BGST Faculty & Staff wish all our readers a Blessed New Year!

Two Good Books

I don’t know if either of these two books is currently available in BGST Library, but they soon will be. 

As I’m on holiday (ha!) at the moment, I thought that one of my books for review could be the kind of thing an OT scholar reads for relaxation; more specifically, a book on the New Testament, Paul in Fresh Perspective, by N.T. (‘Tom’) Wright (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005). I have for a long time been an admirer of Wright’s works, and think that he is one of the few contemporary biblical scholars who can write effectively both at the academic and at the popular levels. I applaud him for his insistence that the New Testament must be interpreted against its historical background, and for the creativity with which he has set about doing this. I am impressed by his extensive knowledge of the primary texts, Jewish and Greco-Roman, and also by his deep understanding of the Old and New Testaments and of how they fit together. Wright sees himself primarily as a historian, but on one level his writings function very convincingly as a kind of biblical theology: he sees clearly how the major themes of the Old Testament are taken up and transformed by the New Testament writers in ways that are both surprising and satisfying. Certainly one of the things I like in his work is that, though a New Testament scholar, he seems to make such good sense of the Old Testament. His latest book on Paul shows all these strengths. It does presuppose knowledge of Paul’s letters, and you may find it necessary to reread some passages in order to make sense of Wright’s arguments, or to check his exegesis. But for a refreshing survey of Paul’s life and letters it is hard to beat. Particularly interesting is his insistence that Paul must be interpreted both against his Jewish and against his Greco-Roman backgrounds: Paul’s gospel had thoroughly Jewish roots, but was shaped so as to address the Greco-Roman world and, in particular, to mount a challenge to the pretensions of the Roman Empire. You may not agree with everything Wright says, and some aspects of his interpretation of Paul have proved controversial, but you are sure to find this book stimulating.

My second book is another excellent dictionary from IVP, hot off the press, the second in what will be a series covering the Old Testament, the Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, edited by H.G.M. Williamson and W.T. Arnold (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005). (A companion volume on the Pentateuch was reviewed in an earlier issue of BTW.) It must be the most detailed dictionary ever to appear on the Historical Books, and it includes within its scope all sorts of topics, expected and unexpected: articles on biblical books, on the major nations and sites of the ancient Near East; eight consecutive articles on Israel’s History from Conquest to after the Exile; and along with this, articles on topics as diverse as Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Forgiveness, Hermeneutics, Innerbiblical Exegesis, Poetry, Roads and Highways, Sickness, Disease and Sin. Altogether this volume contains a wealth of information, the distillation of tens of thousands of hours of scholarly research, and all of it available in a mere 1060 pages, very competitively priced, as IVP’s books always are.

I am sometimes dismayed by the way in which BGST students cite dubious biblical web-sites in assignments, while failing to cite dictionary articles. To be frank, this is to get things the wrong way around. Anyone with access to a computer, a modem and the necessary software can publish on the web. There are no readers or editors to please, no corrections which have to be made, no recommendations to follow. Anyone can write what they like and put what they have written into the public domain, irrespective of whether it is well or poorly researched, right or wrong, heretical or theologically sound. In many web-based ‘publications’ there are no controls, and to be honest it shows. With dictionary articles things are entirely different. All dictionaries have editors who will insist on things like clarity, balance, good argumentation and familiarity with the primary texts and the secondary literature. The very format of a dictionary article demands that the writer survey recent and earlier scholarship on the topic in question in an accessible and even-handed way. This means that dictionary articles are often the ideal point of entry for students wanting to orientate themselves on an issue with which they are unfamiliar. So: Get hold of this dictionary! Browse in it! Read some of the entries that seem most interesting to you! Do it now! Do it throughout 2006! And do it with other dictionaries too! As I have said more than once, of all the books in BGST Library, dictionaries are the ones which have most clearly been written with students’ needs in mind. So why don’t more of you read (and cite) more of them? There is no quicker path to becoming a good scholar. [PES]

Chapel Notes

Chapel on 21 December 2005
by Dr Augustine Pagolu

How can the Christian community exercise a prophetic ministry to our Church and our society and even to our own community. With this concern this week’s chapel talk focuses on the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7: 1-17 and draws two main points from this passage:

 

First, vv 7: 1-9, Human purposes challenge divine promises.

Human purposes here are the plans of the northern kingdom, Israel, along with Syria to topple Ahaz, king of Judah, and install some unknown Tabeel in order that they might fight against the Assyrian advancement. Though visibly shaken at the threat of an imminent attack by his neighbors, King Ahaz made plans to seek help from Assyria, the superpower of the day. But God had other plans for Ahaz when he sent his prophet Isaiah with a message that he must not seek human help but trust in the Lord who promised his forefather David that he will not fail to provide a ruler on his throne (2 Sam. 7: 14-16). This promise was later developed into the so called Zion theology that ‘Davidic promises are inviolable, and Zion invincible’. Nevertheless, Ahaz refused the prophet’s message and went ahead with his original plan of seeking help from Assyria.

 

Secondly, Human unbelief cannot exhaust divine Grace.

A second time God’s message came to Ahaz through the prophet inviting him to ask for a ‘sign’ from the Lord that could have laid his fears at rest and transformed his reign to be a blessing. But unfortunately the king once again declined the offer in the guise of false piety saying, ‘I will not ask for a sign and I will not test the Lord’. True, Israelites testing the Lord in the wilderness was the worst sin they had ever committed; in that context it was basically the ‘sin of unbelief’. But this was precisely what Ahaz was doing at that moment. The NT describes as the ‘unforgivable sin’ (Jn 16: 9) when the Jews were unwilling to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. However, Ahaz’s unbelief did not stop God from giving the ‘sign’ of the Immanuel, the ideal future King, who would rule on David’s throne. But now it comes as judgment and not as a promise. Although Israel saw a political deliverer in Immanuel, God intended a spiritual deliverer in and through Jesus the Messiah, who inaugurated his kingdom through his Church worldwide. Thus God’s Kingdom did come not because of human cooperation, but in spite of it, but along the way many a God’s people lost his blessing due to unbelief, sin and false piety.

  

News Bits

  1. New Admission. Ng Boon Thian is a new student in the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies. He is an active lay leader and member of Wesley Methodist Church. He has a degree in Commercial Science from Kobe Univesity, Japan.

  2. Soh Ling Ling is a student in the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies. She is a Medical Doctor, a graduate of the National University of Singapore and worships at the Bethesda Frankel Estate Church. She is active as a lay leader in the Mission Board (church) and as a member of SIM (Serving In Mission).

  3. Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be on sabbatical leave from Jan-June, 2006. She will spend 4 months in Regent College, Vancouver, as their Scholar-in-Residence and 2 months in the United States.

A Blessed Birthday to… 

  

Dr Bob Foo  29/12

Mr Vincent Tan  29/12

Mr Chen Lei  29/12

Mrs Joyce Go Yong  29/12

Dr Ng Liang Wei  30/12

Dr Douglas Milne  1/1

Mr Andy Lew  1/1

Dr Sally Wong  2/1

Elder Victor Wee  2/1

A/P Tomothy Lee  4/1

Elder Lim Kim Wah  5/1

Dn Raymond  Tcheau  7/1

Mr William Prabagaram  7/1  

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