A Strange and Wondrous Mystery

On this day, December 25 (O. S.), we celebrate the holy and great festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior JESUS CHRIST. With great joy, I extend to one and all the festal greeting:





From a sermon of St John Chrysostom on the Nativity of Christ:

“I behold a strange and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing! The Archangels blend their voices in harmony! The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory! All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven: the One above comes below by his saving dispensation; the one below is raised above by the divine love for mankind.

“Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

“When He was born the Jews denied his strange birth; the Pharisees misinterpreted the divine books; the Scribes spoke in contradiction of the Law. Herod sought Him out Who was born, not that he might adore Him, but to put Him to death. Today all things proclaim the opposite. For they have not been, according to the Psalmist, hidden from their children, in another generation (Psalm 77:4, LXX). And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

“Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead. And behold, Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory; soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy; virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy; infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise; children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech; servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom; fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men; publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist; sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant; and that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

“Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the highest; and with the shepherds, and on earth peace, good will among men.”

(Taken from M. F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. 1 [Chicago: Regnery, 1958], pages 110-1; cf. PG 56 col. 385. The translation has been minimally revised, and punctuation lightly edited.)


Мир Божији, Христос се роди! Ваистину се роди!
Peace from God, Christ is born! Truly, He is born!

On Reading the Scriptures, Part II

On New Year’s Day 2010, I posted some initial thoughts on the subject of Bible reading. In that first post I sought to offer some considered reflections on the purpose of daily Bible reading and on the ascetical dimension of reading the Scriptures in a disciplined fashion, as well as some practical suggestions on how to embark on a reading program for beginners that takes into account the preeminent place of the Gospel and the Psalter in the Church and the vital need to avoid biting off more than one can chew. I have learned that these initial thoughts have proved useful to some, and for this I am grateful. Now the purpose of this post is to detail a more comprehensive Bible reading plan that builds on the foundation of the basic program described earlier. Needless to say, the points addressed in the first post are simply assumed here, and those who have not read the previous discussion should take a few minutes to do so.

III. Taking the Next Step: The Rest of the New Testament

Once a person has solidly established a regular daily discipline of reading the Gospel and the Psalter in the manner described earlier, it is perhaps time to start thinking of how to move from this bare minimum of Scriptural reading to a fuller program that can, in due course, lead the reader through the vast swaths of otherwise unexplored Biblical literature. Since abrupt change is ultimately detrimental to growth in the disciplines of the Christian life, and since, as we have seen, the Gospel and the Psalter should not be neglected in our daily reading of Scripture, it is probably best not to give up the program to which one has thus far become accustomed, but rather we should seek ways to sensibly add to it. Once again we must resist the temptation to do either too much or too little: one is a sure prescription for burnout, and the other simply caters to our complacency. So here, too, we must do only as much as we can, while we strive to grow in our discipline, which will in turn allow us to do more.

A first step might be to add a daily reading from the rest of the New Testament: Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation. If one has followed the Gospel reading program laid down in the “Cell Rule of the Optina Monastery,” which was warmly recommended in the first post, the easiest way to accomplish this would be to add the Epistle reading program appointed by the Rule, which is designed to match it. Readers will recall that the Optina Rule calls for reading one chapter of the Holy Gospel every day. There are 89 chapters in all when we take all four Gospels together, and so one reads through them once every three months. The Rule further calls for reading two chapters from the rest of the New Testament every day, with last seven chapters of Revelation being read at the rate of one per day. In this way, the reading of these books is completed also in 89 days, together with the reading of the Gospel.

A few years ago I prepared a reading plan in four columns whose purpose is to assist those who wish to conduct their reading of the New Testament according to the Optina Rule in keeping track of their progress. Our good friend Kevin Edgecomb has graciously hosted the plan in his website from the beginning, and it may be found here.

Now 89 multiplied by 4 is 356, so if one is using the program laid down by the Optina Cell Rule as a yearly reading plan, this leaves 9 days at the end of the year that would fall outside the reading cycle. Nothing prevents a reader, of course, from turning to the first chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel on December 23 and starting over, but I suspect many of us would prefer to start anew at the beginning of the year. Personally, I find that those days give me some elbow room in case I am unable to fulfill the reading plan on any given day. For instance, the intensity of the services from Holy Thursday to Pascha, and frankly, the sheer exhaustion from the long hours in Church, leave me with little time or inclination to read. Every year, then, I simply read for the last time on Holy Wednesday, and then pick up again on Bright Monday. That uses 4 of those additional 9 days. On the remaining 5 days, if I haven’t been ill or have otherwise needed to make use of them, I will often read through the Gospel of St Luke, whose extended birth narrative is singularly appropriate for season, and which at 24 chapters may easily be read at a rate of roughly 5 chapters per day.

IV. Reaching for the Goal: Reading the Old Testament

The rather minimal addition of two chapters from the rest of the New Testament to our daily Gospel and Psalter regimen brings us closer to our goal of reading through the entire Bible, but we yet have quite a bit of ground to cover. Again, once we have firmly settled into the exercise of this expanded discipline, we will be ready to add the final layer of our reading program, which will see us through to its completion. In this final and all-important step, we add a daily reading from the Old Testament.

Since we have been reading daily from the Psalter from the beginning and will continue to to do so, our plan will comprise the rest of the Old Testament read in sequential order over the course of the entire year. This can comfortably be done at a rate of roughly 3 chapters per day. Some years ago our friend Kevin Edgecomb prepared a reading plan covering the entire (N)RSV Old Testament, including the full Anaginoskomena, basically by dividing the number of chapters by 365. Then a while back I followed his plan for a year (excluding the Psalms), reducing the length of the daily readings to 2 or 3 chapters, and trying not to break up larger narrative, poetic, and prophetic sections. Again, Kevin kindly agreed to host the revised plan on his website, and it may be found at the very bottom of this page.

The plan is rather straight-forward, and it includes readings for all 365 days of the year. However, as I mentioned earlier, I usually skip the daily readings at least 4 times every year. This causes a bit of difficulty with this reading plan, since there is no elbow room to miss any readings. My own solution to this small problem is to read the book of 4 Maccabees, which is in an appendix to the Greek Old Testament and is not included in the Slavonic Bible, perhaps every other year and outside the reading plan. This may not be an entirely satisfactory solution, but it does open up 6 days at the end of the year.

And so we complete the 4 stages of our progressive reading plan for the entire Bible. I should mention that Kevin has prepared a PDF document that features all four reading plans side by side, and aligned with the day of the year. He has also an alternative version of this document that adapts the OT reading plan to the book names and versification of the NETS.

Again, all of the above is offered in the sincere and earnest hope that it may prove useful to someone in carrying out their desire to read the Holy Scriptures. And as has often been noted by Kevin and myself, these plans are under continuous revision, and suggestions for improvement and both encouraged and welcome.

The Annual Book Report, 2009 (Part III)

Well, at long last, here is the third and final installment of the book report for 2009 (see the first and the second). While comparatively shorter than the previous installment, it concerns the subject nearest and dearest to my heart, the Orthodox Faith, together with broader studies in Patristics and Church history. Some of the books listed below (e. g., those from the Collected Works of the late Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky) have long been out of print and are nearly impossible to find, so I wish to express my profound gratitude to the unnamed matushka who graciously opened to me her deceased husband’s library and allowed me to purchase an embarrassingly large pile of books for just a few dollars, even though she was fully aware of the average going price of each title in the market. Her kindness will never be forgotten.

V. Orthodoxy and Patristics

Akakios, Archimandrite. Fasting in the Orthodox Church: Its Theological, Pastoral, and Social Implications. Etna: CTOS, 1996.

Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Metropolitan. Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance. Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1996.

Cavarnos, Constantine. Paths and Means to Holiness. Etna: CTOS, 2000.

Christensen, Michael J. and Jeffrey A. Wittung. Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Chrysostomos of Etna, Archbishop, Bishop Auxentios of Photiki, and Father James Thornton. Four Essays on Orthodox Liturgical Issues: A Collection of Liturgical Commentaries Written from a Traditionalist Orthodox Perspective. Etna: CTOS, 1996.

Cyprian of Oropos and Fili, Metropolitan. “Do You Have a Ticket?”: Concerning Repentance and Confession: A Humble Guidebook to Aid Us on the Journey Back to Our Father’s House.  Etna: CTOS, 2007.

Cyril of Alexandria, Saint. Against Those Who Are Unwilling to Confess that the Holy Virgin Is Theotokos. Patristic and Ecclesiastical Texts and Translations 1. Edited and translated with an Introduction by Protopresbyter George Dion. Dragas. Rollinsford: Orthodox Research Institute, 2004.

Daly, S.J., Robert J., ed. Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity. Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Florovsky, [Protopresbyter] Georges. Aspects of Church History. Collected Works, vol. IV. Belmont: Nordland, 1975.

Florovsky, [Protopresbyter] Georges. Ecumenism I: A Doctrinal Approach. Collected Works, vol. XIII. Vaduz: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1989.

Florovsky, [Protopresbyter] Georges. The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers. Collected Works, vol. X. Vaduz: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987.

Florovsky, [Protopresbyter] Georges. The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century. Collected Works, vol. VII. Vaduz: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987.

Fortescue, Adrian. The Greek Fathers: Their Lives and Writings. 1908; repr. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007.

Haugh, Richard. Photius and the Carolingians: The Trinitarian Controversy. Belmont: Nordland, 1975.

John Chrysostom, Saint. Baptismal Instructions. Ancient Christian Writers 31. Translated and annotated by Paul W. Harkins. New York and Ramsey: Newman Press, 1963.

Канонник. Москва: Издание Московской Патриархии, 1986.

Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Saint. Concerning Frequent Communion of the Immaculate Mysteries of Christ. Thessalonica: Uncut Mountain Press, 2006.

Ostrumoff, Ivan N. The History of the Council of Florence. Translated by Basil Popoff. Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1971.

Payne, Robert. The Fathers of the Western Church. 1951; repr. New York: Dorset, 1989.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993.

Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Explanation, 3rd ed. Platina: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2005.

Prestige, G. L. God in Patristic Thought. 1936; repr. London: SPCK, 1964.

Trapè, Agostino. Saint Augustine: Man, Pastor, Mystic. New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1986.

Vaporis, Nomikos Michael. Witnesses for Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period 1437-1860. Crestwood: SVS Press, 2000.

White, Despina Stratoudaki, and Joseph R. Berrigan, Jr. The Patriarch and the Prince: The Letter of Patriarch Photios of Constantinople to Khan Boris of Bulgaria. Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982.

Those, then, were the books of 2009. It was undoubtedly a good year for book acquisitions (indeed, the best I had quite some time), but remarkably, it was nowhere nearly as good as 2010! I haven’t even started to catalog the books of 2010, but now that I have finished the previous year I expect to turn to that project soon.

“Not in Words, But in Power”: St Spyridon at the First Council

On this, the twelfth day of December (Dec. 25, N. S.), we commemorate with great joy Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker, Bishop of Trimythous, Champion of the Orthodox faith, and fervent intercessor for the Christian people.

“The grace which worked in Saint Spyridon proved to be more powerful in clarifying matters than all the rhetorical knowledge which the others possessed. At the invitation of Emperor Constantine, there were a number of Hellenic philosophers who were called Peripatetics present at the Nicene Council. Among these philosophers was one who was very wise and adept, and a supporter of Arius. His sophisticated rhetoric was like a two edged sword which cuts deeply. He boldly attempted to destroy the teaching of the Orthodox.

“The blessed Spyridon requested an opportunity to address that particular philosopher. Because this bishop was a simple man who knew only Christ, and Him crucified, the holy fathers were hesitant to let him speak. They knew that he had no knowledge of Hellenistic learning and were afraid to allow him to match verbal skills with such philosophers. But Spyridon knowing the strength and power which is from above, and how feeble human knowledge is in comparison to that might, approached the philosopher, saying to him, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, listen to me and hear what I have to say to you.’

“The philosopher, looking at this country bishop, felt somewhat amused. Quite assured that his own rhetorical talents would make the simple cleric look like a fool, he proudly replied, ‘Go ahead, I am listening.’

“The saint began, ‘God, who created heaven and earth, is One. He fashioned man from the earth and created everything that exists, both visible and invisible, by His Word and His Spirit. That Word, we affirm, is the Son of God, the true God, who showed mercy on us who had gone astray. He was born of the Virgin, lived among men, suffered the passion, died for our salvation and arose from the dead, raising the human race together with Himself. We await His coming again to judge all with righteousness and to reward each one according to his faith. We believe that He is consubstantial with the Father, dwelling together with Him and equally honored. We believe all these things without having to examine how they came to be; nor should you be so brazen as to question them, for these matters exceed the comprehension of man and far surpass all knowledge.’

“Silent for a moment, the bishop then continued, ‘Can’t you now realize how true all of this is, O philosopher? Consider this simple and humble example: We are created and mortal beings and are not worthy to resemble the One who is divine in being and ineffable. Since we tend to believe more readily through what the eyes perceive than through what we merely hear with our ears, I want to prove something to you using this brick. It is composed of three elements which combine to make it one single being and nature.’

“Saying this, Saint Spyridon made the sign of the holy Cross with his right hand while holding a brick in his left hand, and he said, ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” while squeezing the brick. At once, flames rose into the air, water poured down upon the ground and clay alone remained in his hand!

“Those who were eyewitnesses to this miracle were filled with fear, especially the philosopher. He remained speechless, like one who had been mute from birth, and found no words to respond to the saint in whom Divine power had been manifested, according to what is written: ‘The kingdom of God is not in words, but in power’ (1 Cor. 4:20).

“Finally, humbled and convinced, the philosopher spoke, ‘I believe what you have told us.’

“Saint Spyridon said to him, ‘Then come and receive the sign of holy faith’ [i.e., Baptism].

“The philosopher turned to his colleagues and his students who were present and said, ‘Listen! As long as someone questioned me verbally, I was able to refute their statements with rhetorical skills. But my words fail against this elder who, instead of using mere words, has worked through power and miracles. My rhetoric is futile against such a might, for man cannot oppose God. If any of you feel as I do, let him then believe in Jesus Christ and follow this elder together with me. God Himself has spoken through him.’

“Then the philosopher accepted the Christian faith, rejoicing that the saint had overcome his own logic. All the faithful were glad, and the Arian heretics were at a loss.”

(From the Life of St Spyridon, translated and adapted by Mother Cassiana of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Monastery, Lake George, CO.)

Apolytikion, Tone I:

Thou wast revealed as a champion of the First Council,
And as a wonderworker, O our God-bearing Father Spyridon;
Wherefore thou didst call out to a dead woman in the tomb,
And didst turn a serpent into gold,
And while chanting thy holy prayers,
Thou hadst angels as thy fellow ministers, O most holy Father.
Glory to Him who glorified thee!
Glory to Him who crowned thee!
Glory to Him who who works healings for all through thee!



The Annual Book Report, 2009 (Part II)

It is with great consternation, my gentle snowflakes, that I have come to realize that the end of the year is barely over a month away. It occurred to me that the time has come to start work on the Annual Book Report for 2010 (a year, I might add, in which the bibliographical harvest has been bountiful); but then I was horrified to remember that I never did get around to posting parts II & III of the Book Report for 2009! To redress this embarrassing gaffe, the reader will find part II below; part III will appear within the next few days. Once again, the chief purpose of these listings is twofold: on the one hand, to perhaps bring to the attention of some readers one or another book that they might have otherwise missed, and on the other, to elicit suggestions of related titles that might be useful to fill possible gaps in my library. Without further ado, then, I offer to you the Book Report for 2009, Part II.


III. Biblical Studies

Bartholomew, Craig, et al., eds. Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation. Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, vol. 4.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Baur, F. C. Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works, His Epistles and Teachings: Two Volumes in One. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003.

Boers, Hendrikus. The Justification of the Gentiles: Paul’s Letters to the Galatians and Romans. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.

Bornkamm, Günther. Early Christian Experience, Study Edition. London: SCP Press Ltd., 1969.

Brauch, Manfred T. Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Brown, Michael Joseph. What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

Bruce, F. F. The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.

Bruce, F. F. New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968.

Burridge, Richard A., and Graham Gould. Jesus Now and Then. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

Bütz, Jeffrey J. The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2005.

Childs, Brevard S. The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Conn, Harvie M., ed.  Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, a Challenge, a Debate. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988.

Elliott, Matthew A. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006.

Enns, Peter. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Farmer, William R. Jesus and the Gospel: Tradition, Scripture, Canon. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982.

Fee, Gordon D., and  Mark L. Strauss.  How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Fossum, Jarl, and Phillip Munoa. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction to Gospel Literature and Jesus Studies. Toronto: Wadsworth, 2004.

Fretheim, Terence E. Deuteronomic History. Interpreting Biblical Texts. Nashville: Abingdom Press, 1983.

Gasque, W. Ward, and William Sanford LaSor, eds. Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation: Essays Presented to Everett F. Harrison by His Students and Colleagues in Honor of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Gibson, Arthur. Biblical Semantic Logic: A Preliminary Analysis. The Biblical Seminar 75. New York: Sheffield Academic, 2001.

Goppelt, Leonhard. Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1970.

Green, Gene L. Jude & 2 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Greenberg, Moshe. Biblical Prose Prayer as a Window to the Popular Religion of Ancient Israel. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.

Heine, Ronald E. Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of the Early Christian Thought. Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church’s Future. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Howard, David M., Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti, eds. Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003.

John, Jeffrey. The Meaning in the Miracles. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

Kohlenberger, John R., III, ed. The Parallel Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. New York: Free Press, 2007.

Marsh, Clive, and Steve Moyise.  Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction. Cassell Biblical Studies Series. New York: Cassell, 1999.

Massaux, Edouard. The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus, Book 2: The Later Christian Writings. New Gospel Studies 5/2. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1990.

Massaux, Edouard. The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus, Book 3: The Apologists and the Didache. New Gospel Studies 5/3. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1993.

McKenzie, Steven L., and Stephen R. Haynes, eds. To Each Its Own Meaning:  An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and their Applications. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Mellor, Enid B., ed.  The Making of the Old Testament.  The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Neill, Stephen. Jesus Through Many Eyes: Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976.

O’Collins, Gerald, S. J., and Gilberto Marconi, eds. Luke and Acts. New York: Paulist Press, 1991.

O’Keefe, John J., and R. R. Reno. Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Pitre, Brant. Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Porter, Stanley E., ed. Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2006.

Rowe, Kavin C. Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Ryan, Thomas J., ed. Critical History and Biblical Faith: New Testament Perspectives. The College Theology Society Annual Publication Series.  Villanova: The College Theology Society, 1979.

Satta, Ronald F. The Sacred Text: Biblical Authority in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eugene: Pickwick, 2007.

Stanton, Graham N. The Gospels and Jesus. The Oxford Bible Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Stewart, James S. A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul’s Religion. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1935.

Stylianopoulos, Theodore G. The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective. Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1997.

Taylor, Bernard A., et al., eds.  Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

Tiede, David. Jesus and the Future. Understanding Jesus Today. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Thompson, Thomas L. Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel. New York: MJF Books, 1999.

Williams, Matthew C. Two Gospels from One: A Comprehensive Text-Critical Analysis of the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006.

Yee, Gale A., ed. Judges & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.


IV. Replacements

Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament: Including a Comprehensive Review of Old Testament Studies and a Special Supplement on the Apocrypha. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004.

Poythress, Vern S., and Wayne A. Grudem. The TNIV and The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2004.

Reicke, Bo. The New Testament Era: The World of the Bible from 500 B.C. to A.D. 100. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964.

Strauss, Mark L. Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Total Depravity: The Hidden Life of Jim West

It is well known that our friend Jim West is something of a fixture at professional academic meetings the world over. Whether at SOTS in the winter, CBA in the summer, or SBL in the fall, attendees old and new can often catch glimpses of Jim having his picture taken with every scholar, rock, and tree within a 15 mile radius, as well as snapping thousands of other pictures for the edification of those who, bound by the grievous constraints of work and family, are regrettably unable to attend such gatherings. Perhaps not as well known is the fact that, in spite of his incessant jeremiads against gluttony, deviancy, and intemperance, Jim is no stranger to the hidden allure of these vices, in which he indulges with reckless abandon during the months between his preferred academic meetings.

Until recently, Jim’s forays into unfettered depravity have gone largely unnoticed on account of his herculean efforts over the years to hide every last bit of evidence. It appears, however, that the histrionic proclivities for which he is justly (in)famous have at long last been his undoing. The advent of YouTube ultimately proved to be an irresistible temptation, and Jim evidently felt compelled to record covers of various songs for the sake of crass exhibitionism. So it was that the world first caught a glimpse of the obese, drunk, and cross-dressing Jim West that emerges between academic gatherings. Eventually Jim ventured to record a piece of his own composition, to wit, a delirious ode to a mixed alcoholic drink that he stumbled upon quite by accident. The video is below, and while I warn my sensible readership that the visuals are crude in the extreme, I feel it necessary to display the footage here as a cautionary tale to the biblioblogging community at large.

I note that, among other things, this video explains why no known picture of Jim West features him smiling broadly. Also, while a dog may be seen roaming in the background, I believe this alternative scenario more accurately represents Jim’s real preferences.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, more than 2.5 million people have now watched what Jim surely intended to be a nearly anonymous outlet for his depravity. While this has led him to delete all of his videos, we must remain grateful to The Gregory Brothers, who produced the above auto-tuned remix (shawtayee!). These heroes have at once exposed Jim’s darkest secret and preserved the evidence for posterity. For this, good sirs (and madam), we thank you.

On Eisegesis

” . . . [E]ven the most rigorously exegetical readers are eisegetical, or might be called so by someone more rigorously exegetical than thou. Everyone brings information to the text that is not in the text, and seeks to illuminate the text with light from outside. They fill in the gaps between words and sentences to produce a whole picture. That is perfectly fine and, I have been arguing, inescapable. What is not fine is the pretense that literal reading does not involve this process, the claim that a reading is doing nothing but getting what is there.

“It is quite common, for instance, to suggest that the setting for John 9 is in the temple precincts, and that this narrative forms the climax to a series of incidents during the Feast of Tabernacles. This seems perfectly reasonable, and illuminates several details of John’s account. But the fact is that John 9 nowhere says that Jesus is in the temple, or that it is the Feast of Booths. That has to be plucked up from the context and read into John 9. Such a procedure looks sleekly scientific, grammatical-historical, and literal. If one suggests that Jesus working with the clay should be read in the light of Old Testament potter-and-clay passages (as I will below), many would cry foul, or, more likely, ‘eisegete!’ In principle, though, there is no difference between reading the Feast of Booths into John 9 and reading Jeremiah 18 into John 9. The fact that one text is further away than the other appears to make on literal and the other arbitrary. But in principle, it is the same procedure, and Jeremiah 18 is no further from John than, say, Homer is from Virgil. Certainly Jeremiah 18 is at least as close to John as the Jamnia Council, that symbolic marker of the parting of the ways of Jews and Christians, which is often proposed as the master historical context for John’s narrative. Studying historical context, extrabiblical usage of words, archaeologythat all looks scientific and scholarly, but it is just as much eisegesis as apostolic allegory.”

Peter Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), pages 116-7.

Allow me only to say that this is a fantastic book that should be read by everyone.

A Calm Suggestion

Perhaps you are aware, my gentle snowflakes, that since May 1, 2010, smoking indoors at most public establishments has been against the Law in the fair State of Michigan. You might suspect that not every segment of the State’s population has welcomed the new law with great enthusiasm, and of course, you would be right: Michiganders are a proud and freedom-loving people who do not take kindly to the treacherous encroachment of Government upon their Liberties. As a result, a number of establishments have chosen to adopt an attitude of open defiance to the law, which has resulted in public expressions of outrage such as the following, which may be observed outside a bar not too far away from my humble abode:

This primal cry for freedom came to mind as I read our friend Nick Norelli’s post noting the dramatic price increase for first two volumes of Fr Dumitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Indeed, from an original $19.95 a piece, these books went up to an impossible $85 and $95, respectively. How is such a thing even possible? Nick observes that the only change seems to be that, while previously the books were published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press, they now appear to be under the imprint of T & T Clark.

Now we are all aware, I trust, that certain publishers cater specifically to the “library market,” and that their books are therefore outrageously expensive beyond the means of us mere mortals (e.g., Brill). It is not unusual, however, for these same publishers to eventually license the publication of some of these titles in more inexpensive editions by other publishers. It is not a perfect system, to be sure, but it is not without its merits: at the very least, it makes some scholarship more accessible than it would be otherwise. What benefit is there, however, to the reverse procedure? If a  book initially sells for $20, how will raising its price by approximately 400%  make it more accessible? And let us not forget that we are talking about the very same book, probably still with the Holy Cross imprint, whether it sells for $20 or for $95.

Do you feel the rage? Do you want to climb on a rooftop and shout,


I assure you that no one blames you. But you might be heartened to learn that you can do something more concrete than shouting to the wind about this. You see, while Amazon has already succumbed to the price hike, this is not yet the case everywhere. Below you will find a short list of select online bookstores where these volumes may still be purchased for something close to their original price. I encourage you to visit any one of them and purchase these books for cheap while you still can. Say no to these outrageous prices! We may not be able to do anything about the price of forthcoming volumes, but we can do something about the price of these two.

N.B.: Several online used book dealers still have vols. 1 & 2 listed for reasonable prices, and smaller Orthodox bookstores without an online presence may also have the books available at the original price.

Sundays with Silva: The Real Payoff of Learning Greek

While I have previously posted some excerpts of the quotation below (see Greek and Pride), the point our Infallible Hero makes here can never be emphasized enough, and therefore bears repeating.

It may be worthwhile to keep in mind that, more often than not, grammar has a negative yet important function; grammatical knowledge may not directly result in a  sensational new truth, but it may play a key role in preventing interpretive mistakes.  Take, for instance, the doctrine of Christ’s deity.  It would not be quite accurate to say that Greek syntax directly proves this doctrine.  It is certainly true, however, that it can disprove certain heretical ideas.  For example, proponents of some cults are fond of pointing out that the last reference to God in John 1:1 does not include the definite article and so should be translated ‘a god’ or ‘divine.’  Someone with little or no knowledge of Greek could easily be persuaded by this argument.  A reasonably good understanding of predicate clauses in Greek, however, is all one needs to demonstrate that the argument has no foundation whatever (the article that accompanies the predicate noun is routinely dropped to distinguish the predicate from the subject of the clausebesides, there are numerous and indisputable references to God, as in verses 6, 13, and 18 of the same chapter, that do not include the article).

“Quite possibly, however, the most significant benefit of acquiring a knowledge of the biblical languages is intangible.  Most of us are conditioned to think that nothing is truly valuable that does not have an immediate and concrete payoff, but a little reflection dispels that illusion.  Consider the teaching we all received from birth.  Has most of it been immediately rewarding?  We are simply not conscious of how deeply we have been molded by countless experiences that affect our perspective, our thinking, our decisions.  Similarly, a measure of proficiency in the biblical languages provides the framework that promotes responsibility in the handling of the text.  Continued exposure to the original text expands our horizon and furnishes us with a fresh and more authentic perspective than that which we bring from our modern, English-speaking situation.

“In my own preaching during the past twenty-five years, explicit references to Greek and Hebrew have become less and less frequent.  But that hardly means I have paid less attention to the languages or that they have become less significant in my work of interpretation.  Quite the contrary.  It’s just that coming up with those rich ‘exegetical nuggets’ is not necessarily where the real, substantial payoff lies.”

Moisés Silva, “God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), page 278.

See also:

Saturday à Machen: The Minister and His Greek Testament
Sundays with Silva: On the Study of Greek

Biblia Triglotta Serbianna?

Earlier this summer I was asked by a kind and selfless traveler on his way to Serbia whether there was anything that I needed him to bring back for me. Given that the Srbljak appears to be permanently out of print (but see here!), and since I couldn’t think of anything else at the time, I expressed my gratitude for his thoughtfulness and simply let the opportunity pass. Only later did it occur to me that I might have asked him to keep his eyes open for any Greek-Serbian diglot New Testaments he might find. Now, I don’t know whether such a book has actually been printed, but given that there is at least one Hebrew-Serbian diglot Psalter in print, it requires no great leap of faith to imagine that at least one Greek-Serbian New Testament might be available as well.

My interest in such a book was prompted by the fact that, when I first set out to learn Church Slavonic, one of the exercises I found most useful was to set the Greek text of the Bible (or a liturgical text) side by side with its Church Slavonic translation. I decided to start doing this after I had spent some quality time with Arcbishop Alypy’s Grammar of the Church Slavonic Language (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2001), translated by Archpriest John R. Shaw [now Bishop Jerome of Manhattan] and then only very recently published. This book features an appended “chrestomathy” that consists of the first three chapters of the Book of Acts. Being rather familiar with this biblical book in Greek, I decided to reach for my Greek New Testament to check my progress (or lack thereof) against it, and what I saw was nothing short of a revelation: it often seemed as though the syntax of the Church Slavonic text was borrowed wholesale from the Greek! (This is a phenomenon that becomes even more evident in liturgical texts.) Eventually I purchased a copy of the Bible Society’s edition of the Church Slavonic Bible, which enabled me to study in this same fashion biblical passages that were more familiar to me in translation, thereby significantly increasing the pedagogical value of my little exercise.

Since in recent years I have made many strides, not all of them altogether successful, towards learning Serbian, it occurred to me that I might use a Greek-Serbian New Testament for similar purposes. Of course, no modern Slavic language is able to approximate the Greek text they way Church Slavonic does, but I figured that nearly 20 years of acquaintance with the New Testament in Greek ought to allow a person to use its text, at the very least, as a vocabulary crutch! I had been pondering these things for a few weeks when, quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon some PDF files on the excellent site Svetosavlje that feature the text of the Johannine and a few of the Pauline Epistles, not in a Greek-Serbian diglot, but in a Greek-Slavonic-Serbian triglot format. I must admit that the possibility of combining all three texts had not even crossed my mind, but it is clearly a brilliant idea. Here are the links for the comparative texts currently available:

I was unable to find any information on the origin of these files, but one can only hope that it is an ongoing project that will eventually give us an online Biblia Triglotta Serbiannathough if this is indeed an active and ongoing project, it is far more likely that those responsible are only aiming at completing a Novum Testamentum Triglottum. I would be ecstatic beyond words either way.

Be that as it may, since we have once again reached that time of the year when St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is read liturgically (the weekday readings from the Epistle ended on Wednesday, and the Sunday readings will start in a couple of weeks), I have decided to commit the bulk of my time during my annual return to Galatians to the study of the triglot text linked above. I’m eagerly looking forward to it.