur mentioned, was the Manifested Sons doctrine (or at least its extreme version that I encountered). Its proponents taught that overcomers by faith would achieve physical immortality before Jesus’s return, becoming “the many-membered Christ” on earth

One thing I do know is that the charismatic Spirit I have experienced was not compatible with this teaching. On one occasion I recoiled inside when I heard a guest speaker at a noncharismatic congregation teach on a completely different subject. I felt that he carried the same spirit as the Manifested Sons teachers. Afterward I asked him if he had known a certain Manifested Sons teacher. “Yes,” he replied, astonished. “We were good friends.” He was himself a Manifested Sons teacher. The Spirit I experienced regularly in sounder charismatic circles clearly testified against this false teaching

I’m glad that Keener has actually witnessed firsthand the Manifested Sons of God (MSoG) doctrine. This “many-membered Christ” (manchild), the culmination of MSoG, is what Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA – an individual with worldwide influence – has been teaching in a veiled form for quite some time now, while others such as Bob Jones, Paul Cain, and Todd Bentley have been much more obvious (see here for one example each of Jones and Bentley).  Yet Johnson’s recent podcast “Thinking from the Throne” is much more explicit (see here for lengthy CrossWise article, especially transcriptions at 13:49-14:12 and 36:30-37:34 of the podcast, near end of article1).  This is not just heresy, but a doctrine paralleling the occult teachings of the New Age / New Spirituality for the past 100 years, a teaching that is specifically antichrist in nature as defined by the Apostle John (1 John 2:22, 4:1-3).

I wonder who it was teaching MSoG and the “many-membered Christ” doctrine that Keener mentions here?

…I suspect that when we cite the highest figures for the numbers of charismatics in the world, we recognize that not all of them are those we would feel comfortable embracing as spiritual or theological kin

Of course, many would agree.  But, this begs the question: why aren’t there more Biblical scholars writing about these specific individuals (in a more irenic manner than some of the laity), warning the church at large?  Why didn’t Keener reveal the name of the Manifested Sons teacher he mentioned earlier?

Partly, if not mostly, in response to MacArthur, in a recent Charisma article Dr. Michael Brown poses the question Are We Charismatics Doing Enough to Correct Abuses in Our Midst?  Certainly, Brown has exposed some of the faulty doctrines and practices within Pentecostalism/charismaticism, even mentioning some names.  For that he deserves credit.  Yet on Brown’s own Voice of Revolution site he allows others to post articles, sometimes promoting teachers with very questionable theology and praxis.  This can cause confusion.

As just one example, Bill Johnson was lauded in a piece titled HEAVEN ON EARTH by Bill Johnson (Everyone Must Hear This!). The author of the piece merely provided one quote – “Jesus is perfect theology” – and two audio clips, yet there were some very troubling things stated in those clips.  (Rather than go into detail here, the reader can go to the link, listen to the audio for themselves, and read some of the comments, which include a few of my own, though I came in a bit late.)

Charisma itself is one of the worst offenders, promoting leaders of the so-called “New Apostolic Reformation” (C. Peter Wagner’s own term) to include Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle (of International House of Prayer), etc.   Jack Hayford, who is mentioned favorably by Brown in his article referenced above, appears to be a part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), as well.  Hayford had suggested using the Gamaliel approach (cf. Acts 5:38-39) to the so-called “Lakeland Revival” of 2008, refusing to provide a very much needed corrective to the proceedings, illustrating what I’d define as poor leadership at best.

For those unaware, the NAR even has its own “Apostles” (that’s a capital “A”), as evidenced by their own International Coalition of Apostolic Leadership organization (formerly “International Coalition of Apostles” – and there are other similar organizations).   While the membership list is now concealed to those of us outside this elite group (though with a recommendation by a current member and by paying the requisite dues you too can become a member!), here is a list of members from November 10, 2009, to include former “Presiding Apostle” C. Peter Wagner.  Following is some now-deleted verbiage from the old site (no longer available on Internet Archive):

The Second Apostolic Age began roughly in 2001, heralding the most radical change in the way of doing church at least since the Protestant Reformation. This New Apostolic Reformation [NAR] embraces the largest segment of non-Catholic Christianity worldwide, and the fastest growing…

These folks (NAR) who are “heralding the most radical change in the way of doing church at least since the Protestant Reformation” are purportedly “the largest segment of non-Catholic Christianity worldwide, and the fastest growing”, and these are all within the charismatic realm.  I’d be delighted if Dr. Keener would research this group and write a detailed analysis of his findings, given both their charismatic leanings and purported size.  In addition, I think it especially prudent for Keener to name the individual who was teaching MSoG, and to name those who were teaching the “many-membered Christ” doctrine as a warning to the Church at large.

 

1 Here are the respective transcriptions: [13:49]…So what is He looking for?  He is looking for a people that will cooperate with the FULLNESS of God’s presence, operating and manifesting THROUGH them so that this world actually gets a FULL and ACCURATE taste of who Jesus is.  It’s not us; it’s Him.  But He dwells IN us in FULLNESS in bodily form…[14:12]

[36:30]…until we all come to unity of faith and the KNOWLEDGE of the SON of God.  Too many people think they know that don’t know.  So the knowledge of the Son of God, to A perfect man.  Look at the description.  Millions and millions of body members come to A – singular – perfect mana full-on revelation of the Person of Jesus, what He is like, how He is.  To A perfect man, to the measure and stature – equal measure to the fullness of Christ…[37:34]

Book Review: The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark, by Mark F. Bozzuti-Jones

[Mark F. Bozzuti-Jones, The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark, 2012, CreateSpace Publishing, North Charleston, SC, 157 pages ]

Blasphemy against the Christian God while desecrating Sacred Scripture

In a word: blasphemy.  Not only does the author blaspheme/revile/malign/profane sacred Scripture (cf. Titus 2:5), as evidenced by the title, he also equates a mere man – in this case Barack Obama – to Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Christian Holy Trinity:

In the year 1961…Barack Hussein Obama was born…The Anointed One was incarnated into this world on August 4, 1961, praises be upon him [p 2; CAPS in original, other emphasis added].

No matter one’s political persuasion, we are not to deify any man.  There was only one Incarnation of the “Anointed One”; His name is Jesus Christ, the One for whom the real Gospels (good news) in Scripture are named.  The above quote is not ‘merely’ one isolated passage; the entire book is filled with this sort of heresy.

The author impiously fashions his book in the form of a Biblical Gospel complete with parables paralleling or approximating the true Gospels’, but with Obama as narrator/speaker in place of Jesus; however, he adds bits of BHO’s speeches, plus “imagined conversation, and fictional situations” [back cover] to his sacrilegious stew.  Bozzuti-Jones’ idea here is not even wholly original, for avowed atheist Jose Saramago wrote a book titled ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ’, in which Saramago reimagined Jesus’ life (and those around Him), embellishing some Biblical accounts, while making up others out of whole cloth.

Unless the reader is both well-versed Biblically and well-read regarding Obama’s personal life, it will be difficult to ferret out what is true, quasi-true, fictional, or a conflation for the irreverent author’s own rhetorical effect.  Bozzuti-Jones states that Barack Obama had been elected president of the Harvard Law Review, noting, “In its 104 year history, an African American had never been elected to lead this group” [p 20].  This appears to be wholly true.  Yet, the author perverts the sending of the 72 in the Biblical Gospel of Luke (Luke 10), conflating this with other Biblical accounts, while conjuring up the rest:

Behold I send you out into the cold…When they tell you to eat fruit, remember my words to you.  And when they throw stones at you, say to them ‘Peace be unto you.’  When you see the wolf, do not be afraid to bleat, because you are the sheep of God [p 69].

Of course, I’m writing this from the perspective of a Christian – in the historically orthodox sense.  Bozzuti-Jones is not.  This author self-identifies as “a priest for pastoral care at Trinity Church Wall Street” (as per back cover), a very liberal Episcopalian church in New York.  By “very liberal” I mean one in which all humans are “Divine”, at least potentially.  As he states on the Dedication page, “And let the reader seek and reveal his or her own Divinity” [Caps in original]. 

For those who may disagree with my views here, framed by my orthodox Christian perspective, let me just state that I’m not being “intolerant” of the views of this author.  As an American, this man shares the same First Amendment rights as have I.  He may choose to blaspheme my God and my Savior, and desecrate Holy Scripture.  That’s his prerogative.  I, in turn, choose to defend my faith against this blasphemy by writing this review, thereby exercising my own First Amendment rights.

I carefully considered whether or not I should even pen this critique.  I feel sure that some will seek out this book precisely because of my negative review.  But I felt that true Christians should know how some of those who claim to hold to the Christian faith are actually quite the enemy of our faith instead.

Interestingly, the author published other books on the sometimes theologically liberal-leaning Christian imprint Augsburg Fortress (associated with the ELCA), yet this work was self-published.  Perhaps Bozzuti-Jones could not find a Christian publisher willing to print this particular one, prompting him to self-publish instead?

Zero stars.  Very strongly not recommended – especially to true Christians.  Non-Christians may find the author’s musings entertaining and humorous.  I’m appalled.

 

Book Review: Body and Character in Luke and Acts, by Mikeal C. Parsons

[Mikeal C. Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity, 2006, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI / 2011, Baylor University Press, Waco, TX, 191 pages]

God penetrates outward appearances to see the heart.

It has been said that one should not judge a book by its cover, meaning one should not judge a man’s character by his outer physical features.  Yet, according to the research of Mikeal Parsons, assessing a person’s morality based on their physical attributes is precisely what was done in ancient Greece and Rome, as there was an assumed correlation between the two.  For example, according to third century AD writer Pseudo-Aristotle, “soul and body react on each other; when the character of the soul changes, it changes also the form of the body, and conversely, when the form of the body changes, it changes the character of the soul” [p 22].  There was also geographic (‘you are where you live’), and zoological (equating traits in animals to humans) stereotyping.  This practice is known as physiognomy.

The author traces the methods of physiognomy in ancient Greco-Roman tradition, Jewish culture (to include OT and extra-biblical, pseudepigraphical works), the church “fathers”, Pauline NT texts, and other works, before illustrating its contrary usage in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.  If you want to know, among other things, what Paul likely meant in his reference to those whose “god is their belly” (Phil 3:19; cf. Rom 16:18) [pp 50-51], or what Matthew meant by “be wise as serpents” (Matt 10:16), considering the term “serpents” had a negative connotation [p 75], then this book is for you.

But, as the title of this work indicates, the bulk of this book finds Parsons explaining how the Lukan material works as an apologetic over against the conventional understanding and use of physiognomy in the milieu of first century Greco-Roman culture (Luke/Acts has been the primary focus of his professional literary career).  The author illustrates how Luke the NT writer, in particular, deftly subverts this pseudoscience of physiognomy:

…It is noteworthy that nowhere does Luke provide any extended physical description of the main protagonists (Jesus, John the Baptist, and the disciples) or antagonists (religious and political leaders)…This is especially striking in the case of John the Baptist…its inclusion might lead Luke’s readers to draw moral inferences based on physical characteristics – the very kind of thing Luke is bent on breaking… [p 81].

However, Luke does specify physical descriptions of Zacchaeus, the Ethiopian eunuch, and others – those who, by their respective appearances, would be prejudged in the larger culture as individuals possessing undesirable character traits.  Yet despite their outward physical appearances, these individuals are worthy (or, perhaps more accurately, made worthy) of His Kingdom, as God knows the heart (Luke 16:15) and “shows no favoritism/partiality” (Acts 10:34).

While scholarly and detailed, this book is a relatively easy read, rather short due to its focus.  Unlike many new works, this one breaks new ground.  Undoubtedly, future commentaries on Luke and Acts will source Parsons’ work here.  Very highly recommended.

(My copy is the first edition by Baker Academic.  It appears the Baylor University Press is a straight reissue without any sort of revision.)

Book Review: Colossians and Philemon: A Handbook on the Greek Text, by Constantine R. Campbell

[Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, Gen. Ed.; 2013, Baylor University Press, Waco, TX, 114 pages]

The union of Verbal Aspect and ‘Union with Christ’ in one volume

In the continuing series of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT), Constantine Campbell, in his in-depth look into Colossians and Philemon, highlights his past and continuing work in Verbal Aspect, as well as his more recent research into Paul’s use of ὲν Χριστῳ̄ (en Christw͆) and similar phrases (union with Christ).  This is my second acquisition in the BHGNT series, and I like this one even more.

The series presumes some competence of NT Greek at the intermediate level, with its focus on grammar, while utilizing up-to-date linguistics (discourse analysis, Verbal Aspect), and touching on text critical issues where deemed appropriate.  (See my previous BHGNT review for more info on the series in general.)

With this particular volume, the reader should have a good working knowledge of verbal aspect (I’ll follow Porter’s convention of capitalizing tense-forms  to differentiate from aspect and associated terms), as Campbell focuses on this throughout.  For those unfamiliar with VA, essentially the view is that Koine Greek verb morphological forms (tense-forms) do not semantically encode time, but rather aspect.  Time, instead, is derived from context.  Aspect is the viewpoint, or perspective of the writer, who chose the particular tense-form from among other possibilities, to suit his particular purposes (though some tense-forms are more appropriate for narrative as opposed to discourse and vice versa).

The Aorist, for example is termed ‘perfective’ in aspect, meaning a summary or remote perspective of the event/situation (external view).  Conversely, the Present and Imperfect tense-forms are `imperfective’ in spect, displaying a view of the internal process of the event/situation (internal view).  The function of these aspectual forms, the resulting Aktionsart (kind of action), is determined by lexis and context (pragmatics).

To assist the reader, Campbell gives a handy overview/review of his Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008a), in his Introduction.  Worth the price of admission, however, is how the author, in the Introduction, breaks down each tense-form into each of its Aktionsart functions [pp xxiv – xxvii], providing a ready reference as one works through Colossians and Philemon.  For example, under ‘Present Indicative’ is ‘Gnomic Aktionsart’, which is described:

“Imperfective aspect with any lexeme in a context of ‘general reality’ can implicate a gnomic Aktionsart.  This expresses a universal and timeless action” [p xxvi].

My only minor criticism – and it is indeed small – is that the aspectual terms ‘perfective’ and ‘imperfective’ are not defined in a general way, in abstraction from their Aktionsart functions, in the Introduction or in the Glossary (hence my explanation above).  I deem this important because, for example, under ‘Aorist Indicative’ is ‘Gnomic Aktionsart’ [p xxiv] with the identical description as ‘Gnomic Aktionsart’ under ‘Present Indicative’ above, except the introductory word, with “Perfective aspect…” replacing “Imperfective aspect….”  Without a firm grasp of the general differences between perfective aspect and imperfective aspect, one may not see the distinction between the Present gnomic and Aoristic gnomic, with the nearly identical descriptions.

This minor quibble aside, Campbell’s book is rich with insights.  While the author argues for his own grammatical and syntactical interpretations, he compares these to other possibilities and other’s viewpoints with clarity.  I may not (currently) agree with all his conclusions, but this may reflect my own theological biases (e.g., Col 1:16-17, with respect to ὲν αὺτῳ̄ (en autw͆) as being locative, rather than reflecting instrumentality, i.e., Christ as both creator and sustainer – could the usage here be both locative (in Him) AND reflect instrumentality (by Him)?).  In these instances I’ll pray and ponder.

Book Review: II Peter and Jude: A Handbook on the Greek Text, by Peter H. Davids

[Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, Gen. Ed.; 2011, Baylor University Press, Waco, TX, 130 pages]

Your starting point for exegesis and exposition in II Peter and Jude

The Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series is geared toward intermediate and advanced students of Koine Greek “but also for students and scholars who no longer have the luxury of increasing their Greek proficiency within a classroom setting” [p viii].  Its primary focus is on grammar, incorporating elements of up-to-date methods of linguistics, including elements of Verbal Aspect theory, while touching on text critical issues where appropriate.  The series apparently adheres to the UBS4/NA27 as the base text.

There is very little exposition of the text, as this series is designed as a tool to extract proper meaning from the Greek by focusing on syntax and semantics, so the reader is then prepared for exegesis, followed by exposition.  Series General Editor Martin Culy describes these Handbooks as “’prequels’ to commentary proper” [p vii].

The Series Introduction is followed by the Author’s Preface and Intro.  Included at the very beginning is a list of abbreviations utilized throughout both Jude and II Peter.  In addition, there’s a short Glossary, a handy Grammar Index, as well as an Author Index (and a Bibliography, of course).  I’m especially fond of the Grammar Index.  One can go through this by topic and find explanations on concepts on which one is rusty or unfamiliar.  Left-dislocation?  Just go to Jude 10 or II Peter 3:6 for examples and application.

Davids is quite familiar with both books, having written his own expository commentary (Pillar New Testament Commentary) on this “odd couple” [p xvii].

The practice throughout is to select a verse, on up to a few verses, which are translated to English (by author), followed by the Greek text itself (bolded), then a brief grammatical explanation of the selection. This is followed by the author taking a section (usually a clause) of the selection, providing a general grammatical explanation, concluding by taking individual words from the section, providing parsing as well as more technical details, sometimes including brief exegesis. Essentially, it’s a macro to micro approach once the text is first broken down into digestible chunks (keeping in mind the natural flow of the text).

Here’s an example using one word in Jude 1 [p 2]:

τετηρημένοιϛ.  Prf pass ptc masc dat pl τηρέω (attributive).  The second defining characteristic of these people is that they have been and are being kept or guarded, which is important given the threat that Jude will mention later.

While Davids touches on some modern linguistic theory, illustrating its usage (referencing Runge and Levinsohn ), including Verbal Aspect (utilizing Porter), there is not a considerable focus on these innovations.  This is a bit disappointing, as I was hoping for extensive examples, most especially of Verbal Aspect.  But, this is a minor quibble.  The few examples quoting Porter are helpful, and these can be applied to other verses.  I’m hopeful Verbal Aspect will get more traction in Koine Greek studies. 

Here’s a great illustration of its usage in II Peter 1:17, as Davids quotes from Luke in this same series (Culy, Mikeal C. Parsons and Joshua J. Stigall) with reference to εὺδόκησα in its parallel in Luke 3:22:

“This is a good example of why some scholars (e.g. Porter, Decker, Campbell) maintain that the aorist tense, like the other tenses, does not explicitly refer to time, though it is used most often to refer to past events…Here, God is simply portrayed as speaking of his pleasure with Jesus as a whole action or simple event by using the aorist tense/perfective aspect (cf. McKay, 27) rather than as a process (imperfective aspect)…” [pp 59-60].

As one who is self-studying NT Greek, this work (and, I’m assuming, series) is quite useful. It’s a bit beyond my current level, which makes it that much more profitable.  Since this is my first acquisition of the BHGNT series, I’m assuming the rest is fashioned similarly, and with that in mind, I’ll be buying more. I’m particularly eager to acquire Constantine Campbell’s edition on Colossians, as I’m quite confident he’ll provide a thorough treatment of Verbal Aspect throughout (not to mention Colossians is one of my favorite books in Scripture).

Booklet Review: English Grammar for Language Students, by Frank X. Braun

[©1947 Frank X. Braun, Ph.D., Edwards Brothers Publishing, distributed by Ulrich’s Books Inc., Ann Arbor, MI, 23 pages]

Excellent English grammar refresher for language students

Dr. Braun’s concise 23-page booklet is great for those who need a refresher course in the various terms and concepts of English grammar. As Braun states in the preface: “It is the aim of this booklet to assist the student of foreign languages in the review of those basic terms of English grammar the knowledge of which the authors of many introductory texts to foreign languages take for granted.” The terms are in alphabetical order and each concept is illustrated by at least one example.

So, in case you no longer recognize your dative from your accusative, Braun’s booklet can assist you in correctly identifying and declining the object you desire and with concurring verbal agreement.

Book Review: Roger Omanson’s ‘A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament’

[Roger L. Omanson A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. 2006, German Bible Society, Stuttgart, Germany]

For those who’ve wondered about those footnotes in modern Bible versions and the reasons why some passages are shortened (e.g. Matthew 6:13) while others are omitted entirely (e.g. Acts 8:37), Roger Omanson’s work can provide assistance.  Ideally suited as a companion to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition) [yes, it’s all in Greek], better known as UBS4, Omanson’s work (like the Metzger version upon which his book is based) explains why some passages have been amended or taken out entirely based on the discipline known as textual criticism.

Textual criticism, as it pertains to the New Testament, is the ongoing process (more manuscripts are unearthed every year it seems) of assessing all known manuscripts containing Biblical material with the goal of determining the original text.  All the original autographs, as they are known, are no longer in existence.   Therefore, this is important work!

Omanson adapts Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Second Edition [1994 German Bible Society, Stuttgart], dispensing with some of the technical jargon while adding some more verbiage for clarification, with the goal of making it easier to read for those whom English is not their primary language and for the average layperson. The Greek words remain in Greek font yet they are also translated to the English (not transliterated). Omanson’s work still requires a bit of knowledge about textual criticism; however, a primer is included in the “Introduction” which retains some of the same info as Metzger’s edition but, again, with added information and more simplified verbiage.

Omanson uses most but not all the comments on variants contained in the Metzger. Yet, given that Koine Greek (the Greek of the NT) was limited in punctuation and that the manuscripts mostly do not contain punctuation, Omanson adds what he calls “Segmentation” on some verses illustrating additional exegetical considerations (such as the difficulty in ascertaining the point at which a quoted portion ends, as well as the possibility of phrasing some discourse as questions rather than statements and vice versa), providing an added bonus.  [See what is known as the Codex Sinaiticus here (designated as א - aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) taking notice of how all the text runs together.]

It may be helpful to provide a direct comparison between the two versions using John 7:8 as one example. First is Metzger followed by Omanson

7:8 ουκ {C}

The reading ούπω was introduced at an early date (it is attested by p66,75) in order to alleviate the inconsistency between ver. 8 and ver. 10.

7:8 ουκ (not) {C}

The reading ούπω (not yet) was introduced at an early date in order to remove the inconsistency between v. 8, in which Jesus said that he was not going to the festival in Judea, and v. 10, where it is stated that he did go. Following the variant, NIV and Seg read, “I am not yet going up to this Feast.”

[ED: "Seg" is the designation for a modern French translation  (Louis Segond).]

The bracketed “C” above corresponds to a grading system (A, B, C, or D) by the UBS4 committee designating the relative certainty of the variant chosen (according to the committee) with A being “certain”, B “nearly certain”, while C “indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text”, with D illustrating “great difficulty” [from Metzger p 14* and UBS4 p 3*]. Unfortunately, Omanson does not include this rating system in his volume. Omanson’s edition can work as a stand-alone, i.e. one does not necessarily need the UBS4 for comparison as the layperson could use Omanson in conjunction with an English (or other language) Bible translation; however, the inclusion of the rating system would have been most helpful.

Two more comparisons: 1) while Metzger’s book is `pocket-size’ (5 X 7.5 X .75 in. – the same h X w as the UBS4), Omanson’s is larger – about the size of an average textbook (6.25 X 9.375 X 1.375 in.); 2) Omanson’s is in larger font and on thicker, whiter paper making it easier to read – especially for those of us with aging eyes.

A minor criticism: the Greek font renders the kappa ( κ ) in such a way that it resembles the English letter x which causes me pause at times. My mind’s eye initially sees this as an English transliteration of xi ( ξ – which is transliterated as the English “x”). This is especially confusing with και which I initially see as (transliterated) xai. But, I note this font is similar to the BDAG.

Bottom line: this is a great reference for expounding on some of the reasons why one variant was chosen over another (or why the committee was unsure) in the UBS4. One can use this in lieu of the Metzger. Metzger is useful for those who are more versed in textual criticism and for those, like me, who have to strain to see the info in the UBS critical apparatus (“apparatus” is essentially the footnotes detailing the variances of the manuscripts) as this is sometimes replicated in Metzger’s edition in larger font (the UBS apparatus is not necessarily small in font but rather crammed with info, and with the thin paper there’s some bleed-through). However, for those who speak English as a second language, the Omanson will likely be the better choice. For the average layperson, Omanson’s work is more useful than Metzger’s in the way it translates all the Greek words into English and with the more simplified verbiage.

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