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Are New Testament Manuscripts Reliable?

Are New Testament Manuscripts Reliable?

This New Testament manuscript known as P52 is a fragment of John's gospel dating between 120-150 A.D.
This New Testament manuscript known as P52 is a fragment of John’s gospel dating between 120-150 A.D.

A question frequently asked of Christians is, “How do you know you can trust the Bible?” After all, isn’t it true that the copies of the New Testament that exist are hundreds of years later than the original New Testament manuscripts? Noted New Testament scholar, Dr. Craig A. Evans, seeks to answer these, and similar, questions in the Logos Mobile Ed course, The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts. You can tell from the title that Dr. Evans certainly believes the New Testament manuscripts are reliable and he produces a lot of good evidence to prove his case in this one hour video course. Even though I had a similar course in seminary many years ago, Dr. Evans reveals some new evidence that strengthens the case for the reliability of New Testament manuscripts. I’ll share some of this interesting information in this post, so keep reading!

Outline and Contents of The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts

The course is broken down into the following 11 sections:
1. The Basics of New Testament Manuscripts
2. Finding Manuscripts in Logos
3. Examples Demonstrating the Quality of New Testament Manuscripts
4. Adding Manuscript Images to Presentations or Documents
5. Exploring Ancient Manuscripts and Resources
6. The Comparative Strength of the New Testament Manuscript Record
7. The Longevity of the Autographs
8. Researching the Works of Tertullian
9. The Number of Autographs
10. Accessing and Navigating the Textual Apparatus
11. The Preservation of the New Testament in Translations

Each section is of varying lengths (anywhere from 3-10 minutes each) and includes, not only Dr. Evans’ lectures, but also instruction on how to utilize Logos in the study of New Testament manuscripts. One advantage of Logos is that users will find that the manuscripts Dr. Evans speaks about are readily available in the Logos library, along with some photographic examples. The sections above which  provide instruction on how to use features in Logos include 2, 4, 5, 8, and 10.

Dr. Evans compares the evidence of other classical documents and demonstrates the preservation of New Testament manuscripts is far superior.
Dr. Evans compares the evidence of other classical documents and demonstrates the preservation of New Testament manuscripts is far superior.

One lecture compares the body of manuscripts available from classical sources, such as Caesar’s Gallic War or ancient histories by Livy or Tacitus with the body of manuscripts availlable for the New Testament. In the case of classic manuscripts, there are usually only a handful of a particular writing available, and these copies date hundreds of years, and at times over a thousand or more years, later than the originals. And yet the authenticity of these documents is never questioned (see photo above). By comparison, Dr. Evans notes that there are 5,800 manuscripts of the New Testament. These are not all complete copies, and many date from the Middle Ages. However, a few hundred “date back to ancient antiquity,” and about four dozen date to the year 300 A.D. or earlier (most of these are incomplete, and some are small fragments). This body of literature makes the New Testament the most well-preserved document of antiquity. For an excellent article on this topic which lists ancient classical documents, how many copies we have, and the length of time between the copies and original see Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability.

How Long Could an Original Manuscript Last?

One of the most interesting lectures to me was section 7, “The Longevity of the Autographs.” Dr. Evans notes that when he was in seminary he once asked his professor, “How long did the autographs (original copies) last?” His professor answered that it was probably about 10-20 years. Therefore, it used to be thought that there was a great distance (2 centuries or more) between the original writing of, say a gospel or letter, and the earliest copies that we possess. If copies only lasted for 10-20 years, this would mean in the space of 200 years as many as 10-20 copies would have been made, allowing greater opportunity for scribal errors to be introduced into the text.

The life of a manuscript was not 10-20 years as previously thought, but could last 150-500 years.
The life of a manuscript was not 10-20 years as previously thought, but could last 150-500 years.

The facts are actually quite different. Dr Evans notes a study in 2009 by George Houston (you can access that study here) where the remains of 53 ancient libraries were examined. These libraries ranged from a collection of 12 books to nearly 1,000. This study demonstrated that original documents were extremely well-preserved and lasted anywhere from 150-500 years! Manuscripts were written on papyrus, or animal skin (known as vellum), with durable ink. Books (or scrolls) were considered very valuable, and were thus well taken care of. The library of Qumran (known as the Dead Sea Scrolls) is an excellent example of how manuscripts were preserved. A number of the manuscripts from Qumran are anywhere from 100-300 years old. What this means for New Testament manuscripts is that the originals could easily have lasted for several centuries, overlapping some of the copies we have today.

Dr. Evans uses this chart to illustrate that the original copy of Matthew's gospel could easily have existed into the third century. See my discussion below for further information.
Dr. Evans uses this chart to illustrate that the original copy of Matthew’s gospel could easily have existed into the third century. See my discussion below for further information.

Dr. Evans uses the Gospel of Matthew as an example (see the above photo). Matthew is thought to have composed his gospel around 75 A.D. One early collection of the gospels which we possess, known as P45 (which contains about half of the 4 gospels), was composed somewhere around 210-220 A.D. If Matthew’s original lasted for 225 years (a conservative guess by Dr. Evans), this means that Matthew’s original (as well as Mark, Luke, and John) could still have been available for comparison when P45 was composed. Dr. Evans states it this way, “So the idea that there was this was wide gap, this broken link between the originals, written in the first century, and our oldest extant copies that we now possess, that you and I can go see in museums and libraries around the world—instead of a wide, 150-year gap, where who knows what changes may have taken place, we may well have had the originals lasting right on into the third century itself.” (Evans, C. A. [2014]. NT308 The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

Was There Only One Original of Each New Testament Manuscript?

Another interesting fact noted by Dr. Evans is that when an original manuscript was produced in ancient times, a copy was always made of it and checked against the original. In some cases 3 or 4 copies were produced. This means when we are speaking of the originals autographs of the New Testament, there wouldn’t simply be 27 (the number of New Testament books), but at least 54, and perhaps more! These extra copies of the original lend an even greater likelihood that the autographs survived for centuries.

Along these lines, Dr. Evans notes that there are at least two ancient references to New Testament autographs surviving for centuries. The Church Father, Tertullian, writing around 190 A.D. in a document entitled, Prescription Against the Heretics, “complains of the heretics who mutilate the text, and he says, ‘If you don’t believe me, then check out the autographs of Paul’s Letters,’ and he mentions a few letters by name, ‘which you can find in Hierapolis, in Asia Minor.’” In a writing of the early fourth century by Bishop Peter, the bishop mentions that the original of the Gospel of John can still be viewed in Ephesus. Above, I posted a photograph of a famous fragment of the Gospel of John which can be seen today in the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, England. This fragment dates to about 140 A.D., not long after John’s Gospel was penned. If Bishop Peter’s statement is accurate, the original of John’s Gospel existed at least into the early 300s A.D. This means the Gospel of John fragment (known as P52) in the library at the University of Manchester was written well within the time that the original still circulated. There is absolutely nothing like this in classical literature. As noted above, hundreds, even thousands, of years separate the originals from their copies in classical literature,  not so the New Testament.

In conclusion, this is a great course and provides some wonderful evidence for the reliability of New Testament manuscripts. Dr. Evans presentation is clear and compelling.

The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts is available at Logos/Faithlife

Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts

Teach the Text Samuel Commentary in Logos

Teach the Text Samuel Commentary in Logos

Available at Logos.com
Available at Logos.com

1&2 Samuel Commentary Teach the Text from Logos Bible Software.

I have enjoyed the 1&2 Samuel commentary in the Teach the Text series so much that I decided to request a copy from Logos Bible Software. Logos offers many additional benefits that are not possible with a hardcopy. Because I have previously reviewed the contents of this commentary, I will focus on the benefits offered by the Logos edition. If, however, you have not yet read my review of the commentary itself, I have included it as well.

The Benefits of the Logos Edition of the 1&2 Samuel Commentary in the Teach the Text Series

The first thing that Logos allows me to do is show you the beautiful layout of this commentary. In my first review I noted that the Teach the Text series is attractively presented. In the photos that follow, you will have an opportunity to see what I mean.

This sample page shows the colorful maps and photos that adorn the pages of the 1&2 Samuel commentary
This sample page shows the colorful maps and photos that adorn the pages of the 1&2 Samuel commentary

Every author of the Teach the Text series follows a five-point outline. I have detailed these in the review below, but here I offer a photo of the introductory pages showing the five-point layout.

This photo shows the 5-point layout of the commentary. I have highlighted the heading. Logos allows you to use a highlighter pen just as you might in a hardcopy.
This photo shows the 5-point layout of the commentary. I have highlighted the heading. Logos allows you to use a highlighter pen just as you might in a hardcopy. The folder to the left of the highlighting also allows you to make comments on the portion you have highlighted.

The great benefit of Logos is that it allows you to interact with the text in various ways. Logos users will be familiar with some of the advantages that I list here. First, the ability to hover your mouse over something in the text and receive immediate information is extremely helpful. For example, how many times have you seen a textual reference in parenthesis and meant to look it up but never got around to it? With Logos you can simply hover over the textual reference and see it immediately without leaving the page. The photo below not only shows this feature, (the mouse is hovered over Matt. 12:34–see the lower righthand corner), it also shows an example of the layout of Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary. The photo shows the “Theological Insights” and “Teaching the Text” sections on 1 Samuel 16 (top of columns 1&3), while also showing another interesting feature of Chisholm’s commentary–a dialogue box that focuses on special issues (this one intriguingly entitled, “Divine Deception?”).

Logos allows you to see a Scripture reference immediately simply by hovering your mouse over it.
Logos allows you to see a Scripture reference immediately simply by hovering your mouse over it.

The hovering feature is also helpful when there are abbreviations in the text that you’re not sure of. Furthermore, when an author references a certain source, if you have that source in your Logos library, you can hover your mouse over it and pull up the reference to that source. This is especially helpful if the author is referring to a Hebrew word and quotes BDB (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon) as his source, or is referring to an ancient text that you may have available in your Logos library (such as Hallo and Youngers’ The Context of Scripture, which contains translations of ancient Near Eastern texts). Since the internet has become such a great source of information, modern authors will sometimes give website addresses in the footnotes. If you’re reading a hardcopy you have to jot down the reference and then open your computer to check it out. Again, it’s probably one of those things you’d like to do, but may never get around to. In Logos, it’s just a button click away! All you need to do is click on the web address and Logos immediately takes you there!

There is a dropdown menu in Logos that provides a number of advantages including a special “reading view,” which is the view I have been using for these photos. A really nice feature I have recently discovered is the “read aloud” option (see the menu on the left and go halfway down). If you’re tired of reading, or prefer someone else to read to you, you can click on this function and Logos will read the text to you! You can also click on “show table of contents” in this panel and immediately go to any part of the book. The following photo shows the drop down panel with these and other options. I have also chosen this page from Chisholm’s Samuel commentary because it illustrates the verse by verse commentary section, it shows an example of a chart (partially blocked by the drop down panel), and it shows an example of the “Key themes” box which summarizes in a few words the important ideas of the text under consideration.

Note the drop down panel in the left column which gives the Logos reader many options.
Note the drop down panel in the left column which gives the Logos reader many options.

Besides highlighting text (mentioned above), Logos also allows you to copy text. So if you are making notes for a sermon or Bible study, or you are writing an article, all you have to do is use your cursor to highlight the text, right click, and click copy. Logos even supplies the footnote so you don’t have to remember where you got the information from. This is especially convenient if you’re writing a paper because you don’t have to go to the trouble to compose the footnote! These are just a few of the wonderful features of reading in Logos. I’m sure as time goes on, I will discover others. As I promised, below is a review of Chisholm’s Samuel commentary. If you haven’t previously read it, please continue in order to gain a fuller appreciation of this book.

General Observations on the Teach the Text Commentary Series

The “Teach the Text Commentary Series” was commissioned to help the busy pastor and to fill a void in commentaries that are both scholarly, and yet practical. The aim is to present the “big picture” of a biblical book by dividing it “into carefully selected preaching units, each covered in six pages” (p. ix). There are 5 main areas of focus within these 6 pages: 1) Big Idea; 2) Key Themes; 3) Understanding the Text (this is the longest section including such subjects as context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology); 4) Teaching the Text; and 5) Illustrating the Text (pp. xi-xii). It is important to keep this structure and the necessary restrictions in mind when evaluating each commentary in this series.

Such an approach is clearly not intended to be exhaustive. So is there room for a commentary series with this more generalized approach? I believe there is. My own classroom teaching experience has demonstrated to me the need for students to gain the “big picture” of a biblical book. It is important to be able to summarize the main themes and key ideas of a book. Oftentimes people read or study a biblical book and have no idea of how to summarize its main message(s). The “Big Idea” and “Key Themes” features of this series go a long way in aiding the reader to achieve this goal. Therefore, the structure of the Teach the Text Commentary series is not only helpful to the pastor, who may be consulting it for his weekly sermon, it is also beneficial for the beginning student.

Before making specific remarks on Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary, I would also like to add that the “Teach the Text Commentary Series” is attractively presented. Each hardback volume is printed on heavy-duty paper which is ideal for the many helpful maps, photos, and illustrations contained in each commentary.

Comments on 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Chisholm begins his 1&2 Samuel commentary with a brief 7-page introduction. He summarizes these books by noting the three main characters (Samuel, Saul, and David) and by stating, “David is the focal point of the story” (p.1). Saul acts as a foil to David, while “Samuel’s support of David becomes foundational to the narrator’s defense of David” (pp. 1-2). The high point of the book is the Lord’s covenant with David, securing his dynasty and proving faithful even in the midst of David’s sin. Chisholm divides 1&2 Samuel into 7 sections based on “its major plot movements, revolving around the theme of kingship” (p. 4). His outline is as follows: 1) Prelude to Kingship (1 Sam. 1-7); 2) Kingship inaugurated (1 Sam. 8-12); 3) Kingship Fails (1 Sam. 13-15); 4) Kingship in Limbo (1 Sam. 16-31); 5) Kingship Revived (2 Sam. 1-10); 6) Kingship Threatened and Preserved (2 Sam. 11-20); and 7) Epilogue (2 Sam. 21-24). One potential weakness is that this outline is not clearly delineated in the commentary that follows. Perhaps Chisholm’s reason for ignoring this is because he does not find “clear-cut structural markers” in the text (p. 4), but sees the divisions above as related to plot development.

Chisholm packs a lot of information and insight into each 6-page unit of commentary. The information provided on historical and cultural background, though not found in every section, is very helpful for the beginning reader and student. Topics include foreign gods such as Baal or Dagon, divination, the Amalekites, or documents of the ancient Near East that have parallels with biblical material. This information enriches the presentation, as do the color photos that frequently accompany them. At times Chisholm includes side boxes that deal with special issues such as “The Problem of Genocide” or “The Legal Background of Tamar’s Request.”

Two characteristics of Chisholm’s exegesis that I found particularly helpful include his attention to certain words, and parallels and/or contrasts between biblical characters. Chisholm does an excellent job of paying attention to words or phrases found in 1&2 Samuel and demonstrating their connection with another incident in 1&2 Samuel (or the Former Prophets, meaning Joshua-2 Kings). For example, he notes that the expression “terror filled his heart” in 1 Samuel 28:5, in reference to Saul, only occurs one other time in 1-2 Samuel. It is found in the story of Eli’s demise as his “heart trembled over the fate of the ark of God” (p. 184). This kind of verbal connection suggests the author is comparing the circumstances of Saul and Eli. Similarly, Chisholm frequently points out similarities between incidents or characters in 1&2 Samuel with other biblical characters or incidents. One example is the similarities between the actions of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-14 with Abimelech in Judges 9 (p. 252). This attention to biblical typology is extremely helpful when interpreting a narrative text (see my discussion in Family Portraits, p. 11).

Considering the constraints placed upon him by the commentary’s design (6 pages per literary unit), Chisholm’s overall treatment of the text of 1&2 Samuel is excellent. There is, however, one exception. Although 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 can legitimately be viewed as a structural unit, treating it in the 6-page format does it a great injustice. This material is too important and too theologically rich to be skimmed over so briefly. Dividing this section by episodes, or even by chapters, would have been a better approach. This imbalance is all the more noticeable when the following section (2 Sam. 5:6-25), arguably less “meaty” than 2 Samuel 2-4, is given the full 6-page treatment. (For Chisholm’s reasoning on this see my interview with him which was conducted after this review.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing a commentary of this kind is providing illustrations for the text. This is certainly a subjective task. Certain illustrations will ring true with some, while others will find them unhelpful. In an interview I conducted with Chisholm (click on link above), I discovered that this section was added by the editors, not by Chisholm himself. While I would not endorse the use of every illustration suggested in this commentary, I do believe a sufficient job has been done. The editors themselves point out that this section of the commentary is intended to provide “general ideas” and to “serve as a catalyst for effectively illustrating the text” (p. xii).

In conclusion, Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary achieves the aims of this series admirably. He is a scholar of high caliber and is a well-established expert on the entire corpus of the Former Prophets. Pastors, students, and others wanting to become grounded in the message of 1&2 Samuel will benefit greatly from this commentary. I used it for my own 1&2 Samuel class this past semester and will continue to do so in the future. I heartily recommend it to others.

Purchase Robert Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel Commentary from Logos Bible Software by clicking on this link.

(Many thanks to Logos Bible Software for supplying this review copy of Robert Chisholm Jr.’s 1&2 Samuel Commentary in the Teach the Text Commentary series in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 3: Logos Mobile Ed

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 3: Logos Mobile Ed

Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.
Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation.

“Introducing Biblical Interpretation” is a video-based course on hermenuetics (how to study and interpret the Bible) by Logos Bible Software. In my first post I looked at the layout and overall format of the Logos Mobile Ed courses, as well as giving a brief overview of the purpose and content of this particular course (You can read that review by clicking here). My second post on “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” focused on the content of the first half of this course, noting its strengths and weaknesses (You can read that review by clicking here). This post, my third and final review of this product, will focus on the content of the second half of this course.

In the last half of “Introducing Biblical Interpretation,” Dr. Michael S. Heiser focuses on three important areas: literary context; linguistic context; and application.  The discussion of literary context is by far the longest section of the course, comprising 53 videos. Dr. Heiser divides his teaching on literary context into two broad categories: 1) a discussion on genre, and the various genres that can be found in Scripture; and, 2) a discussion of literary devices or techniques used by biblical authors.

The Importance of Genre in Biblical Intepretation

Because of the length of this section, it is not possible to summarize everything it contains. I will simply note a few of the literary genres and devices that Dr. Heiser talks about and what can be learned from these insights. Heiser argues that it is impossible to know what words mean without an understanding of genre. He illustrates this by the word “descent.” “Descent” has multiple meanings and only by knowing the genre can we discern what is meant by it. For example, the meaning of “descent” differs depending on whether the genre is a genealogy, a landscape plan, or a flight manual. Heiser follows his discussion of knowing the genre by introducing the controversial topic of what it means to interpret the Bible literally. This is an important topic that he returns to later in the course. I will reserve further comment on this idea because I wish to devote a future post to exploring this subject. The discussion of what is literal versus what is figurative, or even, what do we mean by a “literal interpretation” of Scripture, is a key hermeneutical issue and I am glad to see Heiser tackle it.

Knowing the genre is important!
Knowing the genre is important!

Some of the various genres explored include, Old and New Testament Narrative, genealogies, various types of psalms, genres peculiar to prophetic literature such as the lawsuit or funeral dirge, epistles, and apocalyptic. Heiser spends a lot of time examining prophecy and apocalyptic in both the Old and New Testaments and explaining the differences between the two. This is helpful because these two genres are often confused or, at least, conflated. He differentiates between predictive prophecy and preaching using the usual categories of “forthtelling” (preaching) and “foretelling” (prediction). Heiser emphasizes that about 80% of prophecy is preaching to the contemporary situation the prophet finds himself in. He also discourages placing our own meaning on symbols used by the prophets. It is important that the ancient meaning of the symbols and what it would have meant to the writer, audience, or prophet be the determining factor. Heiser also argues that prophecy can have more than a “one to one fulfillment.” This means that, although a passage might be applied to Jesus, or the new covenant, within the New Testament, it might also have a more immediate fulfillment in the prophet’s own time. He uses Amos 9:10-12 as an example, noting its Old Testament context and its use in Acts 15:12-17 where James (the speaker) and Luke (the author) put a different spin on it. He argues for “Sensus Plenior” which means that although a passage might have a certain meaning within its original Old Testament context, it can take on a “fuller meaning.” This is because God may see something that we in our finiteness may not. Other possible uses of Old Testament passages include analogical (a situation is similar to a past event), or typological (when a person, event, or thing foreshadows something in the future). Although I am in agreement with Heiser, some theological traditions would disagree with some of his conclusions (e.g., some would argue there is only one fulfillment of a prophecy). However, he does an admirable job illustrating his conclusions from Scripture.

Biblical Interpretation: Understanding the Use of Literary Devices

This section of the course includes discussions on such devices as chiasm (mirror imaging), gematria (the use of numbers to communicate a message), hyperbole, metaphor, poetic parallelism, typology, as well as others. For those who are not familiar with these ideas, this section will prove to be very informative. For example, Heiser gives two examples of chiastic structures and explains the significance of this literary device. He shows how the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) is laid out in a mirror image, and also how the Book of Matthew can be similarly viewed. The picture below illustrates the chiastic structure of the story of the Tower of Babel. Notice how the ends of the story use similar wording, all working toward the middle of the story where “the Lord comes down” which is the turning point of the story.

Chiastic structures occur frequently in Scripture and recognizing them can aid biblical interpretation.
To purchase this course click on this link.

Most of us who have read Revelation are familiar with the use of gematria in Revelation 13 where the number 666 stands for the anti-Christ. Heiser points out another possible use of gematria in John 1:32 where the Spirit descends as a dove at Jesus’ baptism. In Greek the numerical value of the word “dove” is 801 which is the total numerical value of the Greek alphabet. It is suggested that the use of “dove” here may be a way of referring to Jesus as “the Alpha and Omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). Another, more controversial proposal by Heiser, is that gematria may explain some of the large numbers used in the Old Testament regarding populations and armies. While some maintain the numbers should be taken literally, others argue that geography, ancient sociology, and archaeology do not support some of the large numbers (e.g., 2-3 million Israelites leaving Egypt and wandering in the wilderness) used in the Old Testament. The argument does not dispute inspiration, but suggests that the numbers must have another significance other than just literal, and Heiser suggests that gematria may perhaps be one possible explanation.

The Linguistic Context and Biblical Interpretation

Understanding language, including syntax and grammar is essential to biblical interpretation.
Understanding language, including syntax and grammar is essential to biblical interpretation.

Unit 5 of “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” concerns understanding words and syntax. Heiser mentions this is where some often begin their Bible study. Using concordances or Lexicons to do word studies is important, but he maintains that a word, in and of itself, has no meaning. He argues, and rightly so in my opinion, that without knowledge of the social context (Unit 3 in this course) and the literary context (Unit 4, just discussed), it is impossible to know what a word means. Heiser states,  “If you can’t understand what a person thinks, how can you understand what they wrote?” He illustrates this by using the word “run.” By itself the word “run” has no meaning. “Context is King” as Heiser says. Is “run” a noun or verb? Actually it is both, but only context will tell you which. Furthermore, the word “run” when used as a noun has 12 different meanings, while “run” used as a verb has 50 meanings! Although this unit addresses a very important subject for Bible study, its primary value is for the Logos owner and user. I found this unit extremely helpful in teaching me things about doing word studies, or syntax studies in Logos that I never knew before. I will certainly return to the videos in this section again and again. However, if a teacher wanted to use the videos in this unit to teach a class about linguistics and they were not Logos users, then most of the instruction here would not be very helpful (but see my comments in the next paragraph below). Among the topics covered (again there are too many to mention them all) are: detecting the form of a word (in the original language); determining relationships between words; detecting the semantic range; and understanding and analyzing at the word level.

papyrus
Heiser ends unit 5 with a helpful discussion on the differences between manuscripts of the Bible.

There are, however, some videos in this section that anyone would find helpful, including those without Logos. One brief segnment contains a further discussion on the use of scholarly commentaries. Here Heiser returns to a subject explored earlier in the course (the use and value of commentaries) and demonstrates how scholarly commentaries are helpful in providing word and syntax insights.  Heiser also ends this section with a very helpful discussion about differences in ancient manuscripts. For the person who struggles with why there are so many English versions, or which one is the best, or asks, why they differ, or why some English translations have footnotes that give an alternate reading or leave out a passage entirely, these 4 videos provide a helpful foundation for answering such questions.

Application!

The final unit (#6) concerns application on both a personal level, and suggestions for those who are preparing sermons or Bible studies in order to instruct others. Regarding the individual and application, Heiser suggests we should always ask what a passage teaches us about God, his character, and how he carries out his plans and goals,  what we learn about other people (does it illuminate something in our own lives?), and how the passage helps us apply the two greatest commandments of loving God and others. Heiser continues with some practical advice for preachers. Some of his suggestions include: being real with people (open not guarded), speaking to several groups of people (families, singles, old, young, etc.), and making application that is rooted in daily life (real events as opposed to mystical or unlikely situations)

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Second Half of “Introducing Biblical Interpretation”

weakling_thumb[3]I found two minor errors in the second half of this course. The first occurs when Heiser is discussing the New Testament’s use of the Old. As noted above, he argues for “Sensus Plenior” (a passage may be shown to have a “fuller” meaning in the NT). When discussing Acts 13:34-35 he notes that this is a quote from Psalm 16:10. Throughout the rest of the discussion, however, he constantly refers to this reference as Psalm 22. The screen has the correct reference and the written copy also has the correct reference, so hopefully the listener will realize that Heiser keeps accidentally mentioning the wrong Psalm. A second error occurs when Heiser is talking about ancient biblical manuscripts. As he is informing his listeners about the oldest complete copies of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), he notes that they are from the 4th century. This is correct, but he then states that they date to around 550 A.D. which is incorrect. In fact, the 4th century refers to the 300s not the 500s, and the correct date is around 350 A.D. for these manuscripts. This mistake of 200 years is also found in the written copy. These are minor issues, but they are inaccuracies worth noting in case Logos is able to correct these mistakes in the future.

There are many strengths to the second half of the course. Perhaps the greatest is the indepth treatment of various biblical genres and literary devices. In my opinion, there is a wealth of information here that acts as a great introduction for someone beginning more serious Bible study. I am also happy to report that a majority of the Logos resources recommended under “Further reading,” were also available to me. In my review of the first half of this course (review #2 in this series), I noted that I did not have access to a lot of the recommended reading material. The reverse was true for the second half of the course, so this was a welcome change. Again, the availability of the recommended reading material will depend on what version of Logos you have. Overall this is a very fine course on biblical interpretation. Heiser knows his subject well and presents it in a clear but relaxed style. I know that I will come back again and again to some of the videos in this series and I heartily recommend it to others.

To or the Logos Mobile Ed course, “Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources,” click on this link.

For reviews on similar Logos Mobile Ed courses, see my colleague Lindsay Kennedy’s reviews at: mydigitalseminary.com

(Thanks to Logos who provided a copy of this course in exchange for an unbiased review)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 2: Logos Mobile Ed

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 2: Logos Mobile Ed

Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.
Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.

If you would like expert guidance on how to study the Bible, then you should consider the Mobile Ed course by Logos entitled, “Introducing Biblical Interpretation.” In my first post on “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” (which can be found here), I looked at the overall format of Logos’s Mobile Ed courses and provided an overview of what this course has to offer. In this review I will look more specifically at the first half of the course, detailing its strengths and weaknesses. Before proceeding, however, I would like to point out some exciting new developments with Logos. In my previous post, I noted how Logos Bible Study software has taken Bible study to a whole new level with Logos 5. No sooner were my comments “hot off the press” when Logos introduced its newest and latest version Logos 6! Logos 6 makes some gigantic leaps in Bible study and I can’t wait to procure a copy of it. For an introduction to Logos 6 click here (Now Logos 8!). Now on to the review!

In a brief introduction to the course, Michael S. Heiser announces that his task is threefold: 1) to alert the student to various obstacles interpreters face (hence why there are different interpretations of a biblical text); 2) to train the student to “see things in the text.” As Heiser states, “Bible study, Bible research is a lot more than Bible reading;” and 3) to act as a guide by showing how to analyze the text, as well as, introducing various resources that are available to help with Bible study.

Heiser begins unit 1 with 10 obstacles to interpretation. Here is his list:

Obstacle #1: Presuppositions
Obstacle #2: The Author
Obstacle #3: The Reader
Obstacle #4: The Medium
Obstacle #5: The Meaning
Obstacle #6: Translation
Obstacle #7: Precedent
Obstacle #8: Context
Obstacle #9: Relevance
Obstacle #10: Validation

In order to conserve space, I will not take the time to go through each of these. Some are obvious. For example, “presuppositions” (#1). This involves being aware of our own experience and background and being careful about reading things into the text. Translation (# 6) is another obvious obstacle. I will focus on a few less obvious obstacles (or at least attempt to explain how Heiser sees certain things as obstacles). By “The Author” (#2) Heiser means that since we don’t know who wrote some of the books of the Bible and since we can’t get into the ancient author’s head, finding the author’s meaning is not always a fruitful approach. While it is true that we don’t know who wrote some of the books of the Bible, some of the methods that Heiser introduces later in the course are a reliable way of getting at the meaning of the text. Heiser himself will encourage us to find the author’s meaning and not substitute our own (in unit 2 under biblical context, he makes a point about the perspective of the author and the audience). Therefore, I must admit to a little confusion here. Perhaps he means we should not get side-tracked by pursuing a portrait of the author, but focus on the text itself.

logo_logos_5Heiser is clearer on what he means by other obstacles. The Reader obstacle (#3), discusses an approach popular in some academic circles known as “reader response theory” which says the reader determines the meaning. In other words, “The text means what whatever I think it means.” Heiser rightly cautions the student against this view and offers a helpful critique. This particular obstacle is more likely to be encountered by the serious Bible student who is reading certain scholarly works (seminary students, pastors, etc.). While all can benefit from this course, an example like this points to the kind of audience that Heiser is addressing. Heiser refers to another obstacle as “Medium” (#4.) By “Medium” he means that the Bible is a written document and so we do not hear voice inflection, or experience body language when the text is being read. As a result, a written text is harder to interpret than a verbal communication where these things can be observed and heard.

The next section of the course (unit 2) is very short and acts as an introduction to what follows. Unit 2 consists of 2 parts. In part one Heiser discusses the importance of context. By context, Heiser does not simply mean the literary context of a passage, but rather, the social, cultural, and religious context in which a passage was written. It is important for us , as much as is possible, to get into the world and thinking patterns of the ancient biblical author (here again is where I find confusion with his obstacle #2 mentioned above). Heiser then goes on to introduce three contexts that the Bible student needs to be aware of. They are, the “Worldview context,” the Literary context,” and the “Linguistic context.” Each of these “contexts” are the focus of units 3, 4, and 5 respectively. We will proceed by looking at unit 3, the “Worldview context,” and save the others for our next review.

Unit 3, “Worldview Context” consists of the following subpoints:
The Historical Context
The Cultural Context
The Religious Context
Tools for Worldview Context
Primary Sources
Finding English Translations of Ancient Texts
Reference Works
Using Reference Works to Study Ancient Background Context
Academic Monographs
Monographs for Studying Ancient Background Context
Bible Commentaries
Devotional or Popular Commentaries
Expositional Commentaries
Scholarly Commentaries
Illustrating Different Types of Commentaries
Journal Articles
31. Finding Scholarly Journals in Logos
32. Software
33. Logos 5 Tools for Background Research
34. Online Resources
35. Using Online Resources for Biblical Interpretation

Logos Mobile Ed course, "Introduction to Biblical Interpretation."
Logos Mobile Ed course, “Introduction to Biblical Interpretation.”

Heiser begins unit 3 with a helpful breakdown of 3 subcategories that are important to understanding the “Worldview context”. These subcategories are: the historical context; the cultural context; and the religious context. Under the historical context Heiser discusses the importance of geography (knowing biblical places), knowing the broad historical context (history of the ancient Near East, especially Israel), and knowing the immediate context (the historical context in which the author wrote). Under the cultural context, Heiser lists 3 areas of importance: attitudes, morals, and daily living. Under religious context, Heiser (who likes to break things into 3 categories) talks about the importance of understanding cultural beliefs, supernatural and supersitious beliefs, and ritual purity.

But how does an average student gain some knowledge and competence in these areas? It can all seem a bit overwhelming. The rest of this unit is devoted to various tools and resources that are available to the student. Heiser acts as a guide (one of his purposes!) in showing the student not only the various types of sources, but the value, or lack thereof, of certain sources, and how to use them. For example, I found his discussion on the various kinds of commentaries to be a helpful guide to the lay person or beginning student. Heiser breaks commentaries down into (you guessed it) 3 kinds. Devotional or Popular (a one volume commentary with very general info),  Expositional (more specific, English based, dealing with some textual issues), and Scholarly (based on research in the original languages, with more indepth discussion of the various issues raised by a text). Another helpful discussion concerns Internet resources such as Google Books and Google Scholar, as well as online journals and the pros and cons of various wikis.

Problems With “Introducing Biblical Interpretation”

"Introducing Biblical Interpretation" is an excellent course. But everything has its problems!
“Introducing Biblical Interpretation” is an excellent course. But everything has its problems!

Before delving into a few problems that I have found with “Introducing Biblical Interpretation,” I want to state that Heiser has pulled together a vast amount of helpful material and has, for the most part, presented it in a clear and logical way. This course is well worth the few shortcomings that I mention here.

“Introducing Biblical Interpretation,” like other Mobile Ed courses from Logos, contains recommendations for reading material. After each section, there is a link to various sources in Logos for further reading. Some of the material in the quiz sections (including Midterm and Final exams) are based on these readings. This is what you’d expect in any course. However, if you are taking a University course, you have access to all the books in the University library. The problem with Logos Mobile Ed courses is that, unless you have one of the top of the line packages in Logos, there are a number of resources that you won’t have access to. While it would be great to have the best Logos package available, sometimes that’s just not possible. My particular package is the Logos 5 Gold package, plus I have supplemented this with other resources over the years. In spite of that, I frequently found that I only had access to a small portion of the recommended reading material–usually 1 of 2 or 1 of 3 sources. This, of course, creates quite a handicap for passing the quizzes and exams. It is also very frustrating when you would like to do the recommended reading. What is the solution? Obviously being able to purchase the sources would be ideal, but what if you can’t? I’m wondering if there is a way that Logos could create access to a certain portion of the resource for the person who has purchased the Mobile Ed course? For example: there is an article in a Bible dictionary that is recommended reading. I don’t have the dictionary, or the money to purchase it. Could Logos give me access to that particular article without granting access to the entire dictionary? Is there a way to build that into the Mobile Ed course? I’m not a computer programmer and what I’m suggesting may be a technological nightmare, but I’m wondering if there isn’t some sort of compromise that would help the eager student. The upside for Logos is, if the student gets a lot out of a particular resource, it might provide the motivation to purchase that item.

I’ve discovered two other minor problems with “Introducing Biblical Interpretation.” The reason I call them minor is that they appear to be “one off” type problems.  The first example involves using a tool that provides the wrong definition for what the teacher (Heiser) is discussing. Following Objection #6 Translation, at the end of the discussion, there is a link under “Guides and Tools” to “Translation.” Clicking on the link, you expect to read a definition or article that deals with the translation of biblical languages. Instead, what you find is a definition that relates to one being taken to heaven (ala Enoch, Elijah, or the rapture!), or being translated into the kingdom (Col. 1:13), but nothing about Bible translation! Another minor quibble is making sure all reading materials assigned are relevant. Objection #10 in unit 1 discusses “Validation.” Heiser notes that none of us are perfect and, therefore, even if we are equipped with the right tools and approach, we need to continue to recognize our limitations. I couldn’t agree more. However, one of the assigned readings for this segment is a Bible Dictionary article on “humility.” While it is true we need a large dose of humility when interpreting the Scripture, it doesn’t seem that reading a definition from a Bible Dictionary is particularly helpful (maybe that’s just me though). If the reading assignment doesn’t further the student’s knowledge, then it’s superfluous. If humility needs to be emphasized further, then a teacher’s exhortation is more motivating than a dictionary article.

Again, the problems encountered in “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” are minimal compared to the many gains that one will receive from the course. I look forward to getting into the second half of the course and sharing what I find in a future post.

To order “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” from Logos click here.

(Many thanks to Logos Bible Software for providing the review copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review!)

Logos Mobile Ed Review: Introducing Biblical Interpretation (Part 1)

logo_logos_5 Logos Mobile Ed Review

Although I count myself among those who still enjoy pulling a book off of a shelf and reading through it, modern Bible software has taken Bible study to a whole new level. Among the Bible software programs available today, none is more comprehensive and powerful than Logos 5 (now Logos 8!). I have been a Logos user for over 11 years and whether I am doing personal devotions, preparing to teach a class, or writing a book, I have found it extremely helpful.

Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.
Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.

Besides all of the great Bible study tools available, Logos has recently inaugurated a series of courses taught by knowledgeable and experienced instructors called “Logos Mobile Ed Courses.” These courses cover everything from Introductions to the Old and New Testaments, to various biblical books, as well as topical courses on apologetics, pastoral counselling, and many more. For a complete listing of available courses, click on this link (Logos Mobile Ed Courses). These courses can be downloaded to your Logos Bible study library and are then available for you to explore at your own pace.  I have recently received the Logos Mobile Ed course entitled: Introducing Biblical Interpretation taught by Dr. Michael S. Heiser, the academic editor of Logos Bible Software. In this review I will introduce you to the format of the Logos Mobile Ed courses, as well as provide an outline and critique of Introducing Biblical Interpretation. In future reviews, I will look at the course material in more depth.

Logos Mobile Ed: Introducing Biblical Interpretation

The format of the Logos Mobile Ed courses splits your computer screen into two panels. The right panel consists of the textual information which includes, title, table of contents, and a word for word account of everything the instructor says. The left panel consists of short video clips covering the subject material. The advantage of this design is that you can click on the video in the left panel and follow the text in the right if you choose. Conversely, if you don’t want to follow along with the text, you can enlarge the video and just listen to the instructor. Below is a sample page of what a typical Logos Mobile Ed course looks like:

A typical view of the Logos Mobile Ed course screens with video on the left and text on the right.
A typical view of the Logos Mobile Ed course screens with video on the left and text on the right.

Looking at the photo above, you can recognize two features about the video. First, each video clip is very short, lasting anywhere from 1 1/2 minutes to 4 or 5 minutes. This is very helpful, as the instructor breaks the material down into small bite-sized chunks. It also makes it easier for you to go at your own pace. If you want to cover an hour’s worth of material, you can; but if you only have a few minutes, you can still sit down and go through a couple of videos. Short videos also provide motivation. If I realize that I have to block out a longer period of time, I’m less likely to open the resource, and consequently, it will take me longer to make it through the course.  A longer video also makes it more difficult to find the place you’re looking for. For example, if you only have time to watch about 10 minutes worth of material but the video is 30 minutes long, you will have to click through the video to find your place later on. Similarly, as a teacher, if I am wanting to use a particular video to show my class, it is much nicer to have a concise presentation of a particular point, rather than having to search through the video for the exact beginning and ending point. Speaking of finding your place, another helpful feature of the Logos Mobile Ed courses is that they reopen in the same place that you close them. So you can watch several videos, close the program and when you return it will open to the exact same spot.

A second feature of the video is the plain white background. My initial reaction was that this seemed a bit Spartan. Why not spruce up the background with a plant or something? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Logos has chosen a more productive approach. First, it allows plenty of space for putting up main ideas, which is another nice feature of the video lectures. Second, it makes for a nice clean presentation without a lot of clutter to distract. Third, background tastes change over time. The simpler, the better. Having come around to Logos’s way of thinking on this, I would still offer one suggestion: People who struggle with dyslexia and other learning disabilities frequently have more trouble with black type on white backgrounds. Logos should keep the background plain, but I would suggest using a different color to make reading easier.

While we are talking about the videos, I have had one problem with this particular course. Every video I watch jumps about, similar to the effect of someone poorly editing a piece of film. I thought this might be my internet connection (even though the program is loaded on my hard drive), so I have tried watching the videos both at home, and at the office. However the result was the same. Next, I downloaded all of the videos to a separate folder (not an easy task!) so that I could pull them up apart from the program. This time the videos seemed to work perfectly. This has left me a bit confused as to where the problem lies. My colleague, who has another Logos Mobile Ed course, has had no such problem with his program. So I don’t know whether the problem is with this particular course, or my particular download of this course, or some other factor.  I would be interested to know if other Logos users have experienced a similar problem with this course.

Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Purpose and Content

Here is the purpose and objectives of the course in Michael Heiser’s own words:

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the science and art of Bible interpretation, focusing on the importance of interpreting the Bible in its original ancient contexts. These contexts include the biblical writers’ ancient worldview, their historical circumstances, cultural and religious beliefs, the attitudes of their day, literary genre, and the original languages of the Bible. The course aims to foster an awareness of these contexts, all of which require competence for correct interpretation. Students are introduced to tools for developing competence in all these areas.

Course Outcomes

Upon successful completion you should be able to:

 • Understand a variety of difficulties inherent to biblical interpretation

• Grasp the crucial role of context for biblical interpretation

• Comprehend the need for competence in various contexts—worldview, history, religion, literary—for accuracy in biblical interpretation

• Be aware of academic resources for recovering the contexts of the biblical writers

• Understand the differences in types of biblical commentaries

• Be acquainted with a range of biblical genres and literary devices

• Appreciate the role of literary genre in discovering the meaning of a biblical text

• Comprehend how word form and word relationships contribute to word meaning

To accomplish these goals, Heiser’s course is broken down into 6 sections. These are: 1. Obstacles to Interpretation; 2. Seeing the Bible in Context; 3. Worldview Context (by which he means background material such as history, culture, etc.); 4. Literary Context (examining the different types of literary material in the Bible. E.g., narrative, poetry, apocalyptic, etc.); 5. Linguistic Context; and 6. Application

Units 3 and 4 contain the largest amount of material. These units are interrupted by quizzes and a midterm and final exam. Thus, you have an opportunity to test yourself and see what you have learned.

Next time I will take a closer look at the contents of this course.

To order the Logos Mobile Ed course, Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources, click this link.

For reviews on similar Logos Mobile Ed courses, see my colleague Lindsay Kennedy’s review at: mydigitalseminary.com

(Thanks to Logos who provided a copy of this course in exchange for an unbiased review)