Theological Traditions

biblethumbAmerican evangelicals tend to dislike tradition. Perhaps this is due to the individualism of American culture or a response to the excessive trust Catholicism places in tradition. Whatever the reason, evangelicals tend to be soured towards tradition even though evangelicals hold many traditions themselves.

Every believer inherits conclusions about the meaning and application of Scripture from other believers. These conclusions are expressed in distinctive collections of beliefs and practices know as a traditions (e.g. evangelical, reformed, covenant, dispensational). Theologians cannot entirely separate their personal theological studies from their communities’ doctrinal positions. Moises Silva writes,

“The old advice that biblical students should try as much as possible to approach a text without a prior idea as to what it means (and that therefore commentaries should be read after, not before, the exegesis) does have the advantage of encouraging independent thinking; besides, it reminds us that our primary aim is indeed to discover the historical meaning and that we are always in danger of imposing our meaning on the text. Nevertheless, the advice is fundamentally flawed, because it is untrue to the very process of learning. I would suggest rather that a student who comes to a biblical passage with, say, a dispensationalist background, should attempt to make sense of the text assuming that dispensationalism is correct. I would go so far as to say that, upon encountering a detail that does not seem to fit the dispensationalist scheme, the student should try to “make it fit.” The purpose, of course, is not to mishandle the text, but to become self-conscious about what we all do anyway. The result should be increased sensitivity to those features of the text that disturb our interpretive framework and thus a greater readiness to modify that framework” (“Systematic Theology and the Apostle to the Gentiles,” Trinity Journal, new series 15 [Spring 1994]:26).

Tradition plays a key role in communicating doctrine from one believer to another. Christians are commanded to gather together and exhort one another (Heb 10:25). God uses tradition to perpetuate correct doctrine (2 Thes 3:6). However, since all tradition is human in origin, it will never escape the effects of the fall. We cannot assume that our beliefs and practices are correct just because we love and respect those who hold those positions. Of course, theological study must begin somewhere, and theologians will naturally assume their beliefs are correct anyway. Thus theologians ought to treat their communities’ traditions as provisionally correct and constantly critique their theological assumptions with Scripture.

Only Enough Grace for Today

Sunrise over rocksGod promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Cor 12:9). God will give you all the grace you need for today. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).

God will give you all the grace you need to do what must be done today. The weaker you become, the more God will increase your grace. We can have Paul’s confidence that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

When we are weak, however, we still feel weak. Our problems stretch on throughout the foreseeable future with no end in sight. We must remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), but we only have enough for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow; you have enough to do today. Trust God even when you’re falling apart, and your spirit will be renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).

“Root of Bitterness” in Hebrews 12:15

rootMy wife and I are using Rand Hummel’s Five Smooth Stones Scripture Memory Plan in our family devotions. The plan proceeds alphabetically through common sin problems and includes five verses for each topic. The first verse on the subject of bitterness was Hebrews 12:15.

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15 KJV)

This verse is a very popular text for sermons about bitterness, and I’m not surprised to see it topping Hummel’s memorization list on this issue. Unfortunately, this verse is not talking about an emotional state of bitterness at all. The “root of bitterness” here is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18.

“Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deuteronomy 29:18 ESV)

Hebrews 12:15 is a warning passage to professing Christians that one’s salvation is not a product of the company one keeps. In any Christian assembly, it is possible for there to be some present who have not genuinely believed the gospel. Professing Christians should examine themselves and exhort one another lest anyone fail to benefit from grace of God. While Christians should not be bitter, the “bitter root” in Hebrews 12:15 is an OT allusion supporting the warning against falling away, not a warning about emotional bitterness.

To Rand Hummel’s credit, his second verse on bitterness is dead on. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” The inclusion of Hebrews 12:15 exposes a slight problem in Hummel’s approach. The Bible simply doesn’t give us 5+ commands on every important issue for us to obey. Hummel seems a bit stretched on the issue of bitterness. The other three verses are Eph 4:32, Eph 4:26 (which was included in the previous topic of anger), and 1 Peter 2:1-2. When “bitterness” appears as an emotional state in the Bible, the term is usually employed in descriptions of unbelievers. However, the verses Hummel selects are all worthy of memorization (including Hebrews 12:15), and we will continue using this helpful resource despite this minor hiccup.

New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room

The University of Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research hosts one of the best online resources for New Testament scholars. Their Virtual Manuscript Room has an amazing digital image collection of New Testament Manuscripts. Not only are the images well cataloged, they have also been transcribed to facilitate reading/comparison.

While you can find slightly higher resolution scans of several manuscripts elsewhere (e.g. APIS for P46), the VMR is the place to go if you want them all in one place and accessible in a user-friendly format.

Free Monthly Magazine

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) publishes a free monthly magazine called Acts and Facts. Each issue is full-color and contains scholarly yet accessible articles about science and the Bible.

ICR has been a long-time advocate for taking the Genesis 1-2 creation account to mean that God created the world in six literal twenty-four hour days and the Genesis 6-8 narrative as referring to a worldwide flood.

Reading the Mosaic Law with the Faith of Abraham

Modern-day readers are often shocked by the brutality of the Mosaic Law. We read of stonings and sacrifices coupled with regulations that even dictated clothing and hair styles. If God became president of the United States, we would quickly vote Him out of office unless congress managed to impeach Him first. Were we present during Israel’s rebellions, we would certainly be among the rioters. Aside from a few crazies, nobody today seriously wants to live under the Mosaic Law in its entirety. Even Orthodox Jews would presumably take issue with a government that stoned their unruly children to death for disobedience.

When Christians read the Mosaic Law, they tend to skim and smirk. They skim so they can check the chapters off their reading plan and smirk at the distasteful commands thankfully now expired. While many Christians attest to the value of every word of Scripture, few find more than marginal worth in the Mosaic Law. Even the most conservative branches of Christendom tend to approach the Law with unspoken disdain, usually expressed in joyful relief concerning our very different covenant or dispensation. Although Jesus Christ came to fulfill (not destroy) the Mosaic Law, our take-home truths tend to center around our joy over the fact that it is no longer in effect.

Christians can easily foster a spirit of rebelliousness in their approach to the Mosaic Law. Believers cannot afford to approach any portion of Scripture being unwilling to obey. No, I’m not arguing that we should try to re-institute the theocracy of the Old Testament. However, we must not read the Old Testament thinking, “I’m glad this stuff no longer applies because I would rather be stoned.” Although Christians today need not obey the Mosaic Law, they still must submit to every word with the faith of Abraham.

Abraham submitted to the ultimate abhorrent command: Go and sacrifice your only child. As Abraham lifted the knife contemplating how to give Isaac a clean death, Abraham proved his faith in his willingness to do whatever God required. In this instance, God required submission rather than obedience, and Isaac (and Abraham) was spared.

Like Abraham, Christians today have page after page of commands that God does not expect us to obey, but this is not to say that we can be unwilling to obey those commands. The Mosaic Law was once the only way for people to approach God, and God was wonderfully gracious for providing His people a means for pleasing Him. Christians now enjoy much more freedom under the law of liberty. However, Christians must approach the Mosaic Law in Abrahamic faith, being willing to obey had the Messiah not yet come. Christians today must submit to the Mosaic Law in spirit even though they are not bound to obey it in action.

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.

Reading Ephesians in P46 (Eph 1:1-11)

I plan to read Ephesians in P46 over the next few weeks. P46 is one of the oldest and most important copies of Paul’s epistles in existence. The University of Michigan houses 60 of the 172 extant pages, and digital images of those pages are available for free download at the APIS database.

Why read P46? Two reasons. First, I want to read P46 because it’s there. After spending thousands of dollars and countless hours learning Greek in seminary, why not read P46? It’s cool, free, and really not that hard to read. Second, I’m developing some Bible classes and hope to find some examples that can be easily converted into visual aids.

Why post my notes here? Again two reasons. First, I think this stuff is interesting, and that’s ultimately the reason anyone blogs about anything. Second, even if you don’t know Greek, I hope to provide an inside look at textual criticism and demystify the process a bit. Feel free to skim down to the end where I boil things down into a few observations.

Ephesians begins on page 146. This is marked at the top center of the page with the letters ρμς. Ancient manuscripts often used letters to mark page numbers. You can read more about this numbering system from the University of Michigan.

Since this is a third-century manuscript, P46 is written in uncials, a style that uses only capital letters without spaces between words. The writing style can take some getting used to, but P46 was copied by a professional scribe and is very readable. If you need help reading the script, check out this page on reading 3rd century book hand.

Reading Notes

Ephesians 1:1 (1st line, 1st letter). The scribe uses three different abbreviations in this verse: ΧΡΥ/ΧΡΩ for Χριστοῦ/Χριστῷ, ΙΗΥ for Ίησοῦ, and ΘΥ for θεοῦ. Each abbreviation is marked with a line above the text. P46 omits the article “τοῖς” preceding οὖσιν and “ἐν Ἐφέσω” found in UBS4. The text reads, ΠΑΥΛΟΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΧΡΥ ΙΗΥ ΔΙΑ ΘΕΛΗΜΑΤΣ ΘΥ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ ΟΥΣΙΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΣΤΟΙΣ ΕΝ ΧΡΩ ΙΗΥ. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, according to the will of God, to those who are holy and believe in Christ Jesus.”

1:2 (3rd line, 4th letter) The scribe introduces two new abbreviations: ΠΡΣ for πατρὸς and ΚΥ for κυρίου. There is a slight variation in the spelling of the second word in this verse. P46 reads “υμειν” rather than the “υμιν” found in UBS4. No change in meaning. The text reads, ΧΑΡΙΣ ΥΜΕΙΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ ΑΠΟ ΘΥ ΠΡΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΚΥ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

1:3 (4th line, 16th letter) The scribe accidentally omitted the first ten words of this verse. UBS4 reads, “Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.” The MS the scribe was copying probably read, ΕΥΛΟΓΗΤΟΣ Ο ΘΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΡΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΥ ΗΜΩΝ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ. However, when the scribe looked back to begin verse three, he probably looked for the five abbreviations he had just copied to find his place. Unfortunately, verse three begins with the same five abbreviations in the same order, and the scribe accidentally skipped over ten words. “Homoioteleuton” is the technical name for this copying error (To better understand how this happens, imagine copying lines 7 and 8, both of which begin with the same word. A scribe could write the first word of line 7 and pick up copying on line 8). The text reads, Ο ΕΥΛΟΓΥΣΑΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΠΑΣΗ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΗ ΕΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΕΠΟΥΡΑΝΙΟΙΣ ΕΝ ΧΡΩ. “[Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,] who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

1:4 (6th line, 17th letter) In this verse the scribe slightly changes his style. The scribe usually ends lines at word divisions (or breaks in compound words). However, ΚΑΤΕΝΩΠΙΟΝ, appearing at the end of line eight, is wrapped across the line break with its last two letters beginning line nine. This is curious because it doesn’t appear that the scribe ran out of room. The text reads, ΚΑΘΩΣ ΕΖΕΛΕΖΑΤΟ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΠΡΟ ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛΗΣ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΗΜΑΣ ΑΓΙΟΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΜΩΜΟΥΣ ΚΑΤΕΝΩΠΙΟΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΕΝ ΑΓΑΠΗ. “Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love”

1:5 (9th line, 15th letter) P46 omits the preposition “διὰ” preceding “Jesus Christ” as is found in UBS4. This appears to be simply an oversight. The text reads, ΠΡΟΟΡΙΣΑΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΙΣ ΥΙΟΘΕΣΙΑΝ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ ΕΙΣ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΥΝ ΕΥΔΟΚΙΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΛΗΜΑΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ. “He predestined us for adoption as sons [through] Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”

1:6 (11th line, last seven letters) The scribe splits ΕΠΑΙΝΟΝ between lines 11 and 12 and ΕΧΑΡΙΣΤΩΣΕΝ between lines 12 and 13. These splits were obviously caused by space issues. The scribe misspells ἐχαρίτωσεν by adding a sigma before the tau. This misspelling is understandable because the verb is χαριτόω formed from the noun χάρις. It is worth noting that P46 reads “ἧς” as is found in UBS4, not “ἐν ᾗ” as is found in the TR. This reading is better due to weight of external support and the fact that copyists would more likely mistakenly produce the TR’s reading than vice versa. Either way the meaning is basically the same. P46 also agrees with UBS4 and lacks the phrase “υἱῷ αὐτοῦ” after “ἠγαπημένῳ.” This phrase was almost certainly an explanatory note that worked its way into several texts of the Western tradition. The text reads, ΕΙΣ ΕΠΑΙΝΟΝ ΔΟΖΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΧΑΡΙΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΗΣ ΕΧΑΡΙΣΤΩΣΕΝ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΗΓΑΠΗΜΕΝΩ. “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved.”

1:7 (13th line, last three letters) The reading matches the UBS4 exactly. The TR renders τὸ πλοῦτος as masculine rather than neuter, a very minor error. P46 reads, ΕΝ Ω ΕΧΟΜΕΝ ΤΗΝ ΑΠΟΛΥΤΡΩΣΙΝ ΔΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΙΜΑΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΤΗΝ ΑΦΕΣΙΝ ΤΩΝ ΠΑΡΑΠΤΩΜΑΤΩΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟ ΠΛΟΥΤΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΧΑΡΙΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

1:8 (16th line, last five letters) No anomalies; no variants. The text reads, ΗΣ ΕΠΕΡΙΣΣΕΥΣΕΝ ΕΙΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΠΑΣΗ ΣΟΦΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΦΡΟΝΗΣΕΙ. “which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and intelligence”

1:9 (18th line, 9th letter) This is the last verse on this page that can be read clearly. As in Eph 1:2, P46 spells the first person pronoun “υμειν” rather than “υμιν.” P46 also omits αὐτοῦ after θελήματος (UBS4 includes the pronoun). This is probably another case of homoioteleuton since the ending of θελήματος has a close resemblance to αὐτοῦ. The text reads, ΓΝΩΡΙΣΑΣ ΗΜΕΙΝ ΤΟ ΜΥΣΤΗΤΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΛΗΜΑΤΟΣ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΗΝ ΕΥΔΟΚΙΑΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΗΝ ΠΡΟΕΘΕΤΟ ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ. “making know to us the mystery of [his] will, according to his purpose which he planned in him”

1:10 (20th line, 17th letter) The text becomes difficult to read here at the bottom of the page. The missing text is supplied in brackets based upon the spacing of the letters and the reading of other MSS. The text reads, ΕΙΣ ΟΙΚΟΝΟΜΙΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΠΛΗΡΩΜΑΤΟΣ ΤΩΝ ΚΑΙΡΩΝ ΑΝΑΚΕΦ[ΑΛΑΙΩ]ΣΑΣΘΑΙ ΤΑ ΠΑΝΤΑ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΧΡΩ ΤΑ ΕΠΙ [ΤΟΙΣ ΟΥ]ΡΑΝΟΙΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΕΠ[Ι ΤΗΣ ΥΗΣ] ΕΝ [ΑΥΤΩ]. “to be enacted in the fullness of time, the summing up of all things in Christ, [things] in heaven and things on [the earth] in [him].

1:11 (last line) this page contains only two words from this verse. The text reads, [ΕΝ Ω] ΚΑΙ ΕΚΛΗΡΩΘ[ΗΜΕΝ]…. [In whom] we have also obtained an inheritance….

Observations

The absence of “in Ephesus” in verse one could be evidence that Ephesians was a letter sent to many churches, with the church at Ephesus being the primary recipient. Perhaps this letter was also called the epistle to the Laodiceans in Colossians 4:16.

In verses 2, 6, and 9, the text contains misspellings. These sorts of errors account for the vast majority of textual variants. When you hear someone say that their are thousands of errors in the ancient biblical manuscripts, remember that most are minor mistakes such as misspellings or are easily explainable like the scribal errors in verses 3, 5, and 9.

By my count, this page contains at least six errors. Before you start calling for this scribe’s resignation, remember three things. First, this text is a copy of a copy. Our scribe might be innocently recording the mistakes of another. Second, lowercase letters and spaces between words had not yet been invented. Make a handwritten copy of this text yourself and see how many mistakes you make. I bet it will be more than six. Third, this copy was made before Christianity was legalized in A.D. 313. The scribe was probably working under a little bit of pressure as he wrote. Have you worried about being fed to a lion today?

Proponents of the Majority Text forget these factors. They argue that we should ignore manuscripts like P46 because later manuscripts are in a larger abundance and were more accurately copied. However, this position wrongly values quantity over quality. If I printed out my scanned copy of P46 a couple thousand times, I will have created a similar larger abundance of more accurate copies. The issue is the quality of the text, not the quantity.

The value of P46 resides in its age. Unlike the much later Majority Text manuscripts, P46 was copied relatively soon after Paul’s original letters were written. Thus there were fewer opportunities for scribes to make mistakes while they made copies of copies of copies. True, scribes in the 10th century and later copied more accurately due to increased safety in monasteries and better tools including lowercase letters and spaces between words. However, these factors only ensured that the copies available to 10th century scribes would be passed on with relatively few errors. The 10th century scribes had to copy from something that was a copy of a copy of a copy. Having a scanned copy of a third-century manuscript allows one to skip seven centuries of scribal errors. In today’s digital age, you can make as many perfect copies of texts like P46 as you want. Of course, they won’t do you any good unless you read them.

How to Avoid Buying Books

In the past couple weeks, I wrote two posts arguing that most people do not need a Logos digital theological library (Five Reasons Not to Buy Logos and Logos Groupthink). Most of the push-back I received stemmed from statements I made about pastors and missionaries not needing to own a lot of books. Of course, anyone in a preaching or teaching ministry needs to read a great many books. However, pastors and missionaries do not need to personally own all those books in order to profit from them repeatedly.

Friday evening, I spent about ninety minutes reading John MacArthur’s The Ultimate Priority (Moody 1983). I will never buy a copy of this book, but by practicing good reading habits, I gained most of what the book has to offer and preserved that knowledge for later use. While my system isn’t perfect, perhaps some will find it helpful.

1. Read Before You Buy

Whenever possible, read books before you buy them. This is relatively easy in college and graduate school. Instead of just buying every book assigned for a class, read as many as you can by using the course reserves or checking out one of the library’s additional copies. You will often find that you do not need a personal copy of the work.

This practice becomes more difficult after one graduates. However, you can borrow books from friends, get books via inter-library loan, and take advantage of those times when you are near a theological library. In the case of MacArthur’s The Ultimate Priority, I had the opportunity to visit a seminary library and do some reading.

2. Create a Digital Card File

Whenever I read anything (even fiction), I’m always on the lookout for the things I want to remember. Generally, these consist of key definitions, poignant statements, helpful lists, concise illustrations, strong arguments (whether or not I agree), and surprising elements.

I record most of what I read in Word files formatted to print on 4×6 index cards. There is nothing magical about this format. Honestly, it’s mostly a hangover from my intercollegiate debate days. However, I have found that the space limitation pushes me to look for the best quotations and write clearer summaries. Additionally, the resulting cards are a handy size if you ever decide you want to print a few out. Here are a couple examples.

While most cards I make are quotations about the length of the card above, I do frequently create cards summarizing longer sections (often chapter length) of a work as seen below.

Here are five tips. First, double and triple check your quotations. You are making these cards so you don’t need the book. That means you won’t have access to the book to find errors later. Second, always include full bibliographic details including page numbers. Third, include notes of things like chapter titles or anything else you think would be helpful to a stranger looking at your cards. You probably won’t look at the cards again for years. Your future self will have forgotten a lot. Fourth, include slugs at the top of your cards. This makes skimming the cards easier and will improve your keyword search results. Fifth, create your cards in separate files organized by broad topics. This is a stability issue more than anything. Microsoft Word sometimes does crazy things when files get incredibly long.

3. Scan and Save Important Pages

Sometimes books contain short sections of very valuable material. In the case of The Ultimate Priority, I plan to base both a lecture segment and a sermon upon a five-page discussion of unacceptable worship. In a case like this, I simply scan the pages to a PDF (along with the title page, copyright, and table of contents) and create a summary card to remind myself of the material.

Please note: copying short sections of a book for personal use falls under “fair use” and does not violate copyright. However, before you start making a lot of copies, I would advise you to read about what does and does not constitute “fair use.”

4. Find and Download Historical Sources

On page 118, MacArthur uses a quotation from Andrew Bonar’s diary regarding worship in the Spirit. I thought that the quotation would work great as an illustration in a sermon or lecture on worship, but I did not make a card right away because never quote a secondary source if possible. Since Bonar’s diary is in public domain, why not get a free book?

The process is pretty easy. I went to Google Books, searched for “Andrew Bonar Diary” (without quotes), and downloaded the book for free. I then deleted the annoying first page Google attaches, found the page with the quotation, ran OCR on the individual page, highlighted the quotation, added a bookmark for the page, saved, copied the quotation to my card file, began running OCR on the entire book, and went back to reading MacArthur. This sounds like a complicated process but it only takes a couple minutes. [Hint: Don’t run OCR on the entire book until you are completely done with the PDF. The task takes about 20 minutes depending on the length of the book and the speed of your computer.] After the OCR was finished, I renamed the file “Bonar, Andrew – Diary and Letters (1894)”  and saved it to “library/theology/sermons and misc writings” on my external hard drive. If anyone is curious, this was the quotation.

5. Maintain an Organized Filing System

If you want this system to work out, you must develop an organized filing system. This means you need to completely and predictably name every file you create or download. I use “lastname, firstname – title of work (date)” for everything. I also include edition, volume, and page numbers if applicable. Furthermore, you need to create a file tree to organize your documents. For example, in my folder Library/Theology, I have sixteen subdirectories: Archeology, Biblical Theology, Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Historical Theology, Issues, Missiology, Music, Pastoral Theology, Periodicals, Practical Theology, Religion, Scriptures, Sermons and Misc Writings, Systematic Theology, Unpublished Material, and Unsorted. Each of these directories is subdivided much further (except for “Unsorted,” which is a temporary slot to save things I don’t have time to sort until later). I cannot overstress the need for an organized filing system. It is the key to being able to find any of your research.

If all this seems like a lot of work, it is. However, you cannot profit from books by merely downloading them or placing them on your self. The only books that will profit you are those that you actually read. By taking good reading notes, you can often avoid needing those books on your self or hard drive completely. Pastors and missionaries need to own the concepts contained in books. Possessing the books themselves is merely a luxury.

Logos Groupthink

Since Sunday afternoon when Bill Combs and Rod Decker called attention to Five Reasons Not to Buy Logos, my little blog has received an unprecedented number of hits. In writing the post, I didn’t set out to kick over a hornet’s nest, but there seems to be a bit of a stinging buzz coming after me anyway.

The post was more of a philosophical critique than a product review. What concerns me is not the functionality of the program but rather the assumptions that seem to be driving Logos’ popularity. Perhaps it would be helpful to revisit my argument in another light.

1. Books That Look Nice on a Shelf Are Likely to Remain There

We have all bought books to complete a set or because we like the idea of having them. Has anyone actually read their two-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards with the microscopic type? I have bought a lot of books from people making the jump to Logos. Often the books are so unused that I’m the first to break in the binding. If you do not profit from a book in print, a searchable digital edition is unlikely to receive much more use (unless of course your problem is simply that you need a good reading copy of Edward’s Religious Affections or something).

I understand collecting print books. It costs thousands of dollars but your office looks amazing. However, I have never understood why people want thousands of mediocre books filed away somewhere on their computers. Most of the books in Logos base packages aren’t the first books that you would want to consult. They aren’t bad books, but one would be hard pressed to argue that they are the best books. If you’re going to make the Logos plunge, don’t sell (or choose not to buy) the best books to get it.

2. Recommendations Must Consider Budgets

People who amass theological libraries are seldom wealthy people. The choice to buy one resource usually comes at the expense of not having others. I am amazed that so many seminary professors recommend Logos when the books included in the base packages tend not to be the books they recommend in print. Compare a list of recommended books put out by any seminary to a logos base package. The money you would spend on Logos would go a long way towards buying the best resources.

3. Borrowed Cards Make for Bad Research

When I competed on my college’s intercollegiate debate team, my teammates and I used to put all our research onto 4×6 index cards. The cards were just big enough to contain about a paragraph of text in addition to the bibliographic data. We would make hundreds of cards, organize them by topic, and use them to cite sources in our extemporaneous speeches. We essentially created our own little Logos for our debate topic.

Our coach strictly prohibited borrowing each other’s cards in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Other teams didn’t have such restrictions, and we made mincemeat out of them. They had what looked like research, but it would never stand up to close scrutiny. Research requires one to read entire articles, chapters, and books. Good reading habits do include the ability to effectively skim. However, the entire source must be read in some manner else one will constantly miss important qualifiers and will often fail to understand the main argument entirely. Logos gives you in one click what appears to be hours of research. However, you have not done any research until you have read all the material.

4.You Don’t Need a Huge Personal Library; You Need a Good One

If you have Moo on Romans or Hoehner on Ephesians, how many other commentaries do you really need on these books? Perhaps one or two others would be helpful, but when you need more than that, what you really need is a trip to a library. Sure, missionaries can’t just visit a theological library any time they would like, but then again, how often does a missionary need to write an academic paper? For that matter, who can adequately do academic research using only Logos? What most people need is a small personal library of very good books.

5. Ebooks Are the Wave of the Future

I’m not critiquing Logos because I think paper is better. The world is going digital, but I don’t think it is time to jump aboard the digital bandwagon quite yet. I am concerned that the rise of ebooks in popular file types like pdf and epub are going to replace both print and proprietary digital formats. While print books will always have some place in the world, programs like Logos may very well become obsolete once ebooks become the norm.

Logos is a nice software program, but its popularity has created a kind of groupthink that seems to be blind to the software’s limitations and encourages bad research habits. On a limited budget, paper still seems to be the way to go for the time being. If you really like Logos, buy it. Just don’t buy all the hype.