Sunday, November 30, 2008


(My father passed away yesterday on Nov. 29th after 92 years of life. Thank you for your prayers, especially for my mother who was married to him for nearly 60 years) BW III

Dear Dad:

There are so many things you meant to me over so many years, and the sign I saw today said it all-- "I have a super hero in my life, and its my Dad". I realize you've gone to be with the Lord, but I also know that you are more alive now than when I last saw you Saturday laboring for breath in Mercy hospital. Thank God you are in a place where there is no more sufffering, sin, and sorrow, no more disease, decay and death. Here is the obituary I helped write for you:

Mr. Witherington of Charlotte died peacefully on Saturday November 29th, 2008 at Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy. He was the son of the late Ben Witherington, Sr. and Mildred Patrick Witherington and was born on May 31, 1916 in Goldsboro, N.C. He was preceded in death by his sister, Mildred Witherington Grotland.

Ben's father's death and military service in WWII interrupted his college career at UNC-CH. Having joined the Army Air Corps, he completed advanced training at the Army Finance School at Wake Forest College. After serving several Army finance offices, he was transferred into the infantry and sent to Germany where he was assigned to the 94th Division of Patton's Third Army. He received a Combat Infantry Badge and two battle stars. Between 1947-86 he worked as a credit manager and an accountant in various firms including Tomlinson's Furniture Company and Factors Inc. in High Point N.C. and then NCNB (now Bank of America) in Charlotte.

A loyal life long member of the Methodist Church, he served in many ways at St. Paul's UMC Goldsboro, West Market Street UMC Greensboro, Wesley Memorial UMC in High Point, and Myers Park UMC in Charlotte. He was on the Administrative Board, President of Owenby Sunday School Class, and was a UMYF sponsor. An Eagle Scout, he inspired both his son and his grandson to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout as well.
After WWII Ben returned to UNC-Chapel Hill where he earned a B.S. degree in Commerce with an accounting major. An ardent Carolina sports fan and an athlete, he ran track and was a cheerleader at Carolina. He also enjoyed playing tennis and golf, and was an avid watcher of Carolina football and basketball.

Ben is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, Joyce, his daughter Laura of Jacksonville Fla., his son Ben, III and his wife Ann of Lexington, Kentucky and their children Christy Ann of Morrisville N.C. and David Benjamin of Silver Spring, Md. He is also survived by his brother M. Patrick Witherington and his wife Patty and many nephews and nieces.

The funeral will be held at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 2, at Myers Park United Methodist Church. The family will receive friends following the service in Jubilee Hall. Interment will be at 2:00 p.m. Thursday, December 4, in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, NC. Pallbearers will be Don Redding, Lou Bledsoe, Patrick Witherington, J. A. West, David Witherington, and Rick Witherington. Honorary pallbearers will be the members of the Owenby Class.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Myers Park United Methodist Church Jubilee Plus Fund, 1501 Queens Road West, Charlotte, NC 28207, Grace United Methodist Church, 401 Grace Street, Wilmington, N.C. 28402, or the Tuscarora Council, Boy Scouts of America, 316 East Walnut Street, Goldsboro N.C. 27530.
'Blessed are those who die in the Lord'.

Arrangements are in the care of Hankins & Whittington Funeral Service, 1111 East Blvd. Online at

Dad, there are so many things I will miss. I woke up this morning and realized this is the first time in my life I don't have a father on earth. You were always there for me... always. Such a self-sacrificial person, and so gentle and loving like Jesus. If I ever grow up fully, I hope to be more like you. I remember all those ball games you took me to, especially Carolina games, and all those church services we went to. I remember you teaching Sunday school and helping lead my scout troop until I managed to get my Eagle award. You were never too busy for me. I remember all those fun trips to the beach, and so many wonderful holidays. Do you remember the day our cat Yellowball climbed the Christmas tree at night when all were sleeping and broke our bubble lights? Or how about the day I went off to Carolina just like you, and when you left me there, I felt so alone and lost. Do you remember the day we went to Spruce Pine and I taught Adults Plus the Gospel of Mark, and all your Sunday school friends were there? Or how about those hot summer days at Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska? Or the time you took me on your business trip to Morehead City? I miss all the times you read to me those Henry Ware stories when I was small, and how you taught me to drive on that old 55 Chevy that was column shift? I will never forget the day you took me downtown in High Point to get the conscientious objector papers during the Vietnam war, and even though you totally disagreed, you respected my choice and were right there with me? So many memories come flooding back. Most of all I will miss all that love and Christian nurture you gave me over all those years.

I know your not gone, nor are you lost, as I know right where to find you, up there with Jesus, but still it will be hard not to see you again until the resurrection. I just wanted you to know that in your honor on Nov. 29th those ole Tar Heels won their annual grudge match with Duke 28-20 at Duke and are going to a bowl game, and it won't be the toilet bowl. At least you won't need to yell at those ACC refs in the sky over that one. Here's a big hug, one more time.... ( ). You can count on me to go on serving the Lord, and being faithful to Him, to my church, to my family, to our Tar Heels. As you used to sing as a cheerleader "I'm a Tar Heel born and a Tar Heel bred, and the day I die, I'm a Tar Heel its ra ra Carolina, 'lina..."


Your Son

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Now that we know that Barack Obama will indeed be our next President, it is useful to go back and watch once more what President elect Obama said to Rick Warren at the Civil Forum last summer at Saddleback Church. This particular post will discuss the issue of gay marriage in light of what was said at the Forum. You will find his particular comments about marriage beginning 20 minutes and about 30 seconds into the interview. They are: 1) he defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman; 2)he supports civil unions for gays and lesbians, though he will not personally be advocating or promoting their lifestyle and 3) he is not for a constitutional amendment defining marriage in a particular way because the Constitution did not comment on this matter originally, and it has been left to the States to decide this kind of issue. In his view, it should stay that way.

The vote over Proposition 8 in California is now over but the battle is by no means done. My friend Rev. Jim Garlow in California continues to get lots of hate mail and his church has been picketed vigorously, and yes there have been threats against him of various sorts. This is hardly what one would call proper human behavior.

What should Christians think of that whole matter of Prop. 8? Is it an example of Christians depriving gays and lesbians of their civil rights? Well it can hardly be that since gay or lesbian civil unions are already legal in California, and indeed the partners in such a relationship already have the rights of marital partners in the event of illness and the like.

No, fighting against Proposition 8 was not about gaining the civil right for gays to have a legally sanctioned union, one that allowed one to have the various tax, work, and health benefits of such a relationship. They already had that in California. What it was about was an attempt to redefine marriage, nothing less than that.

When President elect Obama was asked about this matter at Rick Warren’s civil forum some months ago, he said that marriage, according to the Bible is a relationship between a man and a woman, but in his view gays and lesbians should still be able to have civil unions. Of course this is already the law in California so he was not proposing anything new or different to what already existed in California, nor did the passage of Proposition 8 change that state affairs.

What may have changed was the status of those gays and lesbians who were not satisfied with a civil union and wanted to be able to legally claim they were married. Time will tell whether the passage of Prop. 8 will nullify those gay and lesbian marriages which had already been performed and sanctioned. It is interesting that the African American vote in California was overwhelmingly in favor of Prop. 8 (some 70% of African-Americans who voted), and so one would not expect President elect Obama, for whom over 90% of all African Americans voted, to reverse course by executive order on January 21rst when he is in the Oval Office and try and overturn Proposition 8 and similar laws which were passed in Florida and elsewhere. We shall see, but I would not expect such an attempted reversal of things in light of his previous comments about States rights in this matter.

What should Christians think of this matter? Well, in the first place not only is marriage defined in the Bible as an act between a man and a woman, it is said that God initiated such an act in the first place. God brought the man and the woman together (read Gen. 1-2). The result of that marriage was a 'one flesh union', something which, if we understand it and exegete the phrase properly, is not possible for two men or two women to have with each other. Male and female were created in such a way that they, and they alone, can produce a one flesh union. This is not to say that other sorts of sexual activity could not create bonds of intimacy between two persons. This of course is the nature of intimate sharing in sex. The point is that these other sorts of unions are not what the Bible means by a 'one flesh union' (see e.g. Ephes. 5.21ff.).

The result of a proper marriage is not merely that the two become one, but that one of them, the male, becomes a husband and the other the female becomes a wife. It is no more possible for a female to become a husband than it is possible to have a female uncle or a male aunt (I'm am talking here about the issue of identity, not roles that one or another person might be able to play in some fashion).

Biology is indeed pre-determining things in these cases, and even when you have a person who has a sex change operation, such as the so-called pregnant man recently on TV, actually this person is a woman genetically, and in terms of having a womb and the like. She has simply had her breasts removed and taken testosterone to try and remove the evidence and reality that she is a woman.

In any normal set of circumstances gender is not something you choose, it is something you are born with, and what follows from that is certain gender role possibilities come along with that, and certain other ones are ruled out. Of course many people are not satisfied with the way they are born, and think they ought to have choices about such matters. What you mainly have choices about is behavior however, not gender, barring resorting to radical medical actions. It should also be stressed that we are all born fallen creatures as well, so it is not sufficient to argue that "it must be of God as I was born this way". Even if it is true(though I know of no scientific evidence demonstrating this) that some people are born with same sex inclinations, this in itself would not make it 'of God'. Frankly there are too many birth defects with which humans can be born, including the moral one we all have as fallen creatures, and so one could never say with any universal theological validity "since I was born this way, this is how God intended me to be and it must be celebrated as good." This is not by any means always the case.

The question one should ask about the marriage issue is--- should the Biblical definition, and indeed Western cultures definition of marriage for the last thousand plus years be allowed to be overturned by a small minority of American citizens and their friends? Even simply at the level of pure democracy, this is unreasonable in a country where the majority should rule in such civil matters.

A further point should be made. It is not hate to uphold a traditional view or definition of marriage, and our culture and country is not helped by hate-crimes laws that include things like how one defines marriage as hate speech. Discourse on such subjects, though it may well be passionate, should not resort to name-calling, ad hominem arguments, or pure polemics. Equally sincere persons can have diametrically opposed views on this subject, and still be friends.

I have various friends who disagree with my views on this subject, but they are not about to accuse me of hate. They know that this is a matter of Christian conscience for me, and they respect that. This is the way it ought to be in general. This matter should not be dealt with by hate mail, hateful acts, death threats or any other kind of not only unChristian behavior but not even proper human or humane behavior.

Going forward on this volatile issue I would urge conservative Christians who are adamantly opposed to the gay lobby in our country to remember the following: 1) some gays and lesbians are your brothers and sisters in Christ, however confused you may think they are on this ethical matter. Treat them as such; 2) the church should be welcoming to all persons as they are to come to church, just as Jesus was welcoming of all, without condoning anyone's sin or baptizing and calling it non-sin. That is 'we should be welcoming of any sinner but not affirming of any sinful lifestyle or action. Loving the sinner but not their sin may be a hard dichotomy at times but it is what we are called to; 3) Jesus died for us all, whether gay or straight to save us from our sins; 4) the unforgivable sin in the Bible is not some particular sexual sin, but rather apostasy, the willful rejection of Christ in one's life; 5) homophobia and heterophobia are both sins which one should repent of.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

John Piper explains Why Calvinists are so Negative

Here is a very interesting and indeed revealing brief interview with John Piper about why Calvinists not infrequently come across in such a negative and arrogant way. I find his explanation in some ways convincing.

What he does not add, that could have been added, is that, for whatever reason, Calvinism seems to feed a deep seated need in many persons for a kind of intellectual certainty about why the world is as it is, and what God is exactly like, and how his will is worked out in the world, and most particularly how salvation works and whether or not one is a saved person.

And all too often, the apparent intellectual coherency of a theological system is taken as absolute and compelling proof that this view of God, salvation,the world must be true and all others be heresy, to one degree or another. But it is perfectly possible to argue logically and coherency in a hermeneutical or theological circle with all parts connected, and unfortunately be dead wrong-- because one drew the circle much too small and left out all the inconvenient contrary evidence. This sort of fault is inevitable with theological systems constructed by finite human beings.

A minutes reflection will show that intellectual coherency, as judged by finite fallen or even redeemed minds, is not a very good guide to what is true. The truth of God and even of the Bible is much larger than anyone's ability (or any collection of human being's abilities) to get their mental calipers so firmly around it that one could form it into a 'coherent theological system' without flaws, gaps, or lacunae. That includes Calvin's very fine mind as reflected in his Theological Institutes. The real paradox about the God of Calvin is while Calvin does all in his power to stress the enormity and consequent sovereignty of a great God over all things, sadly but inevitably even his God is too small to encompass everything that is said about God in the Scriptures, even just everything that is said about soteriology in the Scriptures.

While I certainly believe that God's own worldview is coherent, and that some of it is revealed in the Bible, the facts are that the Bible does not reveal everything we always wanted to know about God so we could be certain God exists and form that body of knowledge into a self-sustaining fully coherent theological system with one idea leading to another idea, and so on (and now we can all sing a chorus of 'Will the Circle be Unbroken').

A strong sense of assurance provided by the living presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not the same as intellectual certainty. Nor does God reveal so much about the eternal mysteries that a finite human mind could form it into an airtight theological system of any kind. Indeed, the Bible is pretty clear that God quite deliberately did not 'tell all' either in general revelation in creation or in the Scriptures(read Job), not least because God wants us to trust him and to build a trust relationship with him. What God has done is that God has revealed enough so that we may be redeemed but not so much that we do not have to trust God about the future.

I must confess that as a NT scholar I am inherently suspicious about theological systems like Calvinism or Dispensationalism or even Arminianism and the like which seem to foster certain kinds of feelings of intellectual certainty and even smugness about things that are in fact profound mysteries.

When someone brings up a topic like "why is their evil in the world, and why do even God's people suffer so much" rather than give a pat answer I am more apt to repeat the words of John Muir who said words to the following effect-- "We look at life from the back side of the tapestry. And most of the time what we see is loose threads, tangled knots and the like. But occasionally God's light shines through the tapestry and we get a glimpse of the larger design with God weaving together the darks and lights of existence."

I must tell you that whenever I have had a profound experience of God through reading his word or encountering God in worship or community, it tends to just humble me, and make me want to say something like what Joni Mitchell said about love--- "its love's illusions I recall, I really don't know love, at all". I have barely touched the hem of the Master's garment, I hardly know him though I long to know him better. In the face of the divine-human encounter, even Barth's Dogmatics appear to be little more than a good start to understanding God.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that we should not think logically and coherently about our faith, and do our best to connect the dots. Nevertheless, we should be placing our faith in God, not in a particular theological system. There is a difference. In the former case the faith is largely placed in whom we know and whom we have encountered. In the latter case the faith can be too often placed in what we believe we know about God and theological truth.

I always want to ask the 'theological certainty' folks who have this great conviction that their theological system must surely be exactly what the Bible says and means-- Where exactly does that conviction and ardor come from?

Not even Paul in the Bible dots all the i's and crosses all the t's of a particular theological system and more to the point, he has no compelling interest in doing so. He is interested, as are all the Scriptural writers in simply bearing witness to a truth and a reality they have not merely come to believe in, but which they have experienced and which has changed their lives. They still have questions and intellectual doubts, and we hear about them in various places and ways in the Scripture. Their faith in God is not based on a conviction that they have a coherent theological system which they in essence fully understand and can explain. Their faith in God comes from having a personal relationship with God which provided them with enough evidence to produce faith in God. They know enough to know-- that they don't know enough to produce a comprehensive system called 'the knowledge of God'.

Humility is fostered more by a recognition of and an owning up to what you don't know about God, than what you do. This is not because we do not know a good number of things about God both from the Word and the through the Spirit. We do. We know enough to trust God for what we do not know and understand. And in the end our posture should be that of Anselm-- 'fides quaerens intellectum' faith seeking understanding, not 'intellectus quaerens fidium' 'Understanding seeking and defining and limiting faith'.

[N.B. I have posted this now, instead of Friday, as I will be away from the blog until next Wednesday, at the National SBL meeting. In the meanwhile, ya'll just go to town discussing this little non-controversial post]

P.S. Yes I do know many Calvinists who are very gracious and humble, and for this I am truly thankful. Many of my teachers at Gordon-Conwell low these many years ago, come to mind, especially J. Christy Wilson and Richard Lovelace-- true saints.


2008 Blog Awards for This Blog!

BW3 and Payne Stewart at Pinehurst No. 2.

I am very pleased to announce that the Blogsperts that be have announced that this blog has been named one of the top five blogs having to do with the Bible and Religion, and this is based not merely on traffic, but apparently on content. I am sure that it is not based on catchy design as I have preferred to keep that very basic and simple.

As we look toward Thanksgiving, I wanted to thank all the yea sayers and nay sayers who have made this blog a lively and healthy place for us all to discuss important matters related to the Bible and Christianity.

A blessing on all your houses--

May your turkey be plump, may your cranberry sauce be from real New England cranberry bogs, may your stuffing leave you stuffed, may your pun'kin pie be tasty, and may a good time be had by all.

I leave you with a now famous prayer my father once offered at my uncle's house in Statesville N.C. when he was asked on the spur of the moment to pray, and got a little flustered.

"Dear Lord, at this thanksgiving meal we ask that you pardon this food and bless our sins in Jesus name. Amen" (P.S. My aunt who had slaved for days over the turkey and food never let him live that one down).


NT Wright on the Colbert Report

And here is another URL link for a fuller discussion by Wright about what he was discussing on the Colbert Report

In light of recent discussion about the faith of Stephen Colbert I offer this interview with my friend Bishop Tom Wright from earlier in this year. See what you think.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mr. Soul 1967 Style

One of the original super groups was Buffalo Springfield--- Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Richie Furay amongst others. Check this out.


A statue of Seneca assuming the task of a rhetorician.


The following is the text (but not the notes) of my Society of Biblical Literature lecture to be given next Sunday in Boston.

Dr. Ben Witherington, III
Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies
Asbury Theological Seminary

Long ago Origen warned us that God only knows who the author of Hebrews is, but this has not prevented endless speculation in the last 2,000 years. Part of asking and answering that question is asking and answering the question--why is this document anonymous? Is it because the author is neither an eyewitness nor an apostle? This hardly seems likely to be the cause since we have other documents in the NT attributed to non-eyewitnesses and non-apostles such as Luke’s two volumes, or the Revelation of the seer John of Patmos. Is it because the author is a woman? This is possible but elsewhere women who played important ministry roles are named in Christian circles without any reservation. It is of course possible that the author is so well known to the audience that there was no need for such an identification here. I would suggest however, that while that may be true, there is another primary reason for the anonymity of this document.

This document, like 1 John is a homily , in fact D.J. Harrington has called it “arguably the greatest Christian sermon ever written down” It does not partake of the qualities of a letter except at the very end of the document (Heb. 13.22-25), and these epistolary features are added because this sermon had to be sent to the audience rather than delivered orally to them by the author. In fact, H. Thyen, after studying all the evidence for early Jewish homilies, has argued that Hebrews is the only completely preserved Jewish homily of the period, but this is overlooking 1 John, and James as well.

Sermon manuscripts, ancient or modern, do not conform to the characteristics of an ancient letter with addressor or addressee expected at the outset. Neither do other rhetorical forms of speaking, and make no mistake this document involves rhetoric of considerable skill. Hebrews then, to use an oxymoron, an oral document, and in fact a particular type of oral document—a homily in the form of a ‘word of exhortation’ as Heb. 13.22 puts it. It is not an accident that this is the very same phrase used to characterize Paul’s sermon in Acts 13.15. Hebrews is not a haphazard discourse but a piece of polished rhetoric which has been variously categorized as either epideictic or deliberative rhetoric or some combination of the two (see below). Here the point that needs to be made is that the document’s authority rests in its contents, not in its author’s claims to apostolic authority and its contents are grounded in the shared values the author and audience already embrace and affirm. To judge from the end of Heb. 13 it is assumed, but not argued for, that this author has some authority over this audience who knows very well who he is, and can anticipate a visit from him and Timothy before long. The oral and homiletical character of the document cannot be stressed enough. Here is how one professor of homiletics puts it:

Hebrews, like all good sermons, is a dialogical event in a monological format. The Preacher does not hurl information and arguments at the readers as if they were targets. Rather, Hebrews is written to create a conversation, to evoke participation, to prod the faithful memories of the readers. Beginning with the first sentence, ‘us’ and ‘we’ language abounds. Also, the Preacher employs rhetorical questions to awaken the voice of the listener (see 1.5 and 1.14 for example); raps on the pulpit a bit when the going gets sluggish (5.11); occasionally restates the main point to insure that even the inattentive and drowsy are on board (see 8.1); doesn’t bother to ‘footnote’ the sources the hearers already know quite well (see the familiar preacher’s phrase in 2.6: “Someone has said somewhere…”); and keeps making explicit verbal contact with the listeners (see 3.12 and 6.9, for example) to remind them that they are not only supposed to be listening to this sermon, they are also, by their active hearing, to be a part of creating it. As soon as we experience the rise and fall of the opening words of Hebrews, the reader becomes aware that they are not simply watching a roller coaster hurtle along the rhetorical tracks; they are in the lead car. In Hebrews, the gospel is not merely an idea submitted for intellectual consideration; it is a life-embracing demand that summons to action.

What we are able to say here is that since this homily is meant to be heard in the context of worship, we should evaluate it in that light. In worship one praises God for what he has done and is, and one draws near to Him as this letter exhorts us to do, but in worship we also hear and learn what we must go forth and do. Hebrews then is a vehicle for worship that leads to the right sort of service. The progression may be seen as follows – “since we have” (indicative)... “let us draw near” (imperative based on indicative)... “so we may hold fast “(possibility created by the first two steps). What the believer already has, provides the basis for and enables his response. The point is that now believers are better equipped to respond, since the final work of God through Christ has already come to pass. The work of God has affected what believers are, and therefore has enabled them to do what they must do. A.T. Lincoln suggests that our author believes the OT provides the following for the Christian: 1) it provides aspirations which only Christ can fulfill; 2) it offer a vision of our telos and perfection i.e. we are to have dominion over the cosmos, and already have it in Christ; 3) it offers a dream of the day when we cease from our labors and enter into God's rest; 4) it offers a desire to be free of sin's stain, and a recognition that sin against God and fellow humans is the essential human problem; 5) it offers a longing for free access into the divine presence; 6) it provides picture language--shadows and copies to prepare for the coming of Christ and God's final word; 7) in Melchizedek it provides a partial anticipation of the eternal priest and new covenant. To this we may add that it offers paraenesis, which our author sees as often just as applicable to his own audience as to the OT ones.

One more crucial thing, and it provides a clear and crucial key to the sort of rhetoric we have here. The use of inartificial proofs to reinforce and aid in the maintenance of existing values, values already embraced by the audience, was characteristic of epideictic rhetoric. If we ask how the OT quotations are consistently used, and to what end, the answer is to the end of reinforcing pre-existing patterns of praise and/or blame, already embraced patterns of belief and behavior. Epideictic rhetoric was indeed the rhetoric of sermons, just as praise was the language of worship, and in this discourse called ‘to the Hebrews’ we find an eloquent and harmonious convergence of these various factors to serve epideictic ends, as we shall see.

Detailed attention to the Greek style of Hebrews has been given by a variety of scholars, not only to demonstrate that the author has a rather different style than we find in the undisputed Paulines, but also because this author knows how to use prose rhythm effectively as well as a whole host of rhetorical devices ranging from alliteration to anaphora to assonance to asyndeton to hyperbole to rhetorical comparisons to a greater degree than any other NT writer. These points deserve to be illustrated each in turn.

We may note at this juncture that there are some 4,942 words in Hebrews and 1,038 different words, and there are some very elegant Greek periods in this work, suggesting we are dealing with a rather well educated man with a considerable vocabulary and facility with Greek and a considerable knowledge and understanding of the OT. There are some 169 hapax legomenae, words not found elsewhere in the NT, including the use of various philosophical terms that speak to the educational background and sophistication of our writer. We may also note the some 90 words which are found in only one other NT document, as well as some ten words never found in Greek literature from before the time of Hebrews. There is a general consensus that we have the finest Greek in the NT if we are talking about Greek style which even goes beyond the Pauline standard both in vocabulary and sentence building.
We should add as well that our author is deeply indebted to the vivid visual imagery one finds in earlier Jewish sapiential and prophetic literature, so he speaks of a ship missing a harbor (2.1) or a double edged sword that penetrates to the innermost parts of a human being (4.12), or an anchor gripping the sea bottom (6.19), or fields watered by rain and producing either harvestable crops or weeds (6.7-8), or best of all, the vivid use of Sinai theophany imagery at the end of Heb. 12 to bring his peroration to a conclusion. It needs to be stressed at this point, since this is a document which was meant to be heard, that no one listening to this discourse would have thought this was a letter because the few epistolary elements we have do not come until the end of the document, much too late to signal what sort of document Hebrews’ audience was meant to think it was. Lincoln puts it this way: “Actually, once it is granted that the writer knows his addressees and is prevent by absence from delivering his homily in person, the epistolary conclusion makes good sense.” It was a necessary expedient since this discourse had to be written when the author was at a distance from the audience.

Here we may point out that the making visual and vivid use of the rhetoric was especially characteristic of epideictic rhetoric so well known for its mesmerizing and grandiloquent amplification techniques. What is especially interesting is that despite the imagery often used, it is clear our author is addressing city dwellers who have to be reminded they do not have a permanent earthly city to rely on (13.14), reminded as well to practice hospitality with those who come their way, visit and identify with those in prison, avoid inappropriate social interaction of a sexual nature, not give way to greed and crass materialistic patterns of living (all in Heb. 13).

As William Lane says, these sorts of reminders at the end of the discourse bear witness to the urban setting of the audience, and, we might add, at least in some cases the social status and affluence of at least some of the audience. The poor do not need to be warned against hoarding wealth and crass materialism. The educational sophistication of at least some of the audience is also presumed in light of the complexity of the rhetoric and its far from simple usage of the OT. “They have an easy familiarity with the stories of the Bible, to which the writer can refer without elaboration (cf. 12.17, “for you know…” with reference to the story of Esau, who was deprived of Isaac’s blessing). The writer is confident that he can win a hearing for what he wished to say by employing vocabulary sanctioned by the Greek Scriptures.”

In regard to the prose style and rhythm of the work, we are indebted to the careful study of James Moffatt and shall share some of his insights at this juncture , bearing in mind that this document was intended to be read aloud, indeed probably even performed as a sermon: 1) as I have previously noted was the case with that epideictic homily Ephesians, there are numerous long carefully constructed sentences in Hebrews (1.1-4; 2.2-4; 2.14-15; 3.12-15; 4.12-13; 5.1-3; 5.7-10; 6.4-6; 6.16-20; 7.1-3; 8.4-6; 9.2-5; 9.6-10; 9.24-26; 10.11-13; 10.19-25; 11.24-26; 12.1-2; 12.18-24), yet there are also a goodly number of pithy and very effective short sentences (cf. 2.18; 4.3; 10.18), and even one example of diatribe style (3.16-18) which was appropriate in popular preaching. 2) our author is a master at plays on words involving assonance (cf. parakaleite…kaleitai in 3.13; or emathen… epathen in 5.8; or kalou te kai kakou in 5.14; or menousan.. mellousan in 13.14). 3) “From first to last he is addicted to the gentle practice of alliteration” beginning from the very first words of the discourse polumeros kai polutropos palai…tois patrasin en tois prophetais” 3) care is taken with the cadences of prose rhythm which reflects a knowledge of the rhetorical rules about iambus, anapests and the like (see Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.8.6-7); 4) like Paul (and perhaps a sign of indebtedness to Paul) our author has a fondness for compound verbs with the syn prefix; 5) he is equally fond of rhetorical questions, and indeed other sorts of questions as well, even double and triple dramatic questions in a row (cf. 2.3-4; 7.11; 9.13-14; 10.29; 11.32; 12.9 for single questions; 1.5; 1.13-14; 12.5-7 for double questions, and for the triple question 3.16-18). 6) our author is given to using explanatory asides, sometimes weighty ones (cf. 2.16; 3.7-11; 5.13-14; 7.12,19; 8.5; 10.4; 11.13-16; 11.38; 13.14) and often these are used to explain an OT phrase according to our author’s hermeneutic (4.10; 6.13; 7.2,7; 10.8); On the other hand the author carefully avoids hiatus (i.e. the ending of one word with a vowel which begins the next word); and unlike Paul he also avoid anacoluthon--breaks in grammatical sequence. We find anaphora (a series of lines beginning with the same word) in Heb 11 in fact 18 sentences in a row begin with the word pistei by faith. 7) the author also seems to reflect not only a knowledge of koine but also of classical Greek, for only in this document do we find such classical phrases as Ei men in 6.14; or the use of pou in 2.6,4.4, or the use of pros ton Theon in 2.17. Notice that we also have oratorical imperatives like “take heed” 3.12; “consider” 3.1,7.4; “call to remembrance” 10.32 which reflect the oral character and rhetorical orientation of the author. 8) The author also reflects a knowledge of both Jewish Wisdom literature and philosophical Hellenistic writings (on the latter compare his use of the term “will” in a manner like the Stoics, or “the final goal” in fashion like Epictetus). Occasionally our author uses words and phrases in a way similar to Philo (such as moral faculty, Demiurge, moderate ones feelings towards, bring to perfection, nemesis, model). Thus, one can say our author not only has a considerable vocabulary, he also seems to have read rather widely (which is certainly possible if he lived for a time near the greatest library in the then known world in Alexandria). Moffatt concludes that he knew not only the LXX but Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, the various Maccabees books, and perhaps even Philo. Moffatt ends by noting that our author has the style of a trained orator, “he has an art of words, which is more than an unconscious sense of rhythm”, and he operates as a preacher whose first duty is to be faithful but his second duty is to be eloquent. D. Aune is even more emphatic: “The author obviously enjoyed the benefits of a Hellenistic rhetorical education through the tertiary level”. This provides a natural segue to our discussion of the rhetoric of Hebrews.


We are now well served in regard to the rhetorical discussion of Hebrews and the consensus of opinion is not only that this document reflects macro-rhetoric (the various divisions of a rhetorical speech) as well as micro-rhetoric but that its species is either deliberative or epideictic or some combination of the two. In other words, there is agreement that it is definitely not judicial or forensic rhetoric , and also that the recognition of individual rhetorical devices, which certainly are plentiful in Hebrews, does not take the full measure of the way our author uses rhetoric.

There are rather clear clues in the document itself as to what sort of rhetoric it is. Bearing in mind that paraenesis or exhortation could be found in both deliberative and epideictic rhetoric, we must consider what the author is trying to accomplish by this rhetorical masterpiece. Consider the following statements in the discourse: 1) 2.1—“we must pay more careful attention therefore to what we have [already] heard, so that we do not drift away”; 2) 3.1—“therefore holy brothers and sisters who share in the heavenly calling fix your thoughts on Jesus”; 3) 3.12--- “see to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you…turns away from the living and true God”; 4) 4.1--- “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it” ; 5) 4.14 ‘therefore… let us hold firmly to the faith we profess…” 6) 6.1, 11 “therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity… we want each of you to show this same diligence to the end…we do not want you to become lazy but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised ” 7) 10.22-23, 35 “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart…. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…. Do not throw away your confidence…” 8) 10.39—“we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed” 9) 12.1—“let us throw off everything that hinders.. and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” 10) 12.14-15-- “let us make every effort to live in peace…see to it that no one misses the grace of God”; 11) 13.1-- “keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters”; 12) the discourse as a whole is called a word of exhortation in a brief (!) letter – 13.22. As G. H. Guthrie has rightly pointed out, the alternating back and forth between exposition and exhortation with the latter being the punch line, makes evidence that this discourse exists for the sake of the exhortation which directly addresses the issue of concern. Thus one must stress that “the expositional material serves the hortatory purpose of the whole work.”

If we look at all of this carefully it seems very clear that this discourse is not about urging a change in direction, or a new policy, nor is the author correcting obvious new problems in belief or behavior. Further, the author is not trying to produce concord or reconciliation in the audience, he is rather trying to shore up their faith in the face of pressure, suffering, and the temptation to defect. He is trying to confirm the audience in a faith and practice they already have, urging them to stand firm against the dangers of apostasy and wandering away, and stay the course with perseverance continuing to run in the direction they are already going, and have been going since they first believed, thus going on to perfection and exhibiting their faith and perseverance. This sort of act of persuasion is surely epideictic in character, appealing to the values and virtues the audience has already embraced in the past.

The focus of the rhetoric in this document is furthermore, clearly in the present. Our author focuses on what Christ is now doing as the heavenly high priest, what the audience is and ought to continue to be doing in the present, and there is the appeal to continue to imitate the forbears in the faith and Christ himself. The appeal to imitation can be found in either deliberative or epideictic rhetoric, in the latter case it is an appeal to continue to imitate the models they already know of and have looked to. When we couple all this with the doxological beginning of the discourse in Heb. 1, and the worship climax in 12.18-27, it seems clear that this discourse maintains an epideictic flavor throughout. Most rhetorically adept homilies in any case fell into the category of epideictic rhetoric.
Also comporting with this conclusion is that we do not have formal arguments in this discourse, but rather one long act of persuasion that involves comparisons, enthymemes, repetition, amplification, use of catchwords, and a toggling between exposition of texts (that provide the inartificial proofs or witnesses to the truths the audience is being reminded of) and application or paraenesis. Furthermore, after the exordium in 1.1-4 it was not necessary to have a ‘narratio’ or ‘propositio’ since in effect there is only one long argument or act of persuasion in various parts throughout the discourse. The encomium of faith in Heb. 11 does not stand out from its context as if it were some sort of digression or different type of rhetoric, or a rhetorical anomaly in the midst of a non-rhetorical document. Also comporting with the conclusion that this is epideictic rhetoric is the enormous amount of honor and shame language used in this discourse to make sure that the audience will continue to be faithful in their beliefs and behavior and life trajectory, not slipping back into pre-Christian forms of religion, in this case non-Christian Jewish ones.

Most ancient commentators who were rhetorically attuned saw Hebrews as epideictic in character, and of modern commentators, Lane, Attridge, and Olbricht have all opted for seeing Hebrews as basically epideictic in character, with Olbricht concluding it most resembles a funeral encomium. Koester and L. Thuren see the document as a mixture of deliberative and epideictic rhetoric as do Luke Timothy Johnson and A. T. Lincoln, while W.G. Ubelacker urges that we have deliberative rhetoric here, a conclusion Lindars also reached. Lindars provides no justification for this conclusion at all, and Ubelacker’s analysis suffers, as Thuren has pointed out, from the fact that he tries to find a ‘narratio’ and a ‘propositio’ where there is not one. Heb. 1.5-2.18 is no ‘narratio’ (a narration of relevant past facts) any more than it is an ‘exordium’—the latter is limited to 1.1-4. In the case of Johnson and Lincoln, they are certainly right that the expositions lead to the exhortations and serve the latter, but exhortations are as common a feature of epideictic as deliberative rhetoric. It is the nature or character of the exhortation that decides the issue here, and a careful analysis of all the paraenesis in this documents shows that it is aiming to help the audience maintain beliefs and behaviors they have already embraced. In other words, the exhortations are epideictic in character, as are the expositions.

We also have no ‘propositio’ in this discourse which should have been a dead giveaway that we are dealing with epideictic rhetoric, the effusive, emotive, and often hyperbolic rhetoric of praise and blame The author is not trying to prove a thesis but rather praise some important things—Christ and faith for instance. To the contrary, at Heb. 1.5 we dive right into the first part of the discourse itself which entails an exposition of Scripture involving a negation that God ever spoke of or to the angels in the way he spoke of Christ. This is followed by the exhortation in 2.1-4 that builds upon it. While Thuren is right that 1.5ff. amplifies the exordium, it certainly ought not to be seen as simply part of the exordium.

After seeing 1.1-2.4 as the exordium, Koester suggests that 2.5-9 is the ‘propositio’ of the whole discourse , but this simply does not work. Heb. 2.5-9 is not a thesis statement that is then demonstrated in all the subsequent arguments. Far too much of what follows is not about Christ’s superior position, condition, and nature, especially from Heb. 11.1 on to the close of the discourse, but we could also point to much of Heb. 4 and 6 as well. The issue is both Christology and paraenesis or the imitation of Christ and Christ-likeness as the author does not want the audience to commit either intellectual or moral apostasy. It comes down ultimately to whether they will continue to admire, emulate and worship Jesus

Koester is however right that the peroration begins in Heb. 12, though not at 12.28. It is best to see that in terms of macro-rhetoric we have a simple structure here:
1) exordium--- 1.1-4. Notice how the beginning of the discourse is linked to this exordium through using hook words, preparing for the comparison with angels who are introduced in 1.4.
2) the epideictic discourse composed of one long unfolding act of persuasion or sermon in many parts--- 1.5-12.17. This part can of course be profitably divided up into some subsections. For example. Morna Hooker suggests a chiastic structure as follows:
3.1-4.13 Imagery of Pilgrimage, Including first warning
4.14-5.10 Introduction of idea of Jesus as High Priest
5.11-6.12 First severe warning
6.13.-10.18 Jesus our High Priest
10.19-32 Second severe warning
10.32.-11.40 The Importance of Faith
12.1-29 Imagery of Pilgrimage, Including final warning. On this showing the theme of Christ as the heavenly high priest is central to the whole discourse. This makes excellent sense, and one could even talk about the imagery of placing visually Christ in the inner sanctum of the heavenly sanctuary just as he is placed at the center of the discourse verbally.

3) ‘peroration’ with concluding benediction—12.18-29--- the emotional climax of the argument comes here with the pilgrims assembled at the holy mountain and exhorted finally to worship God acceptably. This is followed, as is typical of all the expository sections, with
4) a final paraenesis in 13.1-21 which sums up some of the major exhortations of the discourse-- behave responsibly, persevere steadfastly, and pray fervently, be prepared to ‘go outside the camp’ as Jesus did. Thus interestingly the peroration is the emotional climax of the theological rhetoric whereas 13.1-21 is the emotive exhortation climaxing the ethical rhetoric. This is the same sort of thing we find in Ephesians, another example of epideictic rhetoric, where the discourse does not stop at the peroration but offers up some concluding exhortations that sum some things up.
5) Because this sermon is written down, there are some concluding epistolary elements---13.22-25 (such as the explanation of the reason for writing, personalia, concluding greetings and a concluding grace wish). We will unpack this structure much more fully in a moment.

The function of an exordium was to establish rapport with the audience and make them favorably disposed to hear what follows. One way to accomplish this is to use highly elevated and eloquent language at the outset which will immediately get the audience’s attention. We certainly have this in Heb. 1.1-4 where our author unloads a variety of rhetorical devices including a great deal of alliteration, impressive sounding phrases (‘radiance of his glory’). It was important for the style to suit the subject matter. Thus Koester is right to note that the “elevated style of Hebrews’ exordium suits the grandeur of its subject matter: the exalted Son of God.” We see the same sort of exalted style in Heb. 11.1-12.3 where the other main thing that is praised in this discourse, faith, is discoursed on at length. As Aristotle stressed, such elevated prose can impress and help gain the favor of the audience, appeal to their imaginations, and make clear that an important subject is going to be dealt with here (see Rhetoric, 3.6.1-7). It was a rhetorical must that weighty matters not be treated in an offhand matter, nor trifling things be invested with too much dignity (Rhetoric, 3.7.1-2). “When our audience finds [a speech] a pleasure to listen to, their attention and their readiness to believe what they hear are both increased” (Instit. Or. 8.3.5). In an oral culture, how something sounded had everything to do with whether it would be listened to, much less believed. It is hard to over-estimate the importance of the oral dimensions of the text in helping to persuade the audience of the content of the discourse.

As Olbricht has pointed out, in a rhetorical encomium there are standing aspects of a person’s life which will be praised—his noble birth, illustrious ancestors, education, fame, offices held and titles, wealth, his physical virtues (e.g. strength), his moral virtues, and his death. Without question many of these topics surface in the praise of Jesus in this sermon. We may also point out that the comparisons (synkrisis) we have in this discourse, for example between Jesus and the angels, or Jesus and Melchizedek, or Jesus and Moses, or the believer’s current life compared to what will be the case if they commit apostasy or go in a retrograde motion into a form of religion that will not save them follows the conventions of epideictic rhetoric in regard to such comparisons. The function of such comparisons in an epideictic discourse is to demonstrate the superiority of that one person or thing which is being praised (see Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.9.38-39; Rhet. Alex. 1441a27-28). Andrew T. Lincoln ably sums up how ‘comparison’ functions in Hebrews:
Synkrisis, [is] a rhetorical form that compares representatives of a type in order to determine the superiority of one over another. It functions as a means of praise or blame by comparison and makes the comparison in terms of family, natural endowments, education, achievements and death. In Hebrews various earlier figures or types of Christ are seen as lesser by comparison with him and family relations (Christ as divine Son) education (learning perfection through suffering) and death (the achievement of Christ’s sacrificial death) all feature in the comparison. This sort of argument structures the discourse because, as in an encomium, a discourse in praise of someone, the synkrisis is used for the purpose of moral exhortation. So in Hebrews, the comparison of angels and the Son, of Moses and Christ, of Aaron and Christ, of the levitical priesthood and Christ, of the old covenant and the new covenant, is in each case followed by paraenesis.

In this discourse it is Christ’s superiority and the superiority of faith in Christ and following his example which is being praised, and this is contrasted with falling away, defecting, avoiding shame or suffering. Christ is the model of despising shame and maintaining one’s course in life faithfully to the end, and indeed of being ‘perfected’ through death—sent directly into the realm of the perfect. While the emphasis in this discourse is mainly on that which is praiseworthy, our author does not hesitate to illustrate blameworthy behavior, for example the unfaith and apostasy of the wilderness wandering generation is pointed out (Heb. 3.7-19). In fact rhetorical comparison can be said to be the major structuring device for the whole discourse right to its climax in the peroration at the end of Heb. 12 as our author exalts the better mediator, the better sacrifice, the better covenant, the better example of faith, and the better theophany, all by means of rhetorical synkrisis not with something that is bad, but rather only with something that is less glorious or adequate or able to save people.

One more thing can be stressed at this point. Epideictic rhetoric characteristically would use a lot of picture language, visual rhetoric so that “you seem to see what you describe and bring it vividly before the eyes of your audience” and thus “attention is drawn from the reasoning to the enthralling effect of the imagination” (Longinus, On the Sublime, 15.1,11). Epideictic rhetoric persuades as much by moving the audience with such images, and so enthralling them, catching them up in love, wonder and praise. The appeal to the emotions is prominent in such rhetoric, stirred up by the visual images.

Consider for example the beginning of the peroration in Heb. 12.22 where we have the last harangue, the final appeal to the deeper emotions of these Diaspora Jewish Christians who have been pressured and persecuted and in many cases may have never had the joy of making the pilgrimage to Mt. Zion—“But you have come to Mt. Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God… to Jesus the mediator.” These are Christians who, like the author have likely never seen or heard Jesus in person. But now before their eyes is portrayed the climax of their faith pilgrimage, the same sort of climax that Jesus reached when he died, rose and then ascended into heaven. And the discourse ends with worshipping God with reverence and awe, a clearly epideictic topic meant to create pathos. Our author knows very well what he is doing in this epideictic discourse, and he does it eloquently and brilliantly from start to finish. He has made Jesus and true faith so attractive that it would be shameful to turn back now, shameful to defect, and stirring to carry on with the beliefs and behaviors they have already embraced.

One of the consequences of recognizing and analyzing the rhetorical species of Hebrews is that it becomes impossible to see the exhortations or paraenetic portions of the discourse as mere interruptions, digressions, after thoughts, appendages while the Christological discussion is seen as of the essence of the discourse. To the contrary, the author chooses his OT texts carefully, gives his exposition, then offers his exhortations based on the exposition as all part of an attempt to deal with the rhetorical exigence, namely the need to stand firm and not to fall back or backslide, the need to continue on the pilgrimage already begun towards perfection, the need to continue to believe and behave in ways that comport with such commitments.

But is there some rhetorical logic to the alternations between exposition and exhortation in this homily? The answer is yes, and has been rightly discerned by T.W. Seid. What he points out is that the expositions are part of a larger effort to draw comparisons principally between Christ and others. Thus, he sees the structure here as follows: comparison of Son and angels (1.1-14) and parenesis (2.1-18), comparison of Moses and Christ (3.1-6) and parenesis (3.7-4.16), comparison of Aaron and Christ (5.1-10) and parenesis (5.11-6.20), comparison of Melchizedek/Christ and the Levitical priesthood (7.1-25) and parenesis (7.26-8.3), comparison of the first covenant and new covenant (8.4-10.18) and parenesis (10.19-12.29), and epistolary appendix (13.1-25). This synkrisis/paraenesis alternation encourages the audience to progress in moral conduct by remaining faithful to the greater revelation in Jesus Christ and emulating the models of its scripture, as well as warns the audience of the greater judgment to befall those unfaithful to the greater revelation.

What is praised and what is blamed in this discourse is not part of some abstruse exercise in exegesis for its own sake. It is part of a pastoral effort to deal with the struggles the Jewish Christians are having in Rome to remain true and faithful to the things they have already committed themselves to embrace. To this end, our author’s rhetorical strategy in picking the texts that he does is not because of his intellectual curiosity about messianism or a Christological reading of the OT. Rather Pss. 8, 95,110 (and perhaps 40), Jer. 31, Hab. 2 and Prov. 3 are texts which are picked and dealt with because they help make the case that the inadequacy or ineffectiveness or ‘partial and piecemeal’ character of previous revelation and covenants is self-attested in the OT. But that is only the negative side of the persuasion going on in this rhetorical masterpiece with carefully selected inartificial proofs from the OT. Other texts are brought in as well to support the positive side of the argument, which is that the good things said in the OT to be yet to come are now realized only in Christ, and faithfulness is required if these eschatological promises are to be also realized in the lives of those who follow Christ. Thus it can be said that in Hebrews, “theology is the handmaiden of paraenesis in this ‘word of exhortation’, as the author himself describes it”. With these comments in mind it will be helpful to give a more expanded outline of the argument of this discourse showing the relationship of the elements in the discourse.

EXORDIUM--- 1.1-4 Partial revelation in the past, full revelation in the Son

PROBATIO- PART ONE (1.5-14) CHRIST’S SUPERIORITY catena (1.5-13) 2.1-4
PART TWO (2.5-18) ‘YOU CROWNED HIM’ Ps. 8 (2.6-8)
PART THREE (3.1-4.13) ‘TODAY’ Ps. 95 (3.7-11) 3.12-4.13
PART FOUR (4.14-7.28) ‘PRIEST FOREVER’ Ps. 110 (5.6) 4.14-
16; 5.11- 6.12
PART FIVE (8.1-10.31) ‘NEW COVENANT’ Jer. 31 (8.8-12) 10.19-29
PART SIX (10.32-12.3) ‘BY FAITH’ Hab. 2(10.37-38) 10.32-36;
PART SEVEN (12.3-17) ‘DON’T LOSE HEART’ Prov. 3 (12.5-6) 12.3-16

PERORATIO-- 12.18-29 PILGRIM’S END Theophany at Sinai texts (Ex. 19; Deut. 4,9, 31; Hag. 2.6)

Several concluding remarks are in order. It is clear enough that all of these sections with the exception of Part Two have paraenesis, in some cases the OT citation has preceding and following paraenesis in order to turn the exposition into exhortation or application. The paraenesis is not relegated to the end of the discourse but is rather sprinkled liberally throughout the discourse. It takes up a good deal of the verbage of the discourse and could hardly be called a series of appendages. The problem all along has been that many scholars find the expositions more interesting and challenging than the exhortations, and therefore have tended to feature or privilege them in the ways they have thought about this discourse.

Secondly, the focus is clearly on the here and now, and what is already true hence the emphasis on ‘today’, on the new covenant which is already extant and in force, on not losing heart but rather continuing to have faith and be faithful, persevering in the present, and on what Christ has accomplished and is even now doing in heaven on behalf of the believer. The focus is on the here and now both theologically and ethically which is appropriate in epideictic discourse.

Thirdly, our author almost exclusively sticks to texts from the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the latter prophets. There is nothing really from the historical books, which is all the more striking since he is making a salvation historical kind of argument, and since in Heb. 11 he recounts some of the adventures and misadventures of the period chronicled in 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles.

Fourthly, one part of this discourse leads naturally to the next as an unfolding message develops involving both theology and ethics. Particularly striking is how the final section of the argument leads so smoothly into the peroration with the imagery of running a race to a final destination introduced in 12.1-3, and then the pilgrim arrives at the goal as described in the peroration beginning at 12.18. There is overlap, repetition, amplification, reinforcement in the argument but this is precisely what one would expect in an epideictic discourse, as I have shown in detail elsewhere with the case of 1 John. One of the interesting differences between these two sermons is that 1 John is topically driven, but not textually driven, and so is less of an expository sermon in that sense, whereas Hebrews is certainly textually oriented and is far more expository in character. We begin to see the remarkable range of the Christian rhetoric of praise and blame in 1 John and Hebrews, and in both cases the sermons are directed in the main, if not almost exclusively, to Jewish Christians in two different major cities in the Empire (Ephesos and Rome) which were seedbeds for the early Christian movement.

We need to keep steadily in view that the function of praise and blame of any topic was to motivate the audience to continue to remember and embrace their core values (involving both ideology and praxis) and avoid slipping into blameworthy beliefs and behaviors (see Aristotle,Rhetoric, 1.9.36; Quintilian, Inst. Or. 3.7.28; Rhet. Ad Herrn. 3. 8, para. 15). In other words, even when using complex concepts and ideas the ultimate aim of the rhetoric is practical and ethical in character. We should not be beguiled by the eloquence of the rhetoric of Hebrews into drawing false conclusions about its ends and aims and real focus, rather, we must be guided by that rhetoric if we are to make sense of this endlessly interesting ‘brief exhortation’ that has stirred up the juices of the best minds in Christendom for low these many years. Let us hear with two good rhetorically attuned ears what the Preacher says to his Jewish Christian audience.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Colbert Goes to War Against XMAS



A stone
Stands alone
In stele silence.

Solid but cold
Hard but old
Yet not aging
Rocks of ages

The stuff of idols


From you
The Pieta
From you

Petrified by
Stone Mountain or
Mt. Rushmore

From you
From you
Lava rocks


Head stoned
(Goliath of Gath)
Neck stoned
Stones of
Kidney and Gall

Stone cold

Rolling stones
May gathering no moss
But they sure do

Who rolled away the stone
On chilly Easter morn
Not Pierre, Petros, Peter
With faith not yet reborn?

A house built on rock
A house built on sand
With Christ the living stone
The foundation will stand

* To be read with increasing downhill momentum and crescendo

Nov. 17, 2008


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Positive Reviews of the Living Legacy Pour In.....

The Reviews of my most personal and intimate work are pouring in and here are some of the first ones. For those interested in exploring the work more here is the link--


"I have known Ben Witherington as a superb scholar, teacher, and proclaimer of God's Word. This book introduces us to Ben the poet. He and Julie Noelle Hare have brought together a collection of poems, reflections, and readings from Holy Scripture—a wonderful treasury of the spiritual life."
—Timothy George
Beeson Divinity School

"The Living Legacy is a must read for anyone who seeks to understand and be transformed by written reflections on the holy mysteries of the Christian Year and beyond. Ben Witherington knits the sacred and secular together in one unique volume through poetry, theological reflections, meditations, and personal musings. Ben has given the reader a holistic way in which to better understand their relationship to the Kingdom of God and affirm their higher calling as a disciple of Jesus Christ."

—The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Episcopal Bishop, Diocese of Washington D.C

This is a book of spiritual value for our times, and it has an honored pedigree. As well as having a line by George Herbert for subtitle, The Living Legacy has a warm devotional tone and a tripartite structure that are reminiscent of John Donne's famous Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Ben Witherington's poems correspond to the metaphorically-inventive "Meditation" sections in each of Donne's Devotions, Ben's "Theological Musings"on the relevant scriptures to Donne's "Expostulations", and Julie Hare's "lectio divina" to Donne's "Prayers."But each of the modern sections is readily accessible and the whole work is reader-friendly for 21st-century audiences. -- Christopher M. Armitage

Bowman & Gordon Gray Professor of English and Adjunct Professor of Peace, War and Defense

Greenlaw Hall CB 3520 University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3520

"For those who know Ben Witherington from his voluminous scholarly writings, this book will provide a wonderful introduction to the poetic spirit of the man. And not only to his poetic spirit, but also to his deep understanding of the essence of the Christian life and his gifted ability to convey this in fresh, compelling ways. His poetry is evocative, challenging, and persuasive-calling the readers not only to enter into a new perception of the Christian life but to engage that life for themselves. His prose 'digressions' on the poems flesh out the focus of the poem in a more left-brained mode for those for whom the right-brained dynamic of poetry is difficult. Julie Robertson's supplementary materials from the spiritual masters of the Christian tradition help to locate Witherington's musings within the solid core of classical Christian spirituality. Finally, the organization of the book with the stages of the liturgical year provides a new and refreshing means for moving through the Christian calendar from Advent to the Sunday of Christ the King."

—Dr. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.
Professor of NT and Spiritual Formation
Asbury Theological Seminary

Saturday, November 15, 2008

S.C. Priest bans Obama Supporters from taking the Eucharist, and Pope Prohibits Kentucky Priest from supporting Women's Ordination!

Well, I've heard it all now. A priest in South Carolina, one Jay Scott Newman (no relation, I suppose, to John Henry Newman) has decided that parishioners who voted for Barack Obama are not entitled to the grace of Jesus Christ through communion until they've done penance. In a pastoral letter to his Greenville S.C. flock he wrote:

"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law,"

Here is the link to the full story which my son sent me from D.C.:

David Waters, who wrote the story commented as follows:

"Perhaps I'm not the best person to question any clergy person's right to deny the body and blood and grace of Christ to any Christian. I'm a Methodist and we'll serve communion to just about anyone with a pulse.

But really?

Newman is denying communion not to those who have conducted or received an abortion, and not to those who enact laws that allow for abortion, but to those who cast a vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. In effect, he's saying that thinking is now mortal sin. He's saying that having an opinion is a mortal sin. He's saying that freedom of speech and thought is a mortal sin."

Meanwhile on another front, excommunication has been threatened for a priest right here in Kentucky who merely attended the priestly ordination of a Catholic woman:

Here is Father Ray Bourgeois' letter of response to the Vatican:


I was very saddened by your letter dated October 21, 2008, giving me 30 days to recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or I will be excommunicated.

I have been a Catholic priest for 36 years and have a deep love for my Church and ministry.

When I was a young man in the military, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972.

Over the years I have met a number of women in our Church who, like me, feel called by God to the priesthood. You, our Church leaders at the Vatican, tell us that women cannot be ordained.

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church's teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny. A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, "Our call is valid, but yours is not." Who are we to tamper with God's call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.

Hundreds of Catholic churches in the U.S. are closing because of a shortage of priests. Yet there are hundreds of committed and prophetic women telling us that God is calling them to serve our Church as priests.

If we are to have a vibrant, healthy Church rooted in the teachings of our Savior, we need the faith, wisdom, experience, compassion and courage of women in the priesthood.

Conscience is very sacred. Conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing. Conscience is what compelled Franz Jagerstatter, a humble Austrian farmer, husband and father of four young children, to refuse to join Hitler's army, which led to his execution. Conscience is what compelled Rosa Parks to say she could no longer sit in the back of the bus. Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood. Conscience is what compelled my dear mother and father, now 95, to always strive to do the right things as faithful Catholics raising four children. And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.

Working and struggling for peace and justice are an integral part of our faith. For this reason, I speak out against the war in Iraq. And for the last eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the atrocities and suffering caused by the School of the Americas (SOA). Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my Church. I ended the interview by saying, "There will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained." I remain committed to this belief today.

Having an all male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not.

According to USA TODAY (Feb. 28, 2008) in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children. Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to serve God's people, and the priests and bishops who support them, are excommunicated.

Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated because of his defense of the oppressed. He said, "Let those who have a voice, speak out for the voiceless."

Our loving God has given us a voice. Let us speak clearly and boldly and walk in solidarity as Jesus would, with the women in our Church who are being called by God to the priesthood.

In Peace and Justice,
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M."

So all you bloggers out there in the blogosphere I ask you---is Father Newman right? Is Father Bourgeois right? Can they both be right? Are they both wrong? Let me know what you think? Whatever you think, there's never a dull moment in the Roman Catholic Church!


Friday, November 14, 2008


Vengeance, revenge, wrath. It is often the human response to being deeply wounded, or having someone you love be deeply wounded or even killed. And while it is perfectly normal as a fallen human response to injustice and wickedness, this in itself does not make it a good or godly response. Can one really get a quantum of solace from inflicting a quotient of pain?

This is the question posed to us in the latest Bond thriller, and it is indeed a telling question, and towards the end of the movie one gets a hint of an answer when the female lead played by the Ukrainian star Olga Kurylenko asks Bond, after she has killed the man who murdered the rest of her family-- "What do I do now?" If you have lived for revenge and made it your mission in life, what comes next, once it is mission accomplished?

The movie suggests that there is something profoundly unsatisfying about revenge, rather than it being sweet, or at least, if there is a sense of release, there is also a sense of emptiness, a hollowness about the victory--- precisely because you have become what you despised, a person who ruthlessly kills another person.

To be sure, a James Bond action film is not usually intended to be a morality play, although one has to say that this one comes closer than most such movies. Especially telling is the scene in the middle of the film in which a performance of the opera Tosca is going on, and is the setting used as a venue to plot and plan what I can only call eco-terrorism, the hoarding of water in a dry and weary land.

Why is Tosca an apt play within the morality play that is this movie--- consider the following summary of some of the plot of Puccini's masterpiece---

"Sciarrone enters to announce that earlier reports were mistaken, Bonaparte has defeated the royalist forces at the Battle of Marengo. Mario Cavaradossi [the hero], exulting (Vittoria!), is taken away to prison. Tosca [the hero's girl] attempts to follow him, but is held back by Scarpia. She asks what the price is to free Mario. Scarpia avows his passion for her and lasciviously demands her body, her virtue, and herself, as the price. Tosca attempts to flee but is restrained by Scarpia as he attempts to rape her. During the struggle drums are heard – Scarpia indicates that they are the drums beating Cavaradossi to the scaffold. Tosca finally collapses and asks the Lord the reason for all this cruelty against her (Tosca: Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore – “I lived on art, I lived on love”; Scarpia: Sei troppo bella, Tosca, e troppo amante – “You're too beautiful, Tosca, and too loving”). Feeling as if she has no alternative, Tosca finally agrees to yield. Scarpia orders Spoletta to organize for a mock execution of Cavaradossi, while Tosca demands a safe-conduct for herself and the painter to leave the country. While she is waiting for Scarpia to write it, she notices a knife on the table, and makes the decision to kill Scarpia rather than allow him to rape her. As he advances to embrace her, she plunges the knife into him. (Questo รจ il bacio di Tosca–"This is Tosca's kiss"). Having piously composed the body for burial, she departs to the sound of drums in the distance (E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma – "And before him trembled all of Rome")."

Here is a tragic tale providing a true example of how death and revenge triumph over love, again and again.

And this is Bond's dilemma in the latest installment of the Bond films (number 22 if anyone is counting, in almost 40 years worth of filming). He truly loved Vespa, the girl he fell for in Casino Royale, and though he swears he is only doing his duty, in fact in the end he admits that a large quotient of his actions are part of an attempt to get revenge for Vespa's death, and most especially to kill the man who destroyed her.

I must say that while I found this film less 'fun' and enjoyable than Casino Royale, I did find it a riveting film, and not because of the usual grip the edge of your seat chase sequences, though they are not lacking in this movie. While it is sometimes said that revenge is a dish best served cold, this movie serves it up piping hot, and it leaves your breathless in the end. I quite disagree with A.O. Scott, the NY Times movie critic's review this morning (see This film is not a hodge podge at all. It is one that will bear repeat watchings, not least because of the subtle and crucial dialogue in spots.

Daniel Craig has injected back into the Bond business a new energy, life, vibrancy, and yes a brooding ominous presence. He is also clearly the most athletic of the Bonds, and appears believable in scenes that Pierce Brosnan and others were not believable. To be sure, one still has to suspend one's disbelief when one watches one harrowing escape after another ('he takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'), but this is less of a problem with Craig than with previous Bonds.

Brown is the operative dominant color of this particular film-- brown as in desert, brown as in too much sun, brown as in the color of a dead corpse, brown as in burnt-- emotionally, brown as in growing old (see Judi Dench as M). Brown is the color of parched Bolivia, and the buildings in Haiti, and even Sienna as well which are some of the major venues for this film. You should not go to this film expecting a travelogue of the beautiful places, nor for its humor, although there are one or two wry moments in the film.

While most American movies these days operate on the 'youth must be served' mantra, this film does not. It is not teenagers but rather older persons-- those in their 40s thru 80s who rule the world. More specifically the film suggests older men rule the world, but then this is Ian Fleming's original vision, and the movie is true to that. In this regard the movie's gestalt is somewhat dated or outdated. Even the strong women in the end give way to an attract for or trust in Bond in this film.

This movie is rated PG-13 mainly because of the violence and sexual innuendo (no explicit sex scenes) and it moves along very rapidly for its somewhat less than two hour length.

There is no lard in this movie. There is also no Lord in this movie. It is only the machinations of men that parade across the screen in a world of sorrow and sin where humans control all the action. And yet there is an irony-- if there is no God, why then is there such a passion for justice deep in the heart of human beings when everything in the world is compromised by sin? Why try for human revenge if at most it gives you a moment of release, a small quotient of satisfaction, a quantum of solace? Instead of looking for a quantum of solace someone should have read Qoheleth:

"Everything under the sun is meaningless, like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be righted. What is missing cannot be recovered." Eccles. 1.14-15. That's the way life is-- without that ultimate action hero who once cheated death. You know who I mean, but his identity will be concealed here, until you have eyes to see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who Was the Hurdy Gurdy Man???

Extra brownie points in heaven, if you can name Donovan's back up band for this classic song from the 60s, especially who is that guitarist????


"This is my Body, Stolen by You"--The Communion Wafer Bandit

O.K. what do you get when you combine the fact that lots of weird things happen in Florida, and lots of weird things happen in church? Well, how about lots of weird things happen in church in Florida, take for example the communion bandit of Jensen Beach Florida.

Here is the story line link so you can verify and assess this weirdness

So what happened was a 33 year old man, in a Catholic church decided to make away with a bunch of hosts. No, not that kind of hosts, he wasn't kidnapping little old ladies. He was nabbed and pinned to the floor until the police could come by an 82 year old and a 61 year old man. Nothing makes a faithful old Catholic madder than someone trying to steal the body of Christ!!! Suddenly these two men didn't need their Geritol that morning--- the adrenaline rush was quite enough. The most amazing thing is that this 33 year old man thought he could get away with this caper DURING A WORSHIP SERVICE! What was he thinking?

Was he thinking-- "Well the hosts are tiny, no one will miss them?"
Was he thinking---"They've got so many of them, they can spare some?"
Was he thinking---"No one will mind, they taste like cardboard anyway?"
Was he thinking-- "The priest is nearsighted, he won't notice how many I grabbed?"

Anyway, he's being held in the Martin County jail on the charge of disrupting a religious assembly, among other things. This gave me an idea. I didn't know you could be thrown in the pokey for that. Hmmm, you know this could be a way of getting rid of disruptive church members. You know the one's I mean. This law could be applied rather easily in a Pentecostal Church where people are constantly standing up and exercising their charismatic gifts even when the pastor says "let everyone be silent and I will pray." I wish I had known about this law a long time ago.

I remember one Sunday whilst working in Hamilton UMC in Massachusetts a phone call came in. It was the Catholic priest from the neighboring church. There seems to have been a wedding there on the day before and someone left a whole host of hosts just sitting on the altar after a wedding of a Catholic and Methodist couple. He wanted to know if they had been consecrated or not. I did not know, since no one at my church had participated in the service. I could hear an audible groan at the other end of the phone line, and then the priest said "so I have to eat all these Eucharistic wafers before the next service. Arrgh. I need some wine to wash them down." And he hung up.

My advice to the communion bandit is-- Next time you try a trick like that, have enough sense to go to a church which doesn't believe the wafers are actually the body and blood of Jesus. You'll never get away with stealing that sort of stuff! White little pieces of stuff that taste like cardboard and are not believed to morph into Jesus' body--- well maybe other parishioners will even encourage you to take and eat them for others!

And Dat's all I gotta say 'bout dat.

If you are actually interested in the meaning of the Lord's Supper, check out my book Making a Meal of It.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Conjugating Greek Verbs and Assessing their Aspects

I have asked one of my doctoral students, Brad Johnson to give a good concise review of a new title provided by Zondervan on the issue of some of the aspects of how verbs work in Greek, and how they differ from the way verbs work in English. The review, offered below, speaks for itself.

The thing most often mishandled in the translation of Greek into English is the proper way to deal with Greek verbs. Greek verbs tend to give us a sense of what the Germans call Aktionsart--- that is, a kind of action (complete, incomplete, in progress, finished etc.) rather than primarily giving us a sense of the timing of an action. For example, an action can be past in its inception but still ongoing now (often expressed by an imperfect tense verb). An action can begin in the present and continue on into the future (which can be expressed either in a present or an imperfect tense verb). An action can be punctiliar, completed in a moment in the past or the present or even the future (e.g. the aorist does not always refer to something in the past). And even when one is referring to a future action, one must ask, is it punctiliar or progressive, and more importantly how do the forms of the Greek verbs help us to make such distinctions? It is thus always useful to have more and better tools to help us with Greek verbs. See what you think of Brad's review.


Constantine R. Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008)

I arrived at my office one day last week to discover a "hot off the press" copy of Constantine Campbell’s Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, graciously provided to me by Dr. Ben with a request that I draft a short review of the work. As a biblical languages teaching fellow at Asbury seminary, I often have the opportunity to see such new releases. This one in particular struck my attention because of its treatment of verbal aspect: an ongoing conundrum for Greek grammarians. With great enthusiasm I quickly began skimming through its pages at the expense of pressing matters already piling up on my desk. The concept of verbal aspect continues to be a daunting matter from an instructional standpoint, so it was with anticipation that I engaged the work.
A slim volume of 133 pages (excluding the glossary of terms, a Scripture Index, and answers to exercises), the text immediately evinces itself as a member of the larger Zondervan family of Greek resources, the flagship of which is William Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek. Zondervan has developed a veritable armada around this very standard introductory Greek grammar, and the title of Campbell’s volume -- along with its cover artwork -- clearly place it in the family portrait.
The text is broadly arranged around two primary parts: the first dealing with verbal aspect theory, and the second with verbal aspect in the New Testament text. The chapters are short (five in each larger division), the prose is conversational without being either patronizing or obtuse, and the pages are replete with copious examples and visual illustrations. The book begins with an initial overview of traditional understandings of verbal aspect, then segues into a short history of the treatment of verbal aspect, highlighting recent contributions to the field of study. From there, the text dives into a discussion of aspect in the various tenses, moods, and alternate constructions (i.e., participles and infinitives). Much of the second part of the book involves practical applications of the skills and concepts developed in the earlier part.
In assessing the book, three primary descriptors come to mind. First, the book is helpful in terms of painting in broad strokes a picture of the landscape of the issue. Campbell's treatment of the constituent elements of verbal forms and meanings in Greek is a useful introduction to the discussion. Moreover, his explanation of aspect as consisting of a variety of elements (both pragmatic and semantic in variety) offers the reader a useful guide to engaging the concept. In an effort to demystify verbal aspect, Campbell is bold in critiquing previous attempts, innovating at times his own conceptual formulations and terminologies to buttress his presentation. It is in this innovating that I come to my next descriptor
Whereas the book certainly is helpful in some regards, it also has a tendency to be confusing. Campbell's approach deviates in a significant way from that of Mounce and Daniel Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, the syntactical counterpart to Mounce’s grammatical text) in terms of understanding and treating verbal aspect. The traditional approach to verbal aspect as taken by the likes of Mounce and Wallace has been to understand it as occurring in one of three varieties: progressive, summary, and resultative (or, in more traditional terminology, imperfective, aoristic, and perfective respectively). Campbell opts instead for a dual understanding of aspect that virtually eliminates traditional understandings of summary/aoristic aspect. The break from the Mounce/Wallace model can be clearly seen by a conspicuous absence of footnotes referencing either of them. In fact, only two footnotes are attributed to either, and both of those are to Wallace. (Mounce’s description of the text as “an excellent place to start investigating this important issue" perhaps reveals an underlying hesitation to fully embrace it.)
Confusion grows as one encounters curious statements that Campbell makes consistently throughout, only a few of which will be addressed here. Consider, for example, "The present tense-form is universally regarded as being imperfective in aspect” (40). This is a fundamentally different perspective than is found in Basics of Biblical Greek, where Mounce says, “The present tense indicates either a continuous or undefined action. You can translate either ‘I am studying’ or ‘I study.’ Choose the aspect which best fits the context" (BBG, 135). To make his point concerning the imperfective nature of the present tense, Campbell cites an example from Mark 4:14-20 where not only are the verbal examples in Greek clearly to be understood aoristically, but he also translates them for the reader using aoristic aspect. Further, he repeatedly cites various forms of the verb oida to indicate how traditional renderings of perfective aspect fail to work. The confusion comes in the fact that the forms he uses as representing the perfect tense are not perfect tense forms: oida, although it bears minor resemblance to perfect tense formation, is a present tense form. In addition, many of the examples he uses of the perfect tense--errors regarding oida notwithstanding--actually disprove his premise (see his treatment on p. 48 of the verb dedwken as it occurs in John 7:22). And finally, Campbell's attempt to assign semantic value to verbs with respect to transitivity is a hazardous enterprise. On the one hand, he states that "If a lexeme is not transitive, it must be intransitive" (56). At the bottom of the same page, he then reverses himself by saying "there are certain lexemes that can be either transitive or intransitive." He then takes a more centrist and tenable position where he states, "for the sake of specific analysis in the following chapters, [some] lexemes will be described as either transitive or intransitive depending on whether or not they act upon an object in specific contexts" (58-59).
A third descriptor that characterizes his work is misleading. Although I very much appreciate Campbell's attempt to demystify the entire verbal aspect conundrum, his approach has a tendency to be mechanical and programmatic. The exercises he offers the reader indicate his propensity to seek “right” answers. In his introduction, he states that his aim is in fact "to get verbal aspect right" (16). This is indeed an ambitious position, and one that may deceive a student of the Greek New Testament into thinking that there are in reality "right answers" that can be attained simply by means of the "right methodology". One of the real disappointments of his book is his lack of consideration of matters of genre, especially as genre relates to and informs one's understanding of verbal aspect. Specifically, should one's understanding of, for example, imperfective aspect in narrative material be treated in the same standardized way as imperfective aspect in epistolary discourse?
When distilled down to its essence, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek is a less-than substantial work. White space between chapters, diagrams, New Testament examples in both Greek and English, and in-text exercises consume an enormous portion of this already very slight work. When also considering the fact that much of the second part of the book is a restatement (at times verbatim) of the material from the first part, one begins to realize that the work is little more than an introduction to the concept, and perhaps not an entirely helpful one at that. Although Campbell's performance certainly has some memorable moments, it in large measure disappoints when considered alongside the enormous contributions of its siblings; and for that reason, this is not a text I will recommend for use by my students.

Brad Johnson