A New Insight into the First of Jesus’ Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount

I recently preached a message at Cornerstone in Anacortes on Matthew 5:21–26:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Thanks to a gracious wife and in-laws willing to watch kids, I had truly sufficient time to prepare this message and didn’t feel as pressed as I commonly do. As a result, it was a true joy to study and preach this text. I gained further appreciation for what “real” pastors do every week; I’ve never preached regularly to Christian adults (I’ve taught plenty, just not preached).

What’s more, I think I finally found an answer to an interpretive difficulty that I’d always only half-noticed. There are some obvious difficulties in this text: how can Jesus speak so categorically against anger and against calling people “fools” when he gets angry and calls people fools in this same Gospel? I attempt some help there. But there’s another difficulty I think we often read right past, one that comes at the hinge point of the passage. It was a delight to be able to dig into it and come out with something edifying for my and, I hope, others’ souls.

Dan Wallace on Textual Criticism

I just finished listening to three dozen half-hour lectures by Dan Wallace on textual criticism. They were masterful, absolutely superb. And they’re free online at Credo House.

Wallace is an engaging lecturer with incomparable (among evangelicals) direct experience with the study and practice of textual criticism. All Christians owe him a debt, even the crazy guy who once told me that the only thing Wallace’s grammar is good for is for target practice…

Wallace will educate you and increase your faith in Scripture, a faith he shares. He goes toe-to-toe repeatedly with Bart Ehrman and KJV-Onlyism in particular (left toe against Ehrman, right toe against KJVOs). Highly recommended.

How to Listen to Lots of Lectures and Sermons and YouTube Videos

I see many interesting lectures and interviews on YouTube that I know I will never, ever have time for. I simply cannot sit in front of a computer and watch a video. Email beckons too hard. But I can listen to these videos on the bus, while doing yard work, and at many other odd times that add up fast. I listened to about five 30-minute textual criticism lectures (on more than double speed) from Dan Wallace last night while cleaning out our family car.

I listen to lots and lots of sermons and lectures and interviews and podcasts. However, I subscribe to only two podcasts: Lexicon Valley (with the inimitable John McWhorter) and Thinking in Public (Al Mohler). (I am testing out the History of English podcast right now, too.) Everything else I listen to is some kind of one-off instance.

I’ve refined my system to make it maximally easy to take any YouTube video or MP3 and get it into my podcast app. So though I’ve posted on this before, I have now reached MP3 nirvana and I have to share it with you.

I actually have two systems, one for MP3s I download directly, and another for YouTube videos. The two systems converge, as you’ll see.

Each will take some setting up, and my instructions are geared for Mac, but here’s what I do.

Preliminary Steps for Each System

  1. Sign up for Justcast, a rock-solid app which creates a podcast feed from a Dropbox folder you choose. A little bird told me that they might give you their service for $1/mo. if you tell them you’re only making your own personal podcast. But the free service may be sufficient for you.
  2. Subscribe to your own personal podcast, generated by Justcast, within Overcast.fm (iOS), Pocket Cast (Android) or whatever podcast app you prefer. I listen to most things at least double speed.

Now let’s get some MP3s into that folder so you can listen to them in Justcast.

System 1: Downloaded MP3s

  1. Set up a Folder Action in Automator that will automatically move audio files to that Justcast folder. Here are the instructions I mostly followed, but here’s what my workflow ended up looking like after I modified it for my needs. (Don’t forget to turn on Folder Actions.)
  2. Anytime you download an MP3 into your Downloads folder, it will be automatically moved into your Justcast folder and show up in your personal podcast feed.

Now let’s get a lecture off of YouTube:

System 2: YouTube Lectures

  1. Copy the URL for a YouTube video you want to listen to.
  2. Paste the link into the free app 4KYouTube to MP3 (I have the app set to produce low-quality audio, because I don’t want huge files).
  3. Set 4KYouTube to MP3 to automatically send the resulting audio file to Dropbox/Apps/Justcast.

Done.

Postliminary Steps

Every so often I move all the MP3s out of my Justcast folder and into an archive location so I can find them again if I need to—and sometime I do, like if I want to cite an illustration from one of them or transcribe a portion of it for use in an article or sermon or lecture of my own.

I got an older iPhone but spent a little extra to get 64GB of space so that I could fit as many files in feed as I needed to (plus audio books, for which I use Audible). The main thing I use my phone for is listening to stuff. I highly recommend Bluetooth headphones, and Sony has some nice ones on sale today only for Prime day.

Practical Questions about Original Language Study in Sermon Prep

A questions from someone who watched my Asia Center for Advanced Christian Studies lecture on Original Languages (click here and here for related blog posts):

Most pastors I know have only about 6 hours max, maybe 8, to prepare a message and most need to prepare 3 messages a week. We want to spend more time in the original text, but if they are like me, I spend most of my time reading and re-reading the text in the ESV & HCSB, making sure I understand the context and authorial intent, analyzing the grammar to make sure I understand the main ideas and how the other parts relate to it (diagramming & clause displays), and then writing and refining my sermon notes. I also need to think about helpful illustrations & specific applications. So I never feel like I have spent enough time in the original text or even consulting commentaries. So do you have any practical advice for how much time we should set aside to spend in the original text out of the 6-8 hours we have per message, and how to use the, let’s say, 20-30 minutes we have to look at the original text? Also, any generality you can make about how much time you would spend consulting commentaries or how many? Lastly, if your Hebrew is pretty rusty, what resource would you use to try to get something out of the original text if you are preaching from an OT passage?

My answer:

A few caveats first: I’m not a regular preaching pastor. I teach Sunday School all year round, pretty much, but my sermon prep (I preach maybe five times a year) tends to get squeezed in between projects. I also tend to use exegetical work I’ve done recently for Logos articles. So though I get two or three hours of “sermon prep” per sermon, I’m spending most of that on rhetorical crafting and manuscripting in English. But I’m relying on other hours of work I’ve already done in exegesis, including time in Greek and Hebrew. This makes it hard for me to generalize. I also don’t do exegesis in such discrete steps that I could say: “Spend one hour in Greek.” I read the text in multiple English translations, and I go chase down in Greek or Hebrew interesting questions that occur to me. If I’m struggling with the structure of a passage, I use Logos’ sentence-flow diagrams. If I’ve got extra time, I do it in Greek rather than in English (I have not done this in Hebrew; the genres don’t usually lend themselves to this type of analysis). If I’m ever about to make a preaching point out of some finer point of grammar, I make sure to check the original languages. Again I’d say that use of Greek/Hebrew is not a step so much as a significant ingredient in the entire atmosphere of my sermon prep. Sometimes, however, I must admit that my time in Greek/Hebrew is limited to a last-minute realization that I’d better read the whole of my sermon text before I go preach it, lest I say something stupid! I totally get the time pressure question.

And I, too, feel like I’ve never spent enough time on commentaries, in particular. I’ve gotten to the point that I mainly tend to check commentaries either 1) when I know I need access to the history of interpretation, 2) when I’m guessing they’ve tracked down a niggling point of grammar or usage that puzzles me, or 3) when I’m looking for rhetorical help in communicating something I’ve already noticed in the text (for this homiletical commentaries are useful, but even technical ones will usually offer some help). The key is that I bring questions to commentaries; I don’t just read them. Most frequently the question I come to commentaries for is this: how have other people used this text throughout time? Often that means I get a quick vote from multiple commentaries on a particular exegetical or theological question (like “Did Jephthah actually kill his daughter?”). I think I’m at the stage of my exegetical skill that if something in the text really puzzles me, it’s going to divide the commentators. Checking commentaries is not a discrete step for me anymore than using Greek/Hebrew is—except that I do try to push commentaries toward the end of my exegetical process, after I’ve had a chance to generate questions. I typically use three to five commentaries at least a little (usually one of them gets more attention than the others), and on the occasions when I need to run an interpreters’ referendum, I use Logos to check a bunch—as many as 60, but usually more like 10–15. That’s what I did with Jephthah. I’m not digging into reasons, I’m just getting votes.

I’ve been influenced by the hermeneutical spiral model, in which knowledge is gained by attendance to generals and particulars in an ever-tightening spiral. In my limited sermon prep time, I’m grabbing as many generals and particulars as I can get, from as many sources as I can get them from, until the last second! I will never be able to track down all the details relevant to the interpretation of my sermon’s given Scripture passage; I have to trust God’s providence in the time he has allotted me. I guess I’d say that attention to theory and methodology—hermeneutics, linguistics, systematics, biblical theology—has really paid dividends, so that I can use the time I have more efficiently.

As for Hebrew… I’d point someone to the methodological reading. Get into linguistics enough so that you can do your own survey of the usage of a given Hebrew word using Bible software. Get into genre analyses like Robert Alter on The Art of Biblical Poetry so that you’re not reinventing the wheel on parallelism every time you preach a Psalm. I have recently been thinking that I need some refreshment of my Hebrew, and I’m strongly considering adopting the read-a-little-bit-every-day approach I’ve heard recommended. William Barrick of The Master’s Seminary has also put out a free online course.

Hope this helps.