Madisonian Rhetoric

I came across a fascinating description of America’s fourth president, James Madison.

Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Random House, 2000), pp. 53-53.

“In 1790, in short, Madison was at the peak of his powers and, after George Washington and Benjamin Franklin (who died that year), was generally regarded as the most influential political leader in the new nation.

He did not look the part. At five feet six and less than 140 pounds “little Jemmy Madison” had the frail and discernibly fragile appearance of a career librarian or schoolmaster, forever lingering on the edge of some fatal ailment, overmatched by the daily demands of ordinary life. When he left his father’s modest-sized plantation at Montpelier in Virginia to attend Princeton in 1769—Aaron Burr was a classmate—the youthful Madison had confessed to intimations of imminent mortality, somewhat morbidly predicting his early death. (As it turned out, he survived longer than all the leaders of the revolutionary generation, observing near the end, “Having outlived so many of my contemporaries, I out not to forget that I may be thought to have outlived myself.”) Not only did he look like the epitome of insignificance—diminutive, colorless, sickly—he was also paralyzingly shy, the kind of guest at a party who instinctively searched out the corners of the room.

Appearances, in Madison’s case, were not just massively deceptive; they actually helped to produces his prowess. Amid the flamboyant orators of the Virginia dynasty, he was practically invisible and wholly unthreatening, but therefore the acknowledged master of the inoffensive argument that just happened, time after time, to prove decisive. He seemed to lack a personal agenda because he seemed to lack a personality, yet when the votes were counted, his side almost always won. His diffidence in debate was disarming in several ways: He was so obviously gentle and so eager to give credit to others, especially his opponents, that it was impossible to unleash one’s full fury against him without seeming a belligerent fool; he was so reserved that he conveyed the off-putting impression of someone with an infinite reservoir of additional information, all hidden away, the speaker not wishing to burden you with excessively conspicuous erudition; but, if you gave permission, fully prepared to go on for several more hours; or until your side voluntarily surrendered. His physical deficiencies meant that a Madisonian argument lacked all the usual emotional affectations and struck with the force of pure, unencumbered thought. Or as one observer put it later, “Never have I seen so much mind in so little matter.” His style, in effect, was not to have one.”


Do You Really Know Greek?

I’ve been having some fun reading papyri lately. I started reading Ephesians in P46 but got distracted in verse 14 on the second page with ἀρραβὼν. I didn’t know this word because it occurs only once in the New Testament. Knowing the verse in English, I thought up a non-Elizabethan sounding gloss and was ready to move on. However, the verse came up in a message I heard on Sunday. Interested, I ran down the extra-biblical sources that BDAG listed and learned a lot.

One of the resources I used was Grenfell and Hunt’s The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The first fifteen volumes are available for free download at Google Books and the Internet Archive. I found many of these printed Greek texts surprisingly difficult to read despite having spent years studying Greek and making good grades throughout. I can do a tolerably decent job sight reading the NT. What was my problem with these Koine Greek texts?

I can’t fake knowing Greek when reading things I haven’t memorized.

Perhaps “fake” is too strong a term, but it’s not far off. I really wonder if I can truly say I am literate in Greek. It seems my Greek level is somewhere between true literacy and how my daughter pretends to read books. My daughter can identify the meaning of words on the pages of her favorite books, but hand her a new book and you’ll quickly discover that she doesn’t know how to read.

I am occasionally asked in missions questionnaires how many times I have read the entire Bible. Honestly, I’ve lost count. I usually say “seven” because I’m pretty sure there have only been seven or eight times that I have actually read every word of Leviticus. However, like many Christians, I’ve read the New Testament literally hundreds of times. When I “read” my Greek NT, vocabulary gaps and unfamiliar syntax are usually filled by my knowledge of the English Bible.

Greek classes in seminary tend to reinforce dependency on English translations. Virtually every translation assignment Greek students receive comes from the New Testament, a text that most of the students have almost memorized already. Rather than teaching a true literacy of Greek, seminary Greek classes tend to create a hybrid literacy that relies upon established translations for meaning then supplements that knowledge with enough Greek proficiency so that students won’t miss anything important. However, an unintentional side effect of this hybrid literacy seems to be that students catch and emphasize details that the text does not.

Think about it. I just used an imperative. I wonder if the NT writers were really jumping up and down, waving their arms, and shouting “get this” every time they used an imperative. I wonder if obscure lexical connections sprung to the original recipients’ minds as they read Paul’s letters. I wonder if we really know Greek as well as we would like others to think.

Between the LXX, extra biblical papryi, and Greek fathers, Greek students could be assigned more unfamiliar texts to translate. Students would miss out on some of the exegetical practice that translating NT texts afford. However, they might also learn to read Greek better. Perhaps students could then begin treating NT Greek more like a real language and less like a code.

Regeneration Does Not Precede Faith

Yes, salvation is totally dependent upon God (Rom 9:16). Yes, people cannot be regenerated by their own wills (Jer 13:23; John 1:12-13). Yes, people are regenerated by the will of God (Rom 8:29-30; 1 Pet 1:3). Yes, regeneration is an act of God upon the spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1,5). Yes, spiritually dead people can neither understand nor do spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14; Rom 3:10-11). Yes, God revealed Christ’s identity to Peter (Matt 16:17). Yes, God opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14). Yes, our faith is the work of God (John 6:29). No, regeneration does not precede faith.

No, John 3:16 does not teach that faith precedes regeneration because final salvation not regeneration is in view. No, Acts 16:31 does not teach that faith precedes regeneration because the terms “saved” and “regenerated” are not synonymous. No, Romans 5:1 and Luke 13:3 do not teach that faith precedes regeneration because justification is not the same as regeneration. No, 2 Peter 3:9 does not teach that faith precedes regeneration simply because it doesn’t mention regeneration. Yes, faith does not precede regeneration.

Regeneration is like the wind. We first experience regeneration in faith, but regeneration’s comings and goings are a mystery. While theologians may understandably be curious concerning how regeneration operates, they are not told and cannot know. As Wittgenstein said, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

For what it’s worth, we do know that hearing the gospel precedes faith (Rom 10:14).

News Roundup

I came across three interesting news stories over the past few days. None of them quite merited an individual post, so here’s a quick roundup.

You Are Not Special

Last week, David McCullough Jr. delivered perhaps the best graduation address of this year. The text of this address was published by the Boston Herald.

Bible Trivia Game Show

The Game Show Network announced a new Bible trivia show to be aired this summer. The show, “American Bible Challenge,” will be hosted by Jeff Foxworthy (a self-proclaimed redneck and current host of “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”).

Chinese Driving Stunt

In Chongqing, China, a driver decided to pull a stunt on a highway overpass.

Playful Puppies, Curious Kittens, and God’s Word

Christian marketing has hit a new low. On July 2, Zondervan is scheduled to release the “Playful Puppies Bible” and the “Curious Kittens Bible.” The advertising blurbs state: “If you love puppies/kittens, you will love this Bible! Inside you will find 12 color pages of adorable puppy/kitten photos with inspirational thoughts that will encourage you day after day.”

Seriously. I’m not making this up. Zondervan has already begun taking orders for the Playful Puppies Bible and the Curious Kittens Bible.

This strikes me as a shamelessly irreverent attempt to profit off of the consumerist tendencies of American Christianity. The sad thing is that Zondervan will probably be successful. Plenty of American Christians care more about their pets than God’s Word. Now they can buy a specialty Bible, look at a dozen pictures, and leave the rest unread.

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The Earnest of Our Inheritance

Ephesians 1:14 calls the Holy Spirit “the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” The word “earnest” (ἀρραβὼν) was a common term referring to an advance or down payment. Here are a couple first-century examples.

The document to the left (P.Fay.91) is a first-century (A.D. 99) employment contract of a woman named Thenetkoueis to serve for the season in an oil-press belonging to Lucius Bellenus Gemellus at a daily wage, the exact amount of which is not stated, but of which she receives an advance of 16 drachmae.

The word for “advance” (used on line 14) is the same word Paul uses in Ephesians 1:14 in reference to the Holy Spirit. Just as an advance on a paycheck gives employees what they presently need and proves that more payment will come, the Holy Spirit has been given to us both to satisfy our present need and to prove that God will one day completely reward us.

The term “earnest” (ἀρραβὼν) was used in reference not only to advances on employee paychecks but also to down payments of any sort. The term could even be used to refer to a down payment payed to one’s exterminator. A first-century letter (P.Oxy. 299) reads,

“Horus to his esteemed Apion greeting. Regarding Lampon the mouse-catcher I paid him for you as earnest money 8 drachmae in order that he may catch the mice while they are with young. Please send me the money. I have also lent Dionysius, the chief man of Nemerae, 8 drachmae, and he has not repaid them, to which I call your attention. Good-bye.” (The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol 2, pp. 300-301).

The Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance from God. Like an advance on a paycheck, the Holy Spirit gives us what we need for today. Like a down payment, the Holy Spirit proves that we will receive our full reward.

Fresh Bait

I’ve used this bait for far too long
once fresh and sweet, now limp and dead
But on my lure alive instead
a lie to hide two bitter wrongs

My prey is dumb and gulps the pair
He vomits one but not the other
He tears his flesh avoiding capture
I already had new bait prepared

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers (James 1:14-16).