What makes old commands new?

from 1 John 2:7-8:

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command, but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”

The command here is “to love another.” It’s not explicitly stated, but like the unseen current propelling a ship towards its destination, this command to love invisibly pushes much of chapter 2 toward its goal.  (Verses 9-10 relate response to this command as involving either hatred or love of the brother, as further proof.)

But as John says, this is not a new command. From Genesis 4 where Cain asked “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the essence of Scripture from the Law to the Prophets to Christ’s own words is “Yes, love one another.  You are responsible for your brother’s well-being.”  This command is from the beginning.

But something is new about it.  What?  John tells us.  What’s new is that this command is now true in us, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is shining.  Here, one’s mind goes back to John’s Gospel where the eternal Word brought a “life that was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”  In chapter 1 of this letter, we are told that God himself is light.  The light that is in the Father is manifested in the Son, the Word, Christ.

And because Christ now shines (being manifested in the Gospel they heard), the darkness is passing away, retreating like a beaten dog into a safe corner.

So what makes the old command new?  The commandment has not changed but the situation has.  The darkness is leaving, the light now shines.  The “Not yet” is becoming the “already” bit by bit, and now in this light of Christ shown us in the victory over the darkness declared by the Gospel, we can love one another because the command is now true not only “in him” but “in us” who “remain in the light”.

“Justification and Variegated Nomism”

Over the past three decades, something called “The New Perspective on Paul” (NPP from here) has taken much of the world of New Testament studies by storm.  Or at least so it seems.  The work of men like E.P. Sanders, James G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright has caused many to re-examine commonly held perceptions of Paul and his theology, especially in the doctrinal area of “justification.”  Their work, though branching in some different ways, has caused whole new debates over terms like “covenantal nomism”, “getting in versus staying in vs. being in”, and “present/future justification.”  Most popular interaction with NPP has occurred in the last few years with the publishing of John Piper’s personal response to the views of N.T. Wright on the issue of justification and Wright’s recent monograph on that same topic.  While I haven’t read all of either Piper or Wright’s works on the topic (though through various interviews online, I’ve heard each man give the gist of his view and his perception of the other), I think that to focus on the debate where they are at would be a mistake.  To use a terrible metaphor, Piper and Wright are launching water balloons from the rooftop of two nearby skyscrapers.  Rather than deciding which man has the better balloons and better aim, it might be smart to start at ground level and see which skyscraper has a good foundation.

For that, I believe a helpful resource for those who can handle a book with footnotes, is the two-volume work Justification and Variegated Nomism, edited by DA Carson, Peter O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid. Volume 1 and Volume 2 were published in 2001 and 2004 respectively.  In essence, the works aim to evaluate the claims of the NPP from the foundation up.  So Volume 1 focuses on the complexities of Second Temple Judaism, while Volume 2 then helps shed light on Paul’s work and view of justification in light of the discoveries made in Volume 1.

To note, this review won’t be very in-depth or academic.  For one thing, I had to return the books to the library and so I’m pulling everything from memory.

Volume 1 essentially walks through various texts of Second Temple Judaism and evaluates them in light of the “covenantal nomism” that E.P. Sanders claimed was the real view of the Jews in Paul’s day.  For those with limited time, editor Carson writes an excellent summary chapter at the end of Volume 1, providing summaries of the salient points of each preceding essay.  (I would work backward from there as you find interesting material to investigate.)  Essentially, in summary of Volume 1, the covenantal nomism of Sanders is sometimes found in the Judaism of Paul’s day and the scholars are happy to acknowledge such.  However, the full counsel of texts written at that time show that it was not the only or even the majority view.  Other views of election and grace and covenant membership were also popular as well.  Sinlessness was thought achievable by some.  Others clearly believed in merit-earning righteous acts.  The most indicting evidence against the NPP’s use of Sanders’ covenantal nomism is the Old Testament word studies done by Mark Seifrid attempting to establish the relationship between the term/concept of “righteousness” and those of “covenant faithfulness.”  Essentially, the massive work done revealed very few connections and no equations of “righteousness” with “covenant faithfulness.”  Being faithful to the covenant is an element of righteousness, but the converse is not also true.  Righteousness language primarily goes beyond covenantal ideas to creation ideas–namely the way God rules and structures the universe.  This point seems especially important in the Wright/Piper debate as Wright’s view on justification rests on a foundation that “righteousness”=”covenant faithfulness.”  The other texts don’t seem to agree.  (I do think Piper is also mistaken here as he pulls “righteousness” too far from “covenant faithfulness” and beyond the creation themes.  From what I understand, he argues that righteousness is the inherent moral character of God, which seems to be more metaphysical than the usage in either Biblical testament.)  Hence, the varieties of law-keeping in Second Temple Judaism is the origin of the volumes’ title “Variegated Nomism.”  I would also add that like many religions, we may also add that the “man on the street” theology was even more variegated than the writings themselves show.  I think that has always been a flaw with the NPP is that they assume Paul was only interacting with the kinds of Jews who wrote the source material reflecting covenantal nomism, rather than his average “fellow-kinsman” on the street.”

In volume 2, the focus shifts from the foundation issue of what kind of Judaism is Paul and his cohorts reacting against, to what is Paul’s reaction.  Since this NPP debate largely centers around the topic of Justification, the primary areas of study in Volume 2 are Romans, Galatians, and Paul himself.  (Though historical theologian Timothy George adds a nice piece about the way Luther gets abused and misunderstood as well.)  Peter O’Brien has two articles worth reading along the lines of “Was Paul a Covental Nomist” and “Was Paul Converted?”  Moises Silva’s article on the issue of “Faith(fulness) of Jesus” in Galatians is superb on that issue.  Essentially, here, I think, is where the NPP faces the toughest challenge.  Most of the NPP readings of texts in Romans and Galatians (not to mention Philippians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5) place a more difficult grid of interpretation over these letters.  I’m a huge fan of Ockham’s razor.  The simplest explanation that accounts for all the data wins.  The essays dealing with Sanders, Dunn, and Wright in Romans do a good job of showing how muddled and difficult the NPP wants to make some rather simple texts at times.  (The writers have also done a good job of not always lumping various NPP authors together, but acknowledge the “variegation” of the NPP as they deal with various views.)  Paul wasn’t writing to people trained in higher criticism who had read all the stuff even the authors in this volume had.  Often, he uses simple language and style with lots of word pictures to teach theology to largely illiterate Christians.  Often his attempts to be simple is what leaves us scratching our heads because we wished he’d have explained a little more detail in certain spots. (Romans 9-11 for sure!)

I’m trying to remember if I’ve left out anything particularly striking, but I can’t.  Maybe some kind patron will endow me to read more in these areas.

So for those interested in the issues raised by the NPP and especially in the debates over justification, I do recommend these two volumes of Justification and Variegated Nomism for you on your quest.  Even fans of the NPP will find good thoughtful responses throughout to questions raised by the NPP, and hopefully they will expand their definition of what Second Temple Judaism entails on the basis of Volume 1’s findings.  If nothing else, the footnotes alone can direct one to countless primary and secondary sources on issues of Pauline theology and Biblical studies.

The Transfiguration

To me, the Transfiguration is one of the Bible events that often leaves me scratching my head.  Why does Jesus appear in glory before his disciples at this one time?  What are Moses and Elijah doing there?  How does Peter manage to mess even this up somehow?

This is no “ordinary” miracle of healing, exorcism, or weather-calming.  Dead people show up and talk with a radiant, blinding Jesus on top of a mountain.

To me, however, certain elements of the story bring a feel of truth with them.  These two points are certainly not going to make any skeptic quake in their boots, but I think added with the other major proofs of the Gospels, provide a level of plausibility.

First, we don’t know what Moses and Elijah said.  Think about it.  Who would invent this story and then not place some great words, moral lesson, or prophetic revelation in the mouths of Israel’s Law-Giver and most spectacular Prophet?  It’s not even important in the story (at least Matthew doesn’t think so. Luke does tell us its related to Jesus’ impending death, and one might surmise that by the shift of events leading to Jesus’ death that happened in Matthew 16 just before this as well.)  The invented Apocalypses and Testaments written at this time were full of using famous people to say important things.  Jesus’ parable of the Rich man and Lazarus does this with Abraham.  But not here.  It doesn’t seem that the disciples really knew what was being discussed.  And so they didn’t write it down.

Second, the disciples cast themselves in another negative light.  Their leader and bold spokesman Peter fresh off being called “Satan” by Jesus in the past week (Matthew 16) decides to try again.  This glory on the mountain must have been awe-inspiring.  Who can blame Peter for wanting to stay?  Apparently he’s even willing to sleep outside since he only suggests 3 tents!  But Jesus just revealed to them the plan for this Messiah…suffering on the cruel cross, glory later.  Peter has still missed it.  They can’t stay.  Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die, not hanging out on the mountain forever.

And that of course is why the cloud speaks.  Rebukes Peter.  “This is my Son…”  Remember your great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”?  Jesus indeed is all that.  And just maybe, you should listen to him.  Quit suggesting your own plan and get on board with His.

Does it work?  Does Peter get it?  I guess we have to read the rest of Matthew to see.

The “Blank” Greek NT Series…

I have really enjoyed reading my new 3-volume Nestle-Aland 27 and writing notes and thoughts the past few days.  (I’ve been working through Matthew’s Gospel, now in chapter 13.)


Here’s all the posts describing my exciting (and terrifying) journey…

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The “Blank” Greek New Testament- Part 3

(If you just joined us, check out part 1 and part 2 first!)

So here I was with three stacks awaiting spiral binding.  I did a final run-through to make sure the pages were aligned as well as possible on the binding side.  I also printed a front and back cover page for each volume and cut them to match the page size.  (You’ll see the cover on the finished pictures below!)  The front basically has the NA27 title info, plus the books included in the volume.  The back has my name, address, and contact information in case poor Smeagol should ever lose his Precioussss…  These I had Office Depot laminated in lieu of the covers they provide with spiral binding.  The laminated covers should offer some protection for the interior pages, and they’re shiny!

I took them into Office Depot, order the spiral-punching and binding, and then went home to worry the rest of the night.  One potential problem vexed me some.  In this initial binding cut, there was evidently a slight curvature to the pages, and as I collated, I could tell some unevenness on the binding edge of each page.  Which meant that potentially, the pages with less room between the text and binding edge could find holes going through the words of the text!  Not good!  I felt confident there was room enough, if they hole-punched straight, by the hourly employee of the local office supply store.  Goo!

Well, I returned the next day, and my books were safe and alive! (The spiral work is about 2-6 dollars, depending on who rings it up!)

Here they were…


You can see the three volumes, each one weighing in about the size of the original NA27 by itself.

IMG_0092The spiral binding is very secure.  I know some people worry about hole-punching and binding because of experience with 3-ring notebooks and the constant tearing of pages with normal use.  But in spiral-binding each hole (30 of them on these babies) supports each other and so you have much more strength.  They feel very sturdy!

What about the inside?  Were my fears confirmed or relieved?


As you can see hear to the left, the original binding cut was a little slanted.  But no words of the actual text were wiped out! You can also see the glorious blank page to the right for note-taking!

Here is another picture of a much tighter page!  IMG_0096Here the holes go right up to the words, touching a letter or two, but not obscuring them.  (Whew! Sigh of relief) So if you want to copy this project, figure out a way to cut the binding off straighter for more consistent pages!

I was a little worried that the difference in thickness between the NT pages and blank ones would be problematic.  NA27 pages are extremely thin.  But with the spiral binding, it flips pretty well, and the blank pages actually seem to support and protect the thinner ones somewhat.

So I had done it!  I started a project, and with no leftover pieces.  Maybe this was the beginning of something new, the dawn of a new era in successful projects for me.


If you recall from part 2, I originally planned on having Matthew-John in one volume, but when I had to go to 3, I moved John from the first stack to go before Acts in volume 2.  And apparently in all that switching and flipping, I put John on top backwards!

IMG_0094 You can see the outer edge on the inside by the spirals.  Essentially, John flipped from right-to-left.  If only this was Hebrew, not Greek!  Volume 2 went John 21-John 1, then Acts 1-2 Corinthians.

It turned out to be a pretty simple fix, though.  De-binding the spirals is pretty easy (You cut off the bent-end and basically uncoil it through the holes).  I then took John out, separated the NT pages from the blank (since I don’t have to recut those), and took the John pages into Office Depot to have the spiral holes punched on the opposite side.  I also went ahead and had them trim the holes off the other side.  This was partly just for aesthetic reasons, but also the holes on the outside edge could catch something and start a tear in a page.  After that, I re-collated John with the blank pages again, and then ran the coil through it.  To finish it, I twisted the end of the spiral coil to lock it off.

So I was finished.  A little snafu.  But success.  I wrote on the last page of volume 3 something like this.

“Blank New Testament completed September 22, 2009.   I hope that it will be filled before 2020!”

The “Blank” Greek New Testament- Part 2

(If you missed Part 1)

So my brand new Nestle-Aland27 arrived in the mail.  There’s nothing like the feel and smell of a new book.

So the next step was going to be the hardest of the entire project.  Cutting the binding off and launching do-or-die into this project.

Now, for those who don’t me, I’m the guy who fixes things and somehow ends up with leftover pieces, almost without fail.  Apparently, those hours of my childhood dedicated to Legos have absolutely failed me in later life.  So I could easily imagine this project ending with a pile of pages on the floor and me sobbing into them.

So I sat there at my desk staring at the new book.  Do I?  I did.  I took a pair of scissors and detached the cover.  I did lose two maps in this step, as the NA27 has a map inside each cover.  O well.  It’s not like I’m going to drive through 1st Century Palestine and need to compute mileage from Bethpage to Capernaum.

IMG_0088 There you can see the separate core of the pages from their husk.  You can also see a map inside the cover if you look closely.

The next step was to cut off the binding (the brown part on the left of the pages in the photo to the left).  Some use table saws to do this; living in a 1-bedroom apartment means I don’t have one.  I previously learned from Office Depot that their giant paper cutter can handle books up to about 1 1/4″ thick.  The NA27 is fairly thin, so no problem.

This was the next scariest step after that very first one.  I wish I could have done it myself, but my Office Depot in town wasn’t real keen on that.  So the girl behind the counter took my book, with instructions to cut as close the binding as possible (more on that below), and in about 45 seconds I received back a loose-leaf NA27 for a $.75 cutting charge.

IMG_0089 This to my left is the loose-leaf stack.  Obviously in order to make this NT “Blank”, I needed to pick up some blank pages to insert.  For that, a ream of the store-brand copy paper (20 lbs., acid-free) was all I needed.  It only cost $4-something.  Awesome.

We measured the page size of the NT and found it was 7 3/8″ by 5 1/8″.  This means that you can get two blank pages from every piece of normal copy paper.  (Actually, 4 if you’re counting both sides.)  There are about 690-something pages of NT text in the NA27, so that means I would need 345 blank pages.  (I put 2-3 in at the start of every NT book for intro notes as well.)  So I could very easily have asked for half the stack to be cut to match.  But something in my brain wasn’t clicking that I could get 2 per page, and I had them cut the whole thing. O well, 2 bucks.

I assume here that one doesn’t feel the need to “blank” the pages of the German/English introduction and the text notes at the end of the NA-27.  That would obviously require more pages, etc. Even I’m not that big a nerd.

Now for the time-consuming part…collating.  Following Tony Reinke’s advice, I simply made 2 stacks- one with the NA27 pages and one with the blank pages.  Then after putting on a disc of Seinfeld, I went to work, putting a blank page in between each page of the NA27.  These I stacked in the middle.  As I went through, I periodically would hit the middle stack like a deck of cards against the table surface to align the pages on the side where the new binding would go.  This paid off later. I also added in extra pages near the start of each book (3 for larger books, 2 for smaller) as I went.

The great thing about the NT is that while collating feels like it is starting off very slowly, because the Gospels are very long, around Galatians you’re knocking out a book every couple of pages and feeling good.  I originally set a finished stack of the Gospels to the side, as I was hoping for 2 volumes.  Then I finished Acts- Revelation.

So there I had two giant stacks that I could eyeball and tell were over the 1 1/4″ spiral binding limit at Office Depot.  I did measure them just to make sure!  So I was going to need three volumes.  I thought about putting all the text notes and introductory materials into one volume and maybe having two for the NT, but since the critical materials did not have the thicker “Blank” pages in between, their size was not of enough consequence to alleviate the need for 3 NT volumes.  So I went a Matthew-Luke Volume 1, a John- 2 Corinthians Volume 2, and a Galatians-Revelation Volume 3.  Essentially I just had to move John from the end of the first Volume 1 to the other stack.  And then split it in half, which was about Galatians.  And great for me, each of these division points was at a place where the book started a new page in the text.  So no photocopied or orphaned book ending/beginnings!

So now I had this…3 stacks waiting to be bound into 3 volumes.


The final steps in part 3…

The “Blank” Greek New Testament- Part 1

I have to start this blog by giving due credit to those who inspired this project for me.  IMG_0079First, credit would have to go to my lovely wife and our dog, who managed to combine forces a few months ago and spill some liquid drink all over our coffee table, thus turning my beloved Nestle-Aland 27 Greek New Testament into a sticky, warped phantom of its former self.

Second, I have to give huge kudos to Tony Reinke since it was from his blog that I first learned of the “Blank Bible” concept and since he actually provides a step-by-step DIY instruction guide which I largely followed on this project. For those who don’t know, a “Blank Bible” is simply a Bible with a blank page in between the Bible pages for note-taking/journaling.  Jonathan Edwards had a famous one (it’s now at Yale, I believe), and Zondervan actually is now selling a similar product available in NIV/TNIV.

Now to my actual quest…

Hearing about the concept of a “Blank Bible” struck quite a chord with me.  I struggled much with the thought of making one from an English text.  For starters, what translation does one pick for this massive understanding? For serious Bible study, there’s NASB, but the awkward sentence structures honestly makes me want to just read the actual Greek.    There’s NIV, but that’s going to be defunct by 2011 (ditto on the TNIV).  I think the HCSB is actually a pretty good and readable translation, but it also is due for a text update in 2010.  Plus, it’s seems to be having trouble shedding the Hard Core Southern Baptist (HCSB) identity.  And there’s the ESV, which has some awkward spots, but its identity with the Reformed Resurgence provides another sticky spot.  (But the pocket size edition my wife has is pretty cool for carrying around.)  Anything less literal than these versions would defeat the point of a note-taking, Bible-studying Blank Bible.  So I got stuck there.

Besides, I’ve done too much work in Seminary to get myself into the Greek to not stay in it for the rest of my life.  And with the destruction of my old NA27, the path was now open for such a possibility.

Why not just use your computer to read Greek?

I like having an actual copy of the Greek text to underline, highlight, hold in my hands (I don’t drink coffee so I don’t have the built-in IQ boost that one gets holding coffee while reading their laptop.), and of course, having space to write notes.  I also have an issue while using my Accordance software of either a) depending too much on the Instant Details box when I get stuck on a word or b) getting distracted by an email or a sudden thought to check out my RSS subscriptions since I’m on the computer already.  Sometimes this artificial intelligence we have can be death to actual thinking.

So with that, I ordered a new NA27 from Amazon, for the purpose of cutting it apart, inserting blank pages into it, and rebinding.

Part 2 Tomorrow.

Part 3 Here.