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.

“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!



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.

On Blurbs, Again

On at least two previous occasions, we have reflected upon the unnerving sycophancy of most publisher’s blurbs. One of those times, I mentioned that in a moment of unusual inspiration, I myself had crafted a blurb of such perfection as to be (or so I thought) without peer:

Thus far, the earth has rotated around its axis in anticipation of this book. Now that it is here, it does so in thanksgiving.

I said then that I eagerly awaited an opportunity to put this bouquet of blandiloquence to good use, but alas, it appears that I may have to wait much longer than originally expected to endorse anything in those terms. You see, during a recent visit to the local Borders, I discovered, much to my dismay, a bit of publisher’s copy that so closely parallels my blurb that it could potentially raise troubling questions of plagiarism. The line in question is found on the back cover of Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), where we read:

Until Scot McKnight wrote The Blue Parakeet, today’s Christian had little choiceeither side with out-of-touch fundamentalists or unrealistic liberals . . . which left millions in the middle disenfranchised, unsure how to read the Bible in a postmodern world.

Aside from the mislaid ellipsis issue, the similarities are clear to the naked eye. Obviously the publication of McKnight’s book is the pivot on which the history of hermeneutics turns, since prior to it (and in spite of the oceans of ink spilled on the subject), today’s Christian had no other possibility than to choose from either of two equally undesirable models. Oh, the doubt! Oh, the insecurity! Well, my gentle snowflakes, be of good cheer: that was so only until the publication of The Blue Parakeet. Up to that point, the whole created universe in all its parts had groaned as if in the pangs of childbirth; since then, it has clearly entered the glorious hermeneutical freedom of the children of God.

Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?

Introducing: International Moisés Silva Day

This is a great and wondrous day. Rejoice, my gentle snowflakes! For our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva, was born on September 4, 1945, which makes this his 65th birthday.

Since one of the chief burdens of The Voice of Stefan is to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land, it occurs to me that his dies natalis should be a paramount observance in this blog’s yearly cycle. Therefore I have decided to proclaim this as International Moisés Silva Day, to be celebrated on this date in perpetuity.

In honor of the festivities, I wish to share with you two personal anecdotes that Silva used as illustrations for a sermon on Genesis 11:1-9 that he preached at a Gordon-Conwell chapel service during his tenure as Mary French Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at that institution (1996-2001). I listened to this sermon on tape (!) several years ago, and while I’m a bit fuzzy on some of the details, I sufficiently remember the thrust of the anecdotes to relay them in turn to you. [UPDATE: It seems that, like every other preacher in the world, Silva is in the habit of recycling sermons: I have just discovered that he preached this very sermon at a Westminster chapel service in 1991. You may listen to the full sermon, which features both of the stories below, here.]

The first takes us back to a romantic date that took place during Christmas break in our Infallible Hero’s freshman year of college. Apparently, while driving his date back home, he had asked her whether she liked to attend big spectacles such as the Orange Bowl, which would be taking place a few short weeks later. The young lady said that she loved to do so, and Silva replied that, for his part, he didn’t much care for big crowds. Later, however, and much to his horror, he realized that he hadn’t actually asked the girl whether she liked going to the Orange Bowl: he had asked whether she would like to go to the Orange Bowl, and she had said that she would love to! The frustration of having blown his chance at another date, he said, was only aggravated by the fact that he really liked that girl.

(As an aside, I speculate that the trauma associated with this incident might have driven Silva to become a consummate football fan: in the first lecture of his New Testament Introduction course, which as I have noted before is available for free from Westminster Audio Archive, he invites students to come to his office to discuss anything and everythingincluding, he said, the progress of the Miami Dolphins that year.)

The second anecdote is likewise romantic, and it takes us to the dining hall at Silva’s undergraduate institution sometime after the previously narrated events. It is perhaps not well known that our Infallible Hero attended Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist institution infamous for its various disciplinary strictures. One of these was the practice of rotating, assigned seating at the dining hall, which according to Silva, at least encouraged socialization. Well, one day it was time for everyone to assume their new seats according to the latest rotation, when the most “ineffably beautiful creature” the Infallible One had ever seen manifested herself before him. Within a couple of days he announced, halfway tongue-in-cheek and in front of everyone, that he would marry herwhich surely did not make him sympathetic either to her or to her boyfriend back home. As it happened, however, her relationship back home ended some time later, and our Infallible Hero (in this regard more of an Average Romeo) decided to take up writing romantic notes to her. He was so persistent in this activity that he started to fear that he might be actually bothering her. So, naturally, he wrote another note to apologize. This is where he says that his Spanish let him down. As many of you may know, the Spanish verb for to bother is molestar, which led him to start of his note as follows: “I am very sorry that I keep molesting you…” Mercifully, neither this linguistic faux pas nor indeed his insistent note-writing caused a turn for the worse, and he happily married his wife Pat right out of college in 1966, which will make next year their 45th wedding anniversary.

One final, more sober note. In Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001),  while discussing reader-response approaches to biblical interpretation, Silva mentions the work of Cuban-American scholar Ada María Isasi-Díaz, as she “presents a moving account of her personal use of Psalm 137, which helped her deal with her grief as an exile from Cuba” (page 203). In a footnote, he comments: “Having been born and raised in Cuba myself, I can more than empathize with her struggles.” Silva left Cuba in 1960, which makes 2010 the 50th year of his exile. I cannot even begin to understand the pain of exile, much less a half century of it. I don’t know if he has ever been on Cuban soil since then, but if not, I hope that one day he can see Cuba again.