Stylistic Variation or Intentional Shaping? A Look at Characterization in John 11

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Steve Runge, a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, whose work focuses on the discourse grammar of Hebrew and Greek.

Have you ever wondered about the changes in names, or the orders of names, that you see in the New Testament? A common answer to these kinds of questions has been that the changes represent “stylistic variation” by the writers, and are not very significant. Depending on your view of inspiration, you might not be satisfied with such an answer. I know that sometimes I vary the names I use to refer to my kids, and there is meaning to be associated with the changes. If they have been behaving badly while mom was out running errands, I might say to her, “Your children were . . . .” You can fill in the rest. If my wife heard these words, she would immediately know that I was not well-pleased with them. Calling my kids ‘your children’ in certain contexts has predictable, repeatable effects.

If I were to ask my wife, “How’s the most helpful and caring wife in the world doing this morning,” she will likely wonder if I am buttering her up for something. Using these kinds of expressions to refer to my kids and my wife is not the norm; they stand out in the context. They each serve to ‘characterize’ the people they refer to in a specific way.

About 11 years ago, this question of characterization got stuck in my craw, and it took a good bit of reading to figure out what was going on. I found examples of it all over the Bible, but was not satisfied with the typical answers I found. These kinds of questions ended up becoming the focus of my doctoral studies. John 11, the chapter where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, provides a great chance to look at some of the devices that the biblical writers used to carefully shape their words and message. The patterns they used are found not only in Greek, but in Hebrew and many other languages as well. Understanding these devices will help us better understand the point the writers are trying to make, and can really help you with your Bible study. So if you are interested in learning more about this, keep reading! These concepts are part of a new resource we are working on called the Lexham High Definition New Testament. Here is the ESV version of John 11:1-5.

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Three people are mentioned in v. 1: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. This is the first mention of Lazarus in John’s gospel, so he needs to be introduced from scratch. His introduction in v. 1 could be translated something like, ‘There was this sick guy, Lazarus of Bethany . . . .’ Mary is the most well-known character, which John reminds us of in v. 2. Finally, Martha is introduced, and linked to Mary as ‘her sister’ so that we know how she fits into the story.

In v. 3, Mary and Martha are referred to collectively as ‘the sisters’. Lazarus is referred to as ‘he whom you love’. Why not just call him ‘Lazarus’? One reason for making a change like this is to make the reader think about Lazarus in a particular way, just like I did with my wife and kids above. In this case, the sisters are appealing to Jesus not just to heal Lazarus. They are appealing to Jesus’ love for Lazarus as an encouragement for him to come and heal their brother. Calling him ‘he whom you love’ also lets us know that Jesus has a close relationship with Lazarus, something that is important for understanding Jesus’ actions later in the story.

This strategy of switching from a proper name to a thematically-loaded expression is frequently used to characterize participants in a particular way. It forces us to think about them in a way that we would not otherwise have had in mind. Such changes are often motivated by wanting us to think about a particular person in a particular way, based on its importance to the big idea of the passage. In the context of John 11, this thematic characterization lets us know that when Jesus does not immediately heed the sisters’ request that he is not blowing them off because he doesn’t care about Lazarus. It also lets us know why he weeps in v. 35.

In verse 5, we learn that Jesus loves all of them, not just Lazarus. Take a look at how Lazarus, Mary and Martha are now referred to in this verse. Do you see the changes from v. 1?

3 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

There are several of them. The order of the characters has changed, with Lazarus last and the sisters first. There is also a change in Mary’s referring expression from a proper name ‘Mary’ to the less-specific ‘her sister’. Do these changes make any difference? Yes!

There are three basic reasons for switching from a proper name like this. One reason was already mentioned above, (re)characterization. The change makes you think about the character in a particular way that is important to the context. The second reason for changing from a proper name is to background one character with respect to another. Most main characters are given a proper name, while less-important ones are assigned less-specific expressions like ‘his servant’ or ‘one of the Pharisees’. If both sisters had been referred to using proper names, it would have placed Mary and Martha (and Lazarus too, for that matter) on an equal level of importance, perhaps with the more important one occurring first in the list. In v. 5 we have both Lazarus and Martha assigned proper names. Changing from ‘Mary’ to ‘her sister’ has the effect of pushing her into the background, figuratively speaking. This raises a question. Which of the two named characters is more important, Martha or Lazarus? This is where the third function of these name changes comes into play.

Use of ‘her sister’, either as a substitute for a proper name or as a supplement to a proper name (like ‘Mary, her sister’), can indicate who the current ‘center of attention’ is. It is something like the writer putting a spotlight on the character he wants us to focus on. Notice that Mary is linked to Martha as ‘her sister’. She also could have been called “Lazarus’ sister”, but this would have made us think that Lazarus is the center of attention, not Martha.

Why is she more important than Lazarus? After all, it is Lazarus who is raised from the dead, not Martha. Martha is the center of attention because of the importance of her conversation with Jesus in vv. 20-30. This dialogue is with Martha, not Mary, not Lazarus. John is foreshadowing this through the changes that he makes, and he uses these kinds of devices consistently throughout his gospel. If he had called Mary by her proper name, there would be no explicit signal about who the center of attention is. Calling her, ‘Mary, her sister’ in v. 28 accomplishes the same thing, reinforcing that attention is still focused on Martha.

When the chapter opened, Mary was the one that the village and Martha were connected to, since she was the best-known character of the three. John needed to tell us how to connect these new characters to the story, and he did it by connecting them to someone we already knew: Mary. However, once everyone is introduced, John shifts gears in v. 5 to put Martha in the spotlight because of the importance of her dialogue with Jesus.

John has a point that he wants to make sure we understand, and he uses every means available to make sure we get it. These kinds of changes are one of the many tools the biblical writers used, and they are comparable to tools found in many other languages. The Lexham High Definition New Testament identifies the most practical of these tools every place they occur in the New Testament. We have looked at how John used ‘characterization’ in John 11, but he is not the only writer to use this convention. Look at how Paul refers to the Father in Eph 1:3: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. He is not trying to tell us which ‘God and Father’ he is referring to with “who has blessed us…” He is characterizing God in a particular way based on its importance to what follows. He wants us to recall these qualities and characteristics of God because of their importance to what he is about to tell us in the letter that follows.

Now, the Greek New Testament is not the only place you find (re)characterization used to shift the center of attention back and forth between the actors in a narrative. Most every language does this: The devices may differ from language to language, but the basic task and its effects are the same. For some great examples of shifting the center of attention onto different characters, take a look at Genesis 27. There are SEVEN re-characterizations in ONE chapter. They all coincide with switches in the initiator of the action within the story. Below is a chart with excerpts from the ESV text in one column and a description of what is going on in the other.

If you read the story, take a close look at v. 21. At the point that Isaac is not sure whether to believe Jacob or not, there is no explicit indication of the center of attention. Once he decides to go along with Jacob’s plan, Isaac is referred to as “Isaac his father” in v. 22.

The same device is used in Gen 2-3 to indicate shifts in the center of attention. Take a look at how ‘Eve’ is referred to. She starts as ‘Adam’s wife’ in 2:25, then shifts to ‘the woman’ as she interacts with the serpent in 3:2-6. Then she gives the fruit to ‘her husband’ who eats it, which is consistent with Eve being the center of attention (Adam was last referred to as ‘the man in 2:25). Eve is the initiator and the center of attention for the first part of Genesis 3, which is a shift from Genesis 2. The writer unambiguously communicates this shift through the changes in referring expressions. When the two of them hide from the LORD God in 3:8, ‘they’ hear Him coming and ‘the man and his wife‘ hide themselves. Another switch! There is no need for saying ‘the man and his wife’ since saying ‘they’ would have been just as clear. But making this switch from ‘the woman’ to ‘his wife’ explicitly signals the shift in center of attention from Eve to Adam just before the LORD God addresses Adam as the one responsible for the Fall.

This are just of few examples of ‘characterization’, one of fifteen devices that is included in the soon-to-be-prepubbed Lexham High Definition New Testament. If you found this post helpful, take a look at the post on backgrounding of action or the making of the Lexham High Definition New Testament. Tune in next week to learn about another practical device from this new resource that can help make a difference in your Bible study!

Update: Both products are now available for pre-order:

Finding Louw-Nida References in the New Testament

I’ll admit it; I’m hopelessly addicted to reading (and writing) blog posts; particularly those having to do with Biblical Studies and especially those having to do with the intersection of Biblical Studies and technology. And when they can mix in the Greek New Testament, well, then I usually have to clean the saliva off of my keyboard.

So when I saw Mark Hoffman post a question and an answer about finding the co-occurrence of a Louw-Nida domain and a particular morphological criterion (here where Domain 25, "Attitudes and Emotions", occurs with an imperative verb), a light went off in my head. The in-development Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, which has every word tagged with disambiguated Louw-Nida references (described more fully in this previous post), can do this fairly easily. You can even do it in one search with the Bible Speed Search dialog. Here’s the query:

louw in LN25 andequals LogosMorph in V??M??

And here are the results, 122 hits in 108 verses:

And, since we haven’t yet released the Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament (though you can buy it on pre-pub!), I thought I’d include a video on how this search works and some further things you will be able to do with the search data once it is available.

(Pardon my voice; I must’ve slept with my mouth open last night. I woke up with a dry throat and the ability to sing with a Johnny Cash style voice without even trying.)

Connecting Your Hebrew OT with Your Greek NT

A good friend of mine sent me the following question:

I’ve been using a Libronix workspace a lot for Bible study, but one feature is annoying me (probably because I’m doing something wrong). If I start out in the OT, the Hebrew texts in one corner are all visible. If I type in a NT reference into the English translations, the corner of Hebrew texts switches to Greek. So far so good. But when I go back to the OT, the Greek stays Greek (i.e., LXX) rather than returning to Hebrew. How can I fix this?

Great question. If you do much work in the original languages and jump back in forth between the Hebrew OT and Greek NT, you’ve probably experienced this. While it’s nice to be able to look at the LXX, most people who know Hebrew usually prefer to see the Hebrew by default rather than the Greek.

So how can you avoid having your Hebrew OT switch to the Greek OT when you jump from the OT to the NT and back again to the OT?

Here are three suggestions on how to avoid this problem:

  1. A simple solution that may work for some is to keep a second English text opened and unlinked for the purpose of jumping to cross references, etc. This will keep the rest of your linked resources from following you from the OT to the NT and then back again. The problem with this option is that you may want the rest of your resources to follow you.
  2. A second option is to have the LXX and the Hebrew open in two separate tabs. Always unlink your Hebrew text from your English text before jumping to the NT. Relink it when you return to the OT. This is okay if you jump back and forth infrequently, but could get rather tedious if you’re jumping back and forth often.
  3. The best option—at least that I’ve been able to think of—is to create a custom serial resource association linking your preferred Hebrew text with your preferred Greek text. This will override the default behavior.

To set up a new serial resource association, go to Tools > Library Management > Define Resource Associations, select Serial, and click New. Name your resource association something like “Hebrew OT with Greek NT” and add your preferred Hebrew OT text and Greek NT text.

Here’s a brief video (without sound, 1.01 MB, 51 sec.) showing you how to set up your resource association.

Here’s a brief video (without sound, 2.21 MB, 48 sec.) showing the behavior before and after creating the custom serial resource association. You’ll notice that before I create the resource association (not shown in this video), it switches me to the LXX when I jump back to the OT. After I create the association, jumping back to the OT keeps me in the Hebrew.

Hope this helps! Feel free to comment if you have a better way to address this issue.

For more information on creating a resource association, see 14:53–18:31 of the "Customize Your New Digital Library" training video.

See also our previous post, "The Value of Custom Resource Associations."

Update: If you want all of your Greek New Testaments to be connected to your preferred Hebrew OT, simply add them all to the resource association putting your default GNT on the top.

Try the New Global Bible Reader

How are you doing so far this year with your Bible reading? It’s February, and some statistics suggest that roughly half who started strong on January 1 are faltering or have given up entirely. If that’s you, then perhaps the Global Bible Reader can help.

We provide the schedules for you and let you choose which one(s) you want to read. Presently, there are four Bible Reading plans that you can choose from:

  • Bible in a Year (January–December)
  • Bible in a Year (February–January)
  • M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar (January–December)
  • New Testament in Six Months (January–June)

We even give you a daily popup reminder at the time of your choosing. It’s not too late to start the February–January plan, but you’ll either have to skip the first several readings or make them up in Logos or a print Bible. You could also just jump right into any of the others plans and not worry about trying to catch up with the missed readings.

You can read the text of the Bible (in ESV or KJV) all by itself, or you can jump right in to your Libronix library for further study by clicking the red Libronix icon. One of the fun features is the ability to share with and learn from others around the world who are reading along with you.

Global Bible Reader is currently in Beta 4, so it’s pretty stable and has most of the bugs worked out of it. But since it is still a beta version, we’re not providing any support. So use it only if you feel comfortable testing prerelease software.

To try it out, visit http://www.globalbiblereader.com/.

Video: Flash, 20.0 MBs, 2:43, with sound

Lange’s Commentary Is Finally Here!

The long exciting journey of producing Lange’s massive Commentary on the Holy Scriptures is finally over! (If you haven’t already read it, you’ll want to make sure to read the exciting story of how a user got an extra volume added at no additional cost.) Our Electronic Text Development department just recently put the finishing touches on it and sent it to the replicators. It’s on schedule to start shipping in just another day or two!
At just under 15,000 pages, it’s an enormous amount of excellent material for a very nice price. Putting this out-of-print set together from used volumes would be a difficult task and cost you far more.
Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries gives the series high praise: “The volumes greatly differ in excellence, yet none could be spared. We have nothing equal to them as a series” (70).
But Spurgeon made that statement over a century ago. Perhaps some of you are wondering if a commentary originally authored more than 100 years ago is really going to offer you any insight that you won’t find in more recent commentaries.
Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, thinks so. In his article “When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel? A Test Case: The Lucan Parables” (Westminster Theological Journal 46:1 (Spring 1984): 78), Blomberg observes how Lange makes an important observation that the majority of modern commentators miss:

Most commentators pass over this point in view of the more perplexing exegetical questions surrounding this verse, but already a century ago John Lange observed that “the definite article before allēn or heteran denotes the next city in order which had not yet been visited.”

The folks at The Master’s Seminary are likewise convinced of its enduring value. James F. Stitzinger includes Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures in his list of “The First 750 Books for an Expositor’s Library” (“Study Tools for Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Dallas: Word, 1992), 177). It also shows up in The Master’s Seminary list of “850 Books for Biblical Expositors.”
If you haven’t yet placed your order, it’s not too late to lock in at the discounted Pre-Pub price!

Sir, I can’t accept that donation; please put your money away!

This summer I travelled the country for a month or so in our 37-foot “Bible billboard” with Kendell from the Ministry Relations department. As you can imagine, it is hard to miss a massive blob of fluorescent green that’s 37 feet long and 12 feet high with “Bible Study” written all over it, so it is no surprise when people walk up and start a conversation.


One Sunday when we were attending services at John Piper’s church, a member of the congregation walked up to us with his checkbook in hand and offered to donate to our ministry. I spent five minutes trying to convince him that I could not take his money, and even if he sent us a check we wouldn’t have anything to do with it. We simply don’t take contributions.
In the last fifteen years or so, this conversation has been replayed many times over. We continue to get calls or letters from individuals that want to make a donation and we explain we don’t take donations, don’t want their money, and encourage them to give to a worthy ministry elsewhere.
As you can imagine, the flip side of the contribution question comes up regularly here as well. While there are many people that want to donate money to us, there are many more that want us to donate money or software to them. I have always wished there were a way to connect people on both sides of the equation and make everyone happy.
Logos creates powerful tools for ministry, however we are a corporation and not a ministry. Even if someone could make a donation to us it would not be tax exempt. If ministries that were already out there caught the vision to increase the study of God’s Word with Logos Bible Software, we would love to connect them with the people who contact us for the giving and receiving of our products.
What if we could take donations?
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to change our business model. We have no plans to start soliciting donations, or reorganize as a 501(c)(3). If we never heard from another interested donor we would be perfectly fine and content, but this whole idea got me thinking about what could be done if all the like-minded individuals got together and worked toward a common goal.
Taking the concept above one step further, today’s modern philanthropist thinking outside the box could see the benefits of a new form of partnership between a donor who understood the time and money saving benefits of using the latest technology, a commercial enterprise with a product and heart for God’s Word, and a ministry that shared the vision of all three.
This new form of partnership would address the concerns of many modern donors.

  • Tax deductibility
  • Responsible use of funds
  • Clear focus on God’s Word
  • Maximizing the benefit of the donation
  • Exploiting technology to exponentially grow their contribution
  • Highest percentage of their donation going to their “cause” and not administration and overhead

By forming a three way strategy for spreading God’s Word and better access to it, contributions could be tax deductible, funds could be assured the most responsibly maximized “best and highest use”, technology would be used to ensure not only the most time savings for the recipients, but to also reduce the costs of the content distributed—and since the tools are already produced, 100% of all donations could be used for the stated purpose.
With the three way strategy in place, a specific cause, mission agency, country, or group could be identified, and charitable contributions could go further than anyone ever imagined possible. What if instead of funding construction projects that can only be accessed by a few local individuals, money could be earmarked for equipping missionaries, pastors, teachers and preachers with better access to the Bible so that more of God’s Word could be shared with the world?
Leaving a legacy
Let’s say for a moment that someone catches this vision in a big way. Mr. & Mrs. Philanthropist have a heart for Africa and want to see God’s Word preached throughout the continent. For a few million dollars they could make sure that every missionary in Africa had their own copy of Logos Bible Software.
Which would leave a more lasting legacy? A nice new building in the States, or a massive army of proven, experienced missionaries all empowered with the most powerful tool on the planet for studying, preaching and teaching God’s Word—in the field where they are already planted?
Stretching your donation dollars
Let’s take this one step further and look at the multiplying effects of this one donation. Mr. & Mrs. Philanthropist get their favorite mission agency and Logos together and outline their plan to supply 2,000 missionaries with Logos Bible Software. The missionaries benefit, the people under their teaching benefit, Mr. & Mrs. Philanthropist get any applicable tax deductions, the mission agency outfits their missionaries, more of God’s Word is understood and preached, and Logos funds research & development, programming, and production of great new resources, texts and tools to help everyone study the Bible better.
There are not many guaranteed results from charitable contributions, but equipping missionaries, pastors and teachers with the Word of God and better access to it is about as close as it gets. If you are still reading you are probably reciting the scriptures I am thinking about in your head right now, you know as well as I do how God feels about the power and importance of His Word. I don’t have to convince you.
We are still not asking for donations
Please understand, this is dream world . . . thinking out loud . . . wondering “what if” . . . . We are not soliciting donations, we are not asking for money—we still don’t want it and can’t take it! We are just putting some ideas down in writing to paint a picture of how technology has not only impacted the study of God’s Word but has opened up the doors for creatively being better stewards and returning to an emphasis on Bible study, preaching and teaching around the world.
We know there are many faithful and generous individuals who already regularly purchase our packages just to bless others, and we know how powerful, time-saving and money-saving our tools are (not to mention cheaper than print books to ship to the mission field). We also know that there are people all over the world who would love to have our tools but can not afford them, and people who love God’s Word, love Logos Bible Software and want to be the best stewards possible while giving in this area of personal interest. We would just like to find a way to connect them all.
If you have ideas or dreams of your own about finding a way to leave a legacy and impact the world with something that you can be guaranteed will not fail, wither, return void, pass away . . . but will stand forever, give me a call.
-Dan

Making of the Lexham High Definition New Testament

[Today's guest post is from Dr. Steve Runge, a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, whose work focuses on the discourse grammar of Hebrew and Greek.]

This is a follow-up to a blog entry that I posted last Thursday entitled “Who Cares About Participles? I Do!” It described how the New Testament writers used Greek participles to push less-important action into the background in order to keep attention focused on the main action of a verse. At the end, I gave the warning that this principle about ‘backgrounding’ action did not apply to every participle. This prompted a great comment from a user. He said:

I wasn’t the best student at English grammar either so to figure out that what you have shown us in this blog would have been impossible for me as I don’t understand all the different parts of English speech and writing. So, my question is this: with my ineptitude with both Greek and English, how can I use this tool well and know even what to look for? Perhaps that is an impossible question to ask.

This is a great question. The reality is there is no possible way for him to have known or done what I did without knowing the grammatical principles I used. Even knowing the principle, he would still need enough grammatical background to do the analysis. In other words, he wants access to this information, but his grammatical skills are too rusty for him to do the analysis himself. On top of this, he was probably never taught this principle in his studies. If you read the participles blog post and are a few years out of school, you will probably empathize with his frustration. Maybe you never even had the chance to attend Bible school. Here are some questions.

  1. Were you able to understand the idea of ‘backgrounding’ the action in a sentence using participles?
  2. Did you understand the meaning that could be gleaned from the choice to use a participle, and not a finite verb?

If so, then the problem is not with your understanding of grammar, the problem is with your access to the analyzed data. Right now, there is no access without years of study, and in this user’s case, keeping his Greek skills fresh, right? My personal mission in life is to address the ACCESS issue.

I have spent the last 12 years studying the problem, proposing and testing solutions, and coming up with a plan. What if ALL of the backgrounded actions in the NT were identified? What if there were a visual-filter type label on them so that as you were reading the text you could distinguish main actions from backgrounded ones? Would that be helpful? What if I did the same with 15 other of the most useful devices I found in my research? What if you could see all of these devices identified right in the text? This way you would not be distracted from the biblical text by reading a separate commentary. What if the text was organized into a block outline, breaking down the complexity of the text to help you better understand how it flows and how it is organized hierarchically?

If these questions pique your interest, then you will be interested in a resource that is set to go on Pre-Publication in the next few weeks. It is called the Lexham High Definition New Testament, part of a new series of original language resources that we are working on. It catalogs and graphically identifies all occurrences of a specific set of devices, like backgrounding, that the biblical writers used, but which are largely invisible without knowledge of Greek.

Many of these devices are based on the work of Bible translators, and are not even taught in seminary classes. The only way to learn them at this point is to slog through the linguistics literature like I have done for the last decade. This required developing an extensive knowledge of cognitive linguistics, pragmatics and syntax. Having done that, and having annotated where all of the devices occur in the text, the problem of access to the data is only partly solved.

The next step is to explain the concepts based on our idiomatic usage in English. Every language has to accomplish the same basic set of tasks. Since the annotated devices accomplish a specific task, I can explain the Greek device by analogy to how the same task is accomplished in English, regardless of how it might be translated. In other words, it would not matter if a Greek participle is translated as a main verb in English as long as you understood that it is backgrounded, right? This is a new way of thinking about these issues, a great complement to working with your preferred translation.

There is another problem. My analysis of these devices is based on the Greek text, not an English version. This means that somehow the data needs to be exported and mapped to an English version so that non-Greek or ‘rusty-Greek’ folks can access it. Until two years ago, this would have been impossible. Logos has invested the time and money into creating reverse interlinears, where the original language words are aligned to the corresponding words of the English translations. This allows the data that I have annotated to the Greek to be exported and displayed in English translations. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Greek is not English! Not every Greek device maps well into English, so we combined and culled down from about 40 concepts in Greek to 17 in English.

What is displayed in English is actually Greek data. If you find concepts like backgrounding valuable, and the want to get access to things that you would likely not even have learned if you had done advanced Greek study, it will soon be accessible to you mapped onto an English translation.

Not every concept is easy enough to understand with a thumbnail sketch for an introduction. However, a good many of them ARE that simple, but access to the data has been the ongoing problem. We have taken the very best of these devices and mapped them into English in the Lexham High Definition New Testament. There will be another, more detailed and more technical version of the data that is mapped onto the Greek text that will also be released, called the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament.

I appreciate the frustration people have felt about helpful information being restricted to the few that had the aptitude and discipline to reach the advanced levels of original language study. There is a tremendous amount of information that will remain restricted to this domain, based on the nature of it. However, there is a lot of practical stuff that can be exported and applied by folks if only they had the access to it. This frustration has been my motivation for getting up at 4:30am several days a week since 1993 to do research. I worked construction for the last 15 years to provide for my family and fund my study. Logos hired me in October 2006 because they believed that the insight into Scripture that users would gain from this project was worth the investment to produce it.

There is not another resource like the Lexham High Definition New Testament, where a collection of the most useful discourse devices are pulled together and practically applied. I will be blogging about a different device from the Discourse NT series each week for the next few months. I do not want information that would be beneficial to people like you, people who are smart and motivated to study God’s Word, to remain restricted to the few. I have had several scholars rebuke me for taking on such a project, saying people might misuse it. People are already misusing English versions, so why not give them something that might curb some of the abuse and misunderstanding?

Update: Both products are now available for pre-order:

Hanging Out with Dr. Geisler

Today’s guest blogger is Scott Lindsey, Ministry Relations Director at Logos.
As part of the Ministry Relations team at Logos, I have one of the best jobs on the planet: introducing people to the power of Logos for Bible Study. Last weekend was a milestone in my 10+ years traveling the country teaching at various conferences. I had the privilege of hanging out with Dr. Norman Geisler. Dr. Geisler and I were both speakers a recent set of Code Blue conferences in Springfield, MO and Bentonville, AR.
The first conference was Friday night in Springfield, MO. So the next morning Dr. Geisler and I left for our 3 hour drive to Bentonville, AR, where the next conference was being hosted. And what a drive it was! The countryside was beautiful, the sun was shining, and the conversation was brilliant. Imagine, 3 hours with Dr. Geisler as your passenger! I witnessed the passion of a man who has dedicated his life to the cause of Christ and has been in ministry for half a century.
Dr. Geisler came to know the Lord because of the faithful outreach of a local church in his home town of Warren, MI. His parents weren’t believers yet. Dr. Geisler always felt a desire to know God. Starting at age 9, he rode the church bus over 400 times to Sunday service until, at age 17, he finally yielded to the tugging of God on his heart. The lesson Dr. Geisler learned was, “Don’t give up; it may take 400 sermons!” After conversion, Dr. Giesler jumped immediately into full-time Christian service. Every night there was some type of church activity: door-to-door evangelism, Bible studies, jail ministry, and more. He even met his bride of 51 years while serving in his church; they worked together in the church prison ministry. Dr. Geisler said the expectation back then was, “Get saved; start serving!”
One night while helping out with the local jail ministry, the scheduled preacher didn’t show up due to illness and someone asked Dr. Geisler if he would teach. Dr. Geisler had only known the Lord for 9 weeks yet sheepishly took the microphone, shared from John chapter 3 and gave his testimony. Several gave their lives to Jesus that night, and Dr. Geisler felt the call to ministry.
A few nights later Dr. Geisler was with his youth group doing ministry in an area in Detroit known as Skid Row—this is where the truly down-trodden of the city lived. While witnessing in the streets, Dr. Geisler was confronted by a drunk who grabbed Dr. Geisler’s Bible, opened it to Mark 8:30, and read, “Jesus warned them not to tell ANYONE about Him!” Dr. Geisler was stumped!!! How could he reconcile the Great Commission with this passage of Scripture? He had no answer for this challenge and realized he either needed to get educated about his new faith or stop evangelizing altogether.
Dr. Geisler heard through some friends that Emmaus Bible School had a Bible correspondence course for FOUR DOLLARS. Dr. Geisler tried as hard as he could to explain to me how much money that was back in 1950!!! I have a new perspective now when I purchase my $4 latte at Starbucks. The problem, though, was that Dr. Geisler didn’t have four dollars. Amazingly, the providence of God was revealed when his boss asked him to work a Saturday shift “bunching radishes”—the amount he earned: $4. The exact amount Dr. Geisler needed! Imagine the enthusiasm that day as Dr. Geisler worked on the farm.
This began Dr. Geisler’s amazing educational journey. The remarkable thing for me was discovering that Dr. Geisler didn’t even learn to read until his junior year in high school. His 11th grade teacher was suspect of Dr. Geisler’s reading abilities and asked him one day, “How did ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ end?” As witty as Dr. Geisler is today at 75 years old, the 16-year-old Norman replied, “With a period!” The day concluded with a familiar visit to the principal’s office.
The correspondence program from Emmaus eventually led him to Detroit Bible College (DBC) where he received his first degree. Upon graduation from DBC, Dr. Geisler took his first pastorate at Dayton Center Church in Silverwood, Michigan. Today, the congregation still invites Dr. Geisler to speak when his schedule permits. After pastoring for 3 years at Dayton Center Church, Dr. Geisler realized his “barrel was empty” and he needed more formal education. He enrolled at Wheaton and received his bachelors in philosophy and two years later earned his M.A. in Theology. He received his Th.B. from William Tyndale College in 1964, and his Ph.D. from Loyola in 1970.
I asked him what led the transition from preaching to teaching, and he said that during college and seminary, the students would always come up to him after class and have him explain what the professors were teaching. He simply had a knack for digesting the hefty theology being taught, and this led to his almost 50 years of Christian teaching.
Of all the things I learned about Dr. Geisler during our drive, I was most inspired by his love for his wife and family and continued devotion to the Lord. Every night after dinner, the Geisler family would gather in the living room for their nightly devotions and time of Bible study. From day one, Dr. Geisler and his wife poured a foundation of the Word into their children’s lives—all of whom are serving the Lord today.
We enjoyed a great plate of Fajitas for lunch, and Dr. Geisler refilled my “joke” quiver. I have enough opening jokes to last me 10+ years of conference speaking! He has authored/co-authored 67 books, and I now wonder when the Dr. Norman Geisler joke book will be released. His humor only adds to the uniqueness of this great man. Even after 50+ years of faithful service, he is still excited about life and the Lord.
As I watched Dr. Geisler teach Saturday night in Bentonville to a crowd of over 900, I had a new appreciation for his brilliance. I have taught with Dr. Geisler at many conferences over the years and have had the privilege of learning how to defend the faith because of his scholarship and teaching, but Saturday gave me a new perspective of Dr. Geisler. I realized that he not only knows the Word, but lives it with passion every day!
You may not be aware that we have several of Dr. Geisler’s books available for Libronix. Be sure to check them out!

Dr. Geisler is also a Logos user. Here’s what he has to say about Logos:

Wow! What a great way to get into the Bible. With a whole library at your fingertips and language tools in the palm of your hand, anyone can benefit from Logos Bible Software. Whether someone is a scholar, pastor, Sunday school teacher, or layperson Logos can help them accomplish their academic and spiritual needs. If you are in Seminary or Bible College then you should have this program. Logos is already the standard in Bible software and for good reason—it is simply the best.

Ancient Semitic Inscriptions—How Can They Assist English Bible Study?

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Michael Heiser, Academic Editor at Logos.
Note: Some characters in this post require a Unicode font like Gentium or Charis SIL. You can download both Gentium and Charis SIL from the SIL site.
One of the challenges we face at Logos when we create research tools for studying ancient texts in their original script is how such data can be made useful in the Libronix platform for users who do not read the ancient languages. Our aim is not merely to produce tools for scholars, but tools that can help everyone inform their Bible study. The new databases for Aramaic inscriptions and the Hebrew and Canaanite inscriptions are a good case in point.
In this blog post, I’d like to focus on how these inscriptions can assist your Bible study even if you can’t read the ancient languages. Veteran Libronix users will recognize immediately that since these inscriptions come with fresh English translations and can be displayed as an interlinear, they are accessible to the English reader. But what may not be apparent is why the English reader might want to include them in searches or Bible study. It’s easy to see how commentaries or reference books that deal with Bible backgrounds would be helpful, but users often balk at the thought of utilizing ancient non-biblical texts for enlightening biblical content. I think the three examples that follow illustrate the value of including these kinds of texts in Bible study.
Balaam, son of Beor, and the Deir ʿAlla Inscription
We’re all familiar with the Old Testament story of Balaam, where Balak, king of Moab, summoned Balaam to curse the children of Israel (Numbers 22-23). Not nearly as well known is the fact that Balaam, son of Beor, is featured prominently in an ancient inscription, discovered in 1967 at a place called Deir ʿAlla. That inscription is included in the set of Aramaic inscriptions recently developed by Logos. It reads in part:

1 . . . the report of Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, who was a seer of the gods. Now the gods came to see him by night, and he saw a vision
2 as the utterance of El. They said to Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, “Thus he will do . . . afterwards a man . . . ”
3 Balaʿam arose the following day . . . but he was not able to . . . and he wept
4 bitterly. Then his people came to him and said to Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, “Why are you fasting and weeping?”
5 He responded to them, “Sit down, I will tell you what the Shaddayyin have done. Come, see the work of the gods! The Shaddayyin gathered together
6 and established the assembly. Then, they said to Š[ ], ʿSew up [and] block out the heavens with your cloud putting darkness [over it]; do not any
7 light [shine] . . .

There are a number of gaps and difficult reconstructions in this inscription (hence the brackets that appear), but there are a number of clear points. First, a seer named Balaam the son of Beor had a vision in the night in which the gods speak to him. Save for the fact that the Old Testament has one deity speak to Balaam, this is precisely the same situation recorded in the Old Testament in Numbers 22:8-9, 14-20. Second, Balaam is presented in the inscription as a seer or clairvoyant, one who had contact with the gods through divination (cf. Josh. 13:22). This is the biblical picture as well. The Hebrew terminology associated with Balaam indicates that he did not practice sorcery, as some have charged, but used some sort of divination method. While some forms of divination are expressly condemned in the Old Testament, even on pain of death (Deut 18:9-12), other forms are not (e.g., casting lots, Joseph’s divination cup, Daniel’s training in Chaldean “sciences”). The issue with “proper” and “improper” methods of divination for the Israelite was whether Yahweh was the source of the divine information and, in most cases, whether the contact was initiated by Yahweh. This helps resolve the notion that Yahweh would speak his word through a foreign seer by his Spirit (Num. 24:2). Third, Balaam is cast in a positive light in the inscription. While the Bible has some pretty unflattering things to say about Balaam, it also has some positive assessment. For example, the prophet Micah says, “O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him.” Balaam unapologetically proclaimed himself Yahweh’s servant and denied saying anything other than what Yahweh has told him to say.
What are we to make of this inscription and its connection to the Old Testament? Simply put, the Deir ʿAlla inscription is an extrabiblical confirmation of the Balaam story. The Deir ʿAlla inscription dates to the 8th century B.C., well after the time of the Balaam incident in biblical chronology. Balaam is not introduced in the inscription, so it appears that the writer presumed his readers knew about Balaam already, and so the story of Balaam had been around for some time. The prophet Micah’s statement dates from the same era, since the prophet lived at the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Micah 1:1). This is confirmation that the Balaam story wasn’t invented during the 8th century but precedes it.
Does the Old Testament Speak of a Blissful Afterlife?
This question may surprise many readers, but it’s actually a hot topic in scholarly discussions about the Old Testament. Behind this issue is the fact that the Old Testament never actually speaks of a godly person “going” to heaven. Rather, they go to Sheol, the realm of the dead, or the “Underworld” (see, e.g., Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 17:16; Psa. 6:5; 49:14; 88:3; 116:3; Ezek. 31:17). Sheol also refers to a hole in the ground or some space under the ground (see Num. 16:33; Job 11:8). As such, many scholars argue that the Old Testament had no concept of a hallowed, pleasant afterlife—the dead only went to the grave—or that the dead remained in the grave until a future resurrection. Some scholars seek to strike a parallel with the depressing view of the afterlife held in Mesopotamia, where the deceased “lived on” while in a state of decay.
Other biblical scholars have argued, with some justification, that discerning the Old Testament’s view of the afterlife on the basis of one word (Sheol) is myopic. Archaeologically speaking, we know that, like our custom of leaving flowers or other items at grave sites, Israelites also regularly deposited gifts at tombs, such as food and wine—items that we believe are appreciated by the dead. This doesn’t fit with a view that only saw the grave as final, or a despondent life in the Underworld. Such an approach fails to incorporate passages like Psalm 73:23-26:

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Two Hebrew inscriptions found in a small burial cave at a site just outside the ancient city of Jerusalem known as Ketef Hinnom shed some light on Israelite beliefs about the fate of the dead. The site dates to the late seventh or early sixth century B.C., clearly in the first Temple period. These inscriptions were etched onto two small silver plaques. The text is not entirely legible and complete, but much is quite readable:

Ketef Hinnom 1
1 [ ] 2 YHW [
2 [ ]
3 [ ]
4 l]oves the covena[nt
5 and lo]vingkindness to those who lo[ve
6 [and] with respect to those who keep [
7 ]BK[
8 ]HHʿL rest[ing place
9 [ ]BH[ ]H from all[
10 [ ] and from the evil
11 for in him is redemption (?)
12 for Yahweh
13 will [re]store us
14-16 ]KWR may Yahweh bless [and] may [he] keep you
17 May Yahweh [sh]ine
18 [his f]ace (upon you).

Ketef Hinnom 2

1 ]HB[
2 to Yahwe[h]
3 [ ]
4 ]Gʿ[
5-7 May Yahweh bless and may [he] keep you
8-9 May Yah[weh] shine his face
10 [up]on you and
11 may [he] give you
12 pea[ce].
13 [ ]
14 [ ]
15 ]M[
16 [ ]
17 [ ]

Both of these inscriptions, deposited as they were with the dead body of the loved one, ask Yahweh to “bless and keep” the dead and “shine upon” the deceased. This is certainly positive, and is very much in the spirit of Psalm 73. The writer also expresses his belief that Yahweh shows lovingkindness to those who love Him. If the writer believed that the fate of the dead was only the grave, or that the deceased was rewarded only with a cadaverous existence, these sentiments make little sense.
The Witness in the Clouds
One of the Phoenician inscriptions in the new Libronix database of Hebrew and Canaanite inscriptions comes from a location known as Arslan Tash. The inscription is found on an amulet and reads in part:

Arslan Tash 1
9-10 Asshur has made with us and eternal covenant. He made (it)
11 with us, and (with) all the sons of the gods,
12 and the chiefs of the council of all the holy ones
13 with a covenant of heaven and earth
14 forever, by an oath of Baal,
15 [l]ord of earth, by a covenant
16 of Ḥawron, whose mouth is pure,
17 and his seven concubines, and
18 the eight wives of Baal-Qudsh.

In this inscription, the high god Asshur is said to have made a covenant with the people among whom the author lived. Asshur makes this covenant, and then the covenant is said to be ratified or “guaranteed” by other gods: Baal, Ḥawron, and Ḥawron’s seven concubines and eight wives, who were all (presumably) considered divine beings.
This kind of inscription content is easy to cross-reference in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. It might be instructive, for example, to compare covenant language between the Bible and sources outside the Bible for parallels and significant differences. This kind of thing is referenced many times in study Bible notes. In this instance, it might strike us as odd that a god would make a covenant with his people and then have that covenant promise backed up by other gods, since in the Bible God swear oaths by himself since, according to Hebrews 6:13-20, there is none greater. But are there exceptions?
If you were attempting a thorough Bible study of all the covenants in the Bible between God and people, you’d come across a surprising covenant circumstance in Psalm 89, where the idea of God swearing only by himself in a covenant relationship is in fact not the case. Psalm 89, which is a reiteration of the Davidic covenant given in 2 Samuel 7, has God making the covenant with David and his dynasty and then appealing to a witness in the clouds as a guarantee of that covenant. Believe it or not, the covenant of the Arslan Tash inscription helps us to know what’s going on here.
Psalm 89:35-37 [Hebrew text, 89:36-38] reads:

35 “Once I have sworn by my Holy One;
I will not lie to David.
36 “His descendants shall be forever
And his throne as the sun before me.
37 “It shall be established forever like the moon,
And the witness in the clouds will be faithful.”

The keys to understanding this small section of Psalm 89 are the two underlined portions. English translations disagree on this passage for very technical reasons I’ll skip here (readers can click here for more detail). This is my own literal rendering, though the NASB comes closest to what I have. Notice how the passage has certain parallel elements, which I’ve marked by letters:

A I have sworn by my Holy One;
B I will not lie to David.
C “His descendants shall be forever
C his throne (shall be) as the sun before me.
C “It [his throne] shall be established forever like the moon,
A And a witness in the clouds will be faithful.”

Translations disagree most often on the underlined portions. Many have “by my holiness” for the first underline, but that makes little sense in light of the literary parallelism. It seems that Yahweh has sworn by a person (a witness) in the second underlining, which calls for a person being “sworn by” in the first underlining. All that is needed to arrive at “my Holy One” is to change the vowel marks in the Hebrew at this point to conform it to “Holy One” found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Most translations also have “an enduring witness” or “a faithful witness” for the second underlined portion, but there are grammatical problems with that translation.
What we have here is Yahweh swearing a covenantal oath to David and guaranteeing that oath by some witness in the clouds. This is actually similar to what we read in Arslan Tash. The head of the Phoenician pantheon at Arslan Tash, Asshur, makes a covenant in the presence of his heavenly council (the “council of the holy ones”), and then calls on other gods to confirm that the covenant will be carried out. Israel’s faith was monotheistic, but these elements are all present in Psalm 89. Yahweh swears an oath to David, and Yahweh’s own heavenly host (“divine council of the holy ones”; Psalm 89:5-8) witnesses the oath. But there’s a problem—Israel’s faith has no place for other gods to hold Yahweh accountable to his oath. Nevertheless, the language is there.
How can Yahweh swear by another and yet not be held accountable to a separate god other than himself? The passage seems to require an equal to Yahweh who will uphold the covenant, but how does that work? The idea of one god binding another god’s oath was familiar in the ancient Near East-Arslan Tash is but one example. But how can this work in Israel? Who is this witness in the heavens who will be faithful to make sure the covenant of David’s eternal dynasty comes to pass and never fails?
The New Testament answers these questions by filling the witness slot with Jesus. Revelation 1:4-5 is telling:

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Jesus, of course, as the son of David, fulfilled the Davidic covenant of Psalm 89. And since the New Testament presents Jesus as true deity incarnate and equal in nature with the God of the Old Testament, Jesus fulfills the role of witness-guarantor eternally. We know this if we’ve read the New Testament, but sometimes more ancient material—canonical and even outside the canon—can contextualize a point more clearly.
If you haven’t already placed your pre-order, be sure to check out the Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations (CD-ROM) as it will be shipping soon!

BibleTech:2008 a Huge Success

BibleTech:2008 was an awesome event and a huge success. A big thanks to all of the speakers and attendees! It was fun putting faces with names and chatting over meals with so many people who share a passion for the Bible and technology.

We realize that many of you wanted to attend, but were unable to. Well, we have some great news for you.

First, the audio for most of the sessions is now available at the BibleTech website. Go to the Sessions page and look for the MP3 Audio links. We also added a directory of participants, which includes both speakers and attendees who wanted their names to be listed. If you went to the conference and didn’t get the contact info for someone you wanted to get in touch with, check the directory. If you went and want to have your name added to the list, please send an email to bibletech@logos.com and let us know.

Also, based on the great feedback that we got, we are already making preparations for BibleTech:2009. So start making your plans to be with us next year. We’ll provide you with more details when we have them. If you’d like to be added to the BibleTech email list to receive updates and information about the next BibleTech, send us an email.

If you want to read more about BibleTech, search for bibletech and bibletech08 at Technorati and Google Blog Search. Many of the speakers have posted PowerPoints and PDFs of their presentations. If you’re a World Magazine subscriber, you’ll want to check out their article about BibleTech.

We look forward to seeing you at BibleTech:2009!