Doing Internal Evidence First in Textual Criticism (Using Accordance)

For much of the history of the discipline of New Testament textual criticism, practitioners have overwhelmingly favored beginning with the external evidence before looking at the internal evidence. This has been largely a necessity because one could not determine by simply looking at the text the type of textual variant that would be found in the apparatus. Tischendorf’s magisterial Editio octava critica maior, with its extensive list of textual variants, nevertheless did not indicate in the text what kind of reading one would meet in the apparatus. Von Soden’s magnum opus also lacks any such pointers. The UBS text fares better in that it at least gives a footnote number after a word. But it still does not hint at what sort the variation is.

Perhaps this is why external evidence has been the first step in solving a textual problem: there was simply no other way to do it. Once someone glanced at the apparatus and saw their favored witnesses—whether they be א B, D F G, 𝔐, or any number after 𝔓—all too often the textual problem was considered solved. Second-year Greek students, regardless of instructions otherwise, tend to use internal evidence only as confirmation on the decision already arrived at on an external basis. Internal considerations are merely an afterthought, certainly not given equal weight with the external.

The Nestle tradition, however, gives sigla in the text to indicate what kind of variant one might expect to see in the apparatus, as follows:

⸆       insertion
⸀       substitution of one word
⸂ ⸃      substitution of more than one word between these two symbols
o       omission of one word
⸋ ⸌    omission of more than one word between symbols
⸉ ⸊   transposition between symbols
[ ]     word(s) in brackets omitted in witnesses listed in apparatus

At least the Nestle-Aland text gives some clues to the user as to the kind of variation one can expect to find. These symbols were not in the early editions of the Nestle but have been included for many decades.

This is fortuitous for the approach I take to solving textual problems. First, I ask the student to start with the Nestle-Aland text and refrain from looking at the apparatus. Second, I ask the student to come up with some guesses as to what the variant(s) might be. This is of course not necessary for omissions, simple transpositions, and bracketed words; the variants can be deduced from the sigla. But substitutions and insertions require some guesswork. And if the student can guess what the variant is, this reveals a predictable reading. If the modern student can come up with it, then scribes whose work has no genetic connection to each other’s could have come up with it on their own. But even when there is a genetic connection, working this way helps the student to create a more level playing field between external and internal evidence.

Take, for example, Phil 1.14. The Nestle text reads: καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον ⸆ λαλεῖν. There is an addition after λόγον. Obviously, some adjunct, probably a genitive modifier. What is the ‘word’ that these Christ-followers might dare to speak? Typical student answers are the word ‘of God’ or the word ‘of the Lord.’ And this is exactly what we find in the apparatus: του θεου or κυριου.

This is where things get a bit muddled, however. Students notice immediately the pedigree of the longer readings: του θεου is found in major Alexandrian witnesses, along with several significant witnesses of other types (ℵ A B [⸉ D*] P Ψ 048vid. 075. 0278. 33. 81. 104. 326. 365. 629. 1175. 1241s. 2464 al lat syp.h** co; Cl); κυριου is found in F G, two leading Western MSS. The Nestle text reading is found in 𝔓46 D1739. 1881 𝔐 r vgms; McionT. Even with the papyrus and 1739 the evidence is not nearly as impressive as the ‘word of God’ reading. If students begin with the external evidence, as has been the customary practice, they may well be prejudiced against the shorter reading from the get-go because of its lack of credentials. This, in fact, seems to be the case with the third edition of the UBS text: the shorter reading garnered only a ‘D’ rating; the fourth and fifth editions elevated it to ‘B’ status.

What if students could look at the internal evidence without bias? What if they could ignore the witnesses in the apparatus and work out the problem before listening to the external voices? As we have noted, students can do this with certain kinds of variants with the Nestle-Aland text. But I did not know of any way to assist students in not letting their left hand know what their right hand was doing. Until now.

 

Feature in Accordance

During the spring semester of 2019, while teaching an elective on NT textual criticism at Dallas Seminary, I wrote to Helen and Roy Brown of Accordance to see if they could create a module that would enable students to do internal evidence first and without prejudice. As is typical with Accordance, I received a quick reply. They worked on this problem and soon realized that the software already could do just what I was asking for!

Here is what Helen wrote:

The illustration below shows a tab with the apparatus where the Witness field is apparently hidden, while the tab behind it has the regular display. Both are tied to the text so the user can consult whichever version he wants.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 8.19.54 PM

You can do this in a separate tab (not a parallel pane), searching the Witness field for *? to highlight all the contents of that field. Then go to Set Tool Display.

[You go to Tool Display by clicking “command,”; this window will pop up:]

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 8.20.40 PM

You click the Customize button, and choose White as the Search Highlighting color (or whatever color your background is set to). This effectively hides all your hits. DO NOT click Use as Default as this will apply to all new views of the tool. You can however, save the workspace and the tab will retain its characteristics when it is reopened.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 8.21.40 PM

Sincerely,
Helen

See what we have done For BibleWorks Users.

*********************************
Dr. Helen A. Brown
Chief Administrative Officer
Accordance/OakTree Software, Inc.
http://www.accordancebible.com/

 

I would also recommend saving the session so that you can return to it any time you’re working with the apparatus. I called mine “NO MSS.accord.” And here is what that shows for Phil 1.14:

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 8.22.11 PM

Conclusion

I wonder if textual critics have for a long time made a virtue out of a necessity. Of course, since the days of Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Hort, the emphasis in most schools of thought has been on the external evidence. But more and more, textual scholars are recognizing that internal evidence must have its say, and it needs to do so with blinders on (as much as is possible) about what the external evidence reveals. Perhaps now that day has come.

 

I wish to thank Helen Brown of Accordance for help in seeing yet another potential use of this outstanding Bible software program.

 

 

Mike Justice: Now he sees Jesus!

Mike Justice was one of my students at Dallas Seminary in the late 80s/early 90s. He passed into the Lord’s presence on March 8, 2019, at 63 years old. His memorial service was held today, March 23, at Lake Ridge Bible Church in Mesquite, TX. He died of heart failure, after two kidney transplants, multiple surgeries, procedures, and health problems for many years.

Michael Justice portrait-150x150  I’ve taught hundreds of students the rudiments of Hellenistic Greek in thirty-five years of graduate school instruction. Many have gone on for their doctorates; several are teaching at various institutes throughout the world and are truly exceptional scholars in their own right. Some of these students struggled with the elements of Greek; for others it came more naturally. For Mike, it was anything but easy. Yet, of this vast array of students, I would rank Mike among my top three.

Mike took his first four semesters of Greek from me. By the time first-year Greek was underway, Mike had already memorized the textbook—a serious tome called The Language of the New Testament by Eugene Van Ness Goetchius. He could cite not only what Goetchius said but where he said it—both page and section number. His Greek was impeccable. He would often go up to the board to help other students with their paradigms (and the students had to learn all the paradigms, including optatives, pluperfects, μι verbs, etc). Yet he had never studied Greek before. There were times in class when he would correct me, always very gently: “Professor Wallace, I believe that is on page 53, not page 55—and it’s the last paragraph on the page.” He was always right, too!

His sweet wife, Terri, has been in charge of the print shop at DTS for decades. It was good to see her and so many friends at the memorial service today (I had some difficulty finding a parking spot!). Their marriage was rock-solid, their love for the Lord inspiring. And in spite of Mike’s health issues, he never complained. In fact, he had a quick wit and a great sense of humor. Once when he got an ablation for his arrhythmia, in the recovery room he was told that the arrhythmia was now a thing of the past. He responded, “I’ve got rhythm? Who could ask for anything more!” (For you youngsters, that’s a line from the Gershwins’ hit song in 1930.)

Did I mention that Mike never complained? Well, he had reason to. Besides having a legion of health problems, Mike Justice was blind.

Adolescent diabetes was the ultimate cause; Mike’s eyesight began to degenerate during his college years and was gone by the time he got to seminary. He was the third blind student ever to get a Master of Theology degree at Dallas Seminary. (I’ve had the privilege of teaching Greek to two more blind students since then.) He made no excuses and buckled down to learn the material, memorizing it as he went along.

In second year Greek, the students had to diagram a portion of Philippians. Being without sight, Mike of course couldn’t do this. I told him it wouldn’t be fair to the other students for him to get a pass on this, but he couldn’t do this exact assignment. So, instead, I added hundreds of vocabulary words to his workload. He took on the challenge eagerly, cheerfully, and exceptionally.

Micah 6.8 was perhaps Mike’s favorite verse: “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Mike was the poster child for this verse. And he wanted to make sure that everyone in his world knew that Jesus Christ died for sinners, and rose from the dead as a guarantee of God’s acceptance of all who put their trust in him. For Mike, that trust has finally become sight. Well done, good and faithful servant!

 

 

Eulogy for Nayda Baird Wallace (November 11, 1929—January 30, 2017)

Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God

N.B. On January 30, 2017, Nayda B. Wallace moved from this dirty, painful, exciting, happy, tiresome, beautiful, depressing, ugly realm to her eternal home. On February 25, at North Creek Presbyterian Church, Mill Creek, WA, the family had a small service for her at which I was privileged to speak. Below is my eulogy.

Daniel B. Wallace

nayda wallacce

Preface
For every memorial service I’ve ever attended, I never felt that we showed adequate respect for the deceased. Especially for a person who has lived a long life—and who has touched so many lives in a truly remarkable way, the memorial service seems like a bit of a downer. I’m not talking about our collective grief, which is severe enough. What I mean is that it’s simply impossible to sum up the rich tapestry and beauty of such a person’s life in just a few moments. It almost seems like we’ve cheated that person out of the respect they deserve.

And here we are, remembering a woman, my mother, whose influence has been vast. I posted on Facebook the passing of Mom the day after she died. Three days later, there were nearly a thousand expressions of condolence, shared grief, and comments on how Mom affected them—either directly or indirectly. The fact that you all are here is testimony to your respect for her, and her impact on your life.

In a service like this, we can only give snippets, brief vignettes, glimpses-in-time of a life well lived. And that’s why it feels like we are cheating the deceased. But   we   can   remember. And I am reminded that there is an … ‘UNTIL’ …; there is more to life than what we experience in our short time on this old sphere. There is a day coming when we will see Nayda Baird Wallace once again, when we will join the great cloud of witnesses who have left this temporary abode for their eternal home. And we will exchange stories and memories, and we will freely speak the words of encouragement that we might not have been able to in this life.

Each one of us is a unique creation, a person crafted in the image of God. And God created Mom with an extra measure of compassion, creativity, wisdom, and desire to learn. She was also blessed with an overabundance of personality, making everyone feel welcome and special in her presence.

I’ve already shared a couple memories of my mother. Here, I want to add a couple more.

Mom and Dad always had the gift of hospitality. They are the most hospitable people I have ever known. I don’t mean they had lots of social events, big to-dos, or any cocktail parties! No, they were hospitable in a different way. I can hardly remember a time growing up when I didn’t share my bedroom with someone else. My brother, sister, and I each had our own bedrooms, but rarely were they absent guests. We had cousins, youth pastors, friends, missionaries, and foster children living with us at various times—often for several months or even years. Many of these people are here today to honor Nayda Wallace.

Combining her aptitude in common sense, skill in teaching, and love for the Lord, Mom instructed us in the rudiments of theology well. There was a time when I had doubts about my faith because of some fairly trivial matters. Mom reminded me that at the core of my beliefs must be Christ himself. On the periphery should be less important matters—and that a wise man knew how to tell the difference between essential matters and peripheral ones.

She would say, “Nail one foot to the floor inside the circle, where Christ is; let your other foot tap dance all it wants, recognizing that you can never get too far away from that inner circle.” Since that time, I’ve gotten a few years of theological instruction under my belt, but Mom was my first and my best teacher. And that simple yet vivid imagery—Christ at the center!—has been the bedrock of my theological thinking for half a century.

Nayda was the biggest believer in her children, always fascinated by what we did, always encouraging us to shoot for our dreams, whatever they may be. But Nayda Wallace was not perfect. None of us is—except the King himself. Her compassion was displayed in constant worry. Mom was, in fact, a major-league worrier—and she passed this gene on to me. She especially worried about her own children. She worried about our physical health, she worried about our mental health, and she worried especially about our spiritual health.

After awhile, she came to realize that her worry was the flip-side of a blessing from the Lord; the other side was compassion and trust in God. And after many years, she morphed from being a pining worrier into a prayer warrior. Yet, even early on, Mom constantly prayed that each of her children would come to know the Lord—and not just know him but truly embrace Jesus Christ as the most important person in our lives.

He is, after all, the sovereign Lord of the universe. There is nothing that happens to us that takes God by surprise. Not only that, but he is always good to his children.

Romans 8.18, 35–39
You might wonder if I’m being calloused, if I’m suppressing my own mother’s suffering toward the end of her life. Now, I would like to say that Mom did not suffer. I would like to say that. But it’s not true. The whole family prayed that she would not suffer—with tears and anxious pleading before the Lord. But our sovereign God did not answer our prayers the way we wanted.

Mom had good days and bad days. She especially had great difficulty breathing. Last May she was put in hospice care. My brother and sister and their families live in the Seattle area; they have done an amazing job caring for both Mom and Dad these past several months. Wally and Keri, I want to publicly express my profound gratitude to you, and your families, for all you have done for our parents.

Because you live here, you could see, every week, how Mom was progressively getting worse…

I couldn’t. And I simply wasn’t prepared in my last visit. She had been moved to a nursing home a couple of days earlier. Her breathing was labored. She didn’t even have the strength to sip water from a straw. She was barely conscious. The day after I returned home, Wally called me to tell me that Mom had passed. The first thing I did after the phone call was to thank God that Mom was no longer suffering. And then, I broke down and wept.

Many of you have been through the shock of seeing your loved ones die. I don’t think we can ever prepare for it, even though we know it is inevitable—for all of us.

But Mom’s suffering is over now. One passage of Scripture keeps coming to mind as I think about my mother’s passing: Romans chapter 8, verse 18:

For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.

The apostle Paul did not write these words to downplay our suffering as though it didn’t matter. If anyone knew what suffering was, Paul did.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, written less than two years before he penned these words to the Romans, he documented the kind of suffering he had already endured—and he had ten more years of suffering to undergo before he would die as a martyr under Nero’s reign. Here he spoke of the many times he was put in prison, his countless beatings, and that he was more than once near death:

“Five times,” Paul says, “I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers…; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” [2 Cor 11.23–27 (ESV)]

And yet, Paul could speak of all this as his “momentary light affliction”—an affliction that, as he declares, is “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” [2 Cor 4.17]. The man who was no stranger to almost unbearable suffering could call it ‘momentary light affliction’ in light of the resurrected life that he was to enjoy.

How would Paul know about such future glory? … For onething, he believed the good news about Jesus Christ—his encounter with the ascended Lord on the Road to Damascus changed him forever. For another, as he tells us earlier in Romans 8, the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirits that we are God’s children. The Spirit works in our hearts to constantly reassure us that we belong to Jesus Christ. And third, Paul also had a near death experience.

In 2 Cor 12, he told the Corinthian believers that, as he put it, “he heard things too sacred to be put into words” [2 Cor 12.4]. He spoke of ascending to heaven, although he did not know if it was in the flesh or in the spirit.

He was reluctant to even mention the event, using the third person to describe his own near-death experience that had taken place fourteen years earlier. He begins by saying, “I know a man in Christ…” and never indicates that he was that man. Yet there is a consensus among those who have studied the life of Paul in his Greco-Roman setting that he was speaking of himself. And although he was not sure whether this was in the spirit or in the body, he was sure of this heavenly encounter.

Now, near-death experiences have been studied for a long time. More than one medical doctor has written about them, and one MD even wrote about his own near-death episode. Well over 100,000 of these events have been documented.

They are of two types: in one, the individual goes to a dark place, a place of void, even a place of terror and torment.

In the other, the person travels to a quite different locale. And there is a stunning similarity to their reports. There are six features that are almost invariable—regardless of when and where they occur.

  1. The experience is too wonderful to put into words.
  2. An overwhelming sense of peace and joy occurs.
  3. The memory is vivid and remains razor sharp even years later.
  4. There is a great reluctance to speak about it.
  5. The person senses an out-of-body experience.
  6. There is certainty of its reality.

It’s remarkable that Paul’s own episode—nearly two thousand years before near-death experiences began to be studied—has all of these same characteristics.

And so he can tell the Christ-followers in Rome—with the triple assurance of his faith in Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit within him, and his own near-death event—that “the present sufferings are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”

And frankly, if Paul had never had that experience, his assurance of eternal life would be every bit as great. What his near-death incident added was a revelation to him of the things “too sacred to be put into words.”

Paul’s exclamation—that our present suffering doesn’t hold a candle to the bright light of our future glory—should be our constant mantra, our daily battle cry—to press on, to strive, to live for our God far beyond what we ever dreamt we could do.

Mom understood this. Eight years ago she wrote an email to me in which she relayed that she was getting weaker and weaker. She felt as though she could no longer contribute meaningfully to anyone’s life. She felt useless. She was deeply discouraged.

Toward the end of the letter, she said that there was one thing she still could do: pray. And that gave her strength to face each day, to trust the Lord, and to press on. She prayed for her children, she prayed for their spouses, she prayed for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she prayed for her friends, she prayed for the country, and she prayed for the world. Mom’s own suffering brought her closer to the Lord whom she longed to see face-to-face.

It has been said that the change in a person’s life when they put their faith in Christ is far greater than the change that takes place when they die. And that is certainly true. Paul tells us that before we trusted Christ as our Savior, all of us were dead in our sins. The change that happens when we repent of our sins and embrace Jesus Christ is nothing less than the transformation of a spiritual corpse into a living soul.

And Jesus told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Martha, do you believe this?” [John 11.25–26]

Nayda Wallace certainly did! She had the firm conviction that God would keep his word to her, that her salvation was more secure than Fort Knox, that the most important relationship in her life would last forever. Mom wholeheartedly agreed with Paul when he concluded the eighth chapter of his magnificent letter to the Romans with a hymn of assurance:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 8.35–39]

Several months before Mom died, she wrote her own obituary. This is the obituary that was published in the newspapers. I only added the details of her passing. She wanted to make sure that everyone of her descendants—both by blood and by marriage—would be listed. And her concluding paragraph was this:

The most important thing in Nayda and Beecher’s life has been the one, permanent, eternal relationship that anyone can have. They know their Savior, Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead that he might free us from our bonds of sin and redeem us for himself. Nayda’s greatest joy would be to see all of her family and friends come to faith in Christ.

Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?” Her answer was YES. Jesus asked Nayda Baird Wallace, “Do you believe?” Her answer was YES. Jesus asks you, today, “Do you believe?” What will your answer be?

 

 

Christmas Letter

I feel like a student in the class of a proverbially unreasonable professor. The prof gave a final exam, with one question: “Define the universe. Use three examples.” So much has happened in the last year at the Center! Where to begin? I think I’ll just give three examples.

First, CSNTM is growing! Three new staff members have joined our team. Kelsey Hart is now our office manager. Stephen Clardy is our Development Coordinator, working closely with Andy Patton, our Development Manager. And Jacob Peterson is CSNTM’s Research Fellow. (You might recognize Jacob’s name; he worked for the Center before heading off to the University of Edinburgh for his PhD in New Testament textual criticism.) We are excited to see how Kelsey, Stephen, and Jacob will complement the team, enabling us to continue our mission of preserving ancient Scripture for a modern world.

Picture2.png
OLD AND NEW
IMAGES OF P40

Second, through a generous grant and magnificent gifts from you, our partners in preservation, we were able to purchase a multispectral imaging (MSI) camera. This camera, which came with a $100,000 price-tag, uses 15 points on the light spectra, including invisible bands on both ends. With it we can now see texts that disappeared over the centuries, were washed out in floods, became burnt in fires, or were scraped off by scribes who then penned something different over the erased text. And these ancient texts have been lost to the ages—until now. What natural disasters and man-made destruction did, with this equipment we can undo. With MSI, the age of rediscovery is born.

In May, four members of the CSNTM staff took an intensive course on using this new camera. We are now one of a handful of organizations in the world using a portable MSI camera. And this means that more doors are opening for us across the globe.

Picture1.png
PREPARING MANUSCRIPTS
IN TBILISI

And third, while the staff was learning the ropes with this game-changing camera, I was in Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with two former interns, Brit Burnette and Laura Peisker. We were on a ‘front trip’ to make contact with two libraries in Tbilisi and one in Mestia. A native of Georgia, Nino Fincher, translated for us as we built relationships, examined manuscripts, and wrote up our findings for the digitizing team that would follow. Then, as we were flying back home, Rob Marcello, CSNTM’s Assistant Executive Director, and Jacob Peterson flew to Tbilisi with the new camera.

I met up with Rob and Jacob in Greece where we did more photography. Finally, we traversed northern Europe, landing in Heidelberg. In these locales, words on ancient papyrus and parchment—words that time forgot—have come to life again!

So, where do we go from here? We are working out contracts for next year’s expeditions with institutes in Greece, Germany, and the U.S. Libraries, museums, and monasteries are seeking CSNTM’s help to digitally preserve these ancient artifacts, these irreplaceable treasures of the Church.

We have the opportunities. We have the staff. We have the equipment. But we don’t have all the funds needed to do this work. We are making aggressive plans for upcoming expeditions. This Christmas season, we hope to raise the first $150,000 needed to begin our work on these critical expeditions.

It is CSNTM’s mission both to protect the past and to ensure the future of these sacred Scriptures. As you ponder your end-of-the-year giving, please consider making a generous investment in this work. Our equipment and staff are opening doors across the globe, but it takes a team to make these expeditions possible.

Will you make an investment that ensures the handwritten text of the New Testament is preserved for the next generation? Together, we can accomplish our mission by having:

  • 2 people who give $25,000
  • 2 people who give $15,000
  • 2 people who give $10,000
  • 4 people who give $5,000
  • 15 people who give $1,000
  • 15 people who give $500
  • 15 people who give $250
  • 25 people who give $100
  • 10 people who give $50
  • 30 people who give $25

 

In His Grip,

Dan'sSignature.jpg

Daniel B. Wallace
Executive Director
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
www.csntm.org

 

Online Divinity Degrees: Two-Dimensional Preparation for a Three-Dimensional World

Online education has become a booming business. And online theological education is no exception. In August 2017, “The Complete List of Online Master of Divinity Degrees,” an article written by Ryan Nelson, was posted at Gradlime: https://gradlime.com/online-masters-divinity/. The author noted that there are “more than 270 graduate schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools,” but at the time most offered only ‘slim pickings’ in online education. He also noted that there are 55 schools that offer a large number of online MDiv classes, with nearly forty of them doling out the complete degree online. (It should be noted that not all the 270+ theology schools offer an MDiv, so the ratio of schools with online courses to on-campus-only degrees is significantly higher than twenty percent.) In the last year and a half, the ratios have only gotten closer. One Christian university has nearly 100,000 onlinestudents. Another ratio—the cost to the school for each full-time online student vs. the cost for each full-time on-campus student—reveals just how much online education is good for the school’s finances. It is a fraction of the cost of on-campus education (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/magazine/how-liberty-university-built-a-billion-dollar-empire-online.html). Online education is a money-maker for schools.

Many administrators have justified such distance learning, touting it as something that is every bit as good as in-class instruction. But is it really? For those who will be ministering to real people in the most personal way, how is it possible for the virtual classroom, taught by a virtual teacher to virtual students, to be as good as flesh-and-blood instruction? One measure may be to compare it to how Jesus taught.

Jesus the Master Teacher
As yet another Christmas draws near, we are reminded of the life-changing truth mentioned in John’s Prologue: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14). The Incarnation is one of the great mysteries of the universe. We can describe it in halting terms and even partially explain it, but our finite minds cannot fully grasp it. Ever. Among other things, when the Second Person of the Trinity cloaked his glory in human form he took on the suffering of finitude, of living in a dirty world, of feeling hunger and pain, of rejection, of death. He chose a dozen men to train deeply and personally. They were his acolytes, his companions, his friends. And they were collectively an unsavory lot. Yet Jesus selected them—men who would otherwise never have found a common bond. “The Word… dwelt among us.” The Master Teacher taught the crowds, healed the sick, fed the multitudes, and exorcised hordes from the underworld who had taken up residence in many a human. They had their turn. Now it was God’s. And he lived with a dozen students for three years.

There are untold numbers of lessons we can learn from the Incarnation. One of those in the pedagogical category is this: the most impactful ministry is intensely personal, messy, intentional as well as serendipitous, sacrificial, and communal. Let’s examine each of these briefly.

  1. The most impactful ministry is intensely personal.

Jesus selected seventy disciples to spend time with. Out of that seventy he chose twelve to live with. Of those twelve he concentrated especially on three of them. For the intimate group, it was no holds barred. The instruction was in your face. Jesus ate with the apostles, walked with the apostles, prayed with the apostles, gave private instruction to the apostles, permitted the apostles to learn from each other and minister with each other. It was 24/7 ministry. Life lessons were learned, not just the content of a course.

  1. The most impactful ministry is messy.

Jesus did not teach his disciples in a sterile environment. The apostles were sinners. They wanted to call down God’s wrath and destroy a whole village for rejecting their Master. They got angry with each other. They were jealous, petty, cowardly, and disbelieving. They feared for their lives on more than one occasion. They pushed away children, the blind, old women, and Gentiles. But Jesus taught them, and he changed them. They witnessed miracles and object lessons. They saw their Master tangle with the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. They learned compassion, grace, truth, love, and courage. Their lives were radically changed by the Rabbi in their midst.

  1. The most impactful ministry is intentional.

The Lord made lesson plans for his instruction. He taught with intentionality. His instruction was thought out. He timed what he taught so that it would have the greatest impact. Much of his instruction to the apostles was before or after he spoke to the crowds. And some of it was for their ears only. The apostles were privileged to learn “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13.11), to wrestle with how to feed the multitudes, to learn the limitations of their exorcistic powers sans prayer. Above all, they learned to trust—and to put their faith in God Incarnate.

  1. The most impactful ministry is serendipitous.

Not all that Jesus taught his closest followers was thought out ahead of time, but came about because an opportunity presented itself. Religious leaders confronted Jesus about his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath, about their not doing the ritual hand-washing before a meal, about paying taxes, about who their neighbor was, about the nature of resurrection life. The marginalized in society came to Jesus, were rebuffed by his disciples, and ministered to by the Lord. Jesus used every opportunity to mentor these men, to mold their character, to show them what God was really like. And he did it along the way, largely by spending time with them.

  1. The most impactful ministry is sacrificial.

Of course, this goes without saying for the Lord. But his closest followers also made massive sacrifices to learn from the Master. Jesus scolded those who would not make the sacrifice to follow him. His demands were radical. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26–27). Those closest to him understood this—at least to some degree. Peter spoke for the rest: “We have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10.28). Disappointment and fear reigned during the interlude between the crucifixion and resurrection. The disciples indeed had given up everything to follow Jesus, only to see the Messiah nailed to a cross. But the empty tomb showed them that their commitment was not in vain. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Spirit changed everything. These cowardly men were transformed on the Day of Pentecost. And they would eventually make the ultimate sacrifice—for Jesus.

  1. The most impactful ministry is communal.

Jesus built a new community, the Church, starting with a dozen individuals. He was not the Lone Ranger with just one sidekick. He modeled living out a life for God. He modeled loving the Lord with heart, soul, and mind. And this was acted out by loving his disciples. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end” (John 13.1 NET). Jesus constantly reminded his followers of the importance of community. We are not to forgive our brothers and sisters just seven times, “but seventy-seven times!” (Matt 18.22). “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13.34).

Remarkably, although Jesus was the first to put Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 together, and as the hinges on which the whole Law hung no less (Matt 22.40), it is the second command that is repeated as a summary of both in the NT (Rom 13.9; Gal 5.14; Jas 2.8). Thrice it is mentioned in the epistles, and thrice it is claimed to sum up the Law. John tells us why: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4.20 NET).

The most impactful ministry in Jesus’ day is still the most impactful today. How do the traditional brick-and-mortar seminary education and online theological education measure up?

The Pros and Cons of Online Theological Education
Obviously, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ cannot be duplicated. Instead, he must be revered and worshiped. He alone is the theanthropic person. The sacrifices made today by seminary students will not be the same as what the apostles went through, and their teachers can’t hold a candle to the sun of Christ. Nevertheless, there are principles that we can extract from the Gospels—principles that were played out in the book of Acts and the epistles, especially with Paul and his associates.

  1. intensely personal

There can be no comparison between online education and face-to-face education. Unless, of course, the professor considers out-of-classroom time with students to be optional. The better teachers see individual time, and corporate time, outside of the classroom as a must. Even FaceTime or Skype cannot accomplish the same things as 3D communication.

  1. messy

Ditto for ‘messy.’ Although online teaching can, with some effort, involve faculty in the lives of students, it simply is not the same as logging hours with them—both in the classroom and out.

  1. intentional

Here is where online education shines. A course can be packaged in such a way that the material is covered in full. Already-created video instruction can cut out superfluous material and achieve high levels of content efficiently. In-class instruction or live video feeds often detour because of Q&A or because of the professor following rabbit trails. But ‘dead’ video instruction can become quickly dated, lack vitality, and require less-than-riveted attention that a live, small classroom can inculcate. Thus, the very type of online course that shines the most in intentionality is also the one with the most serious negatives attached to it.

  1. serendipitous

As strong as intentionality is for online education, it is equally weak in serendipitous education. What happens along the way, how faculty and students respond to current events, to personal crises in students’ lives, to teaching opportunities—all these are the domain of 3D education. That is, as long as the teacher is willing to get outside the four walls and get involved in students’ lives.

  1. sacrificial

Making a sacrifice to uproot and move across the country (or across the globe) for the sake of the best education is the stumbling block to more and more would-be students today. Many are already well established in their careers, have children, own a home, or have other entanglements that would seem to prevent them from making such a commitment. Understandably, some students simply cannot do it. They may live under despotic rule, be too poor to move, have health issues, or be under various obligations that would keep them from taking up residence elsewhere. They are making the sacrifice that they can.

On the other hand, some students are simply lazy. Online classes are, frankly, more convenient. Numerous pupils in theological institutes live on or close to campus but take courses online. Why? Sometimes it is because their schedule will not allow them to do otherwise. But often it is because they want the sheepskin with as little effort as possible. Countless numbers could make the sacrifice but view the degree as more important than the education. They intentionally settle for second best.

Further, sometimes those who teach online courses make as little sacrifice as possible. I do not want to paint with a broad brush here; a good number of excellent teachers work very hard in providing two-dimensional instruction. Yet they often are swimming upstream: in-the-flesh instruction would be more meaningful and more effective than live video feeds, and far more than ‘dead’ video instruction.

  1. communal

Community is a high priority for millennials, the group that comprises almost the entire student body of undergrad and grad schools today. But most millennials have almost no clue how to integrate community into their lives. Many feel terribly lonely, too busy, too disconnected. (For just one example of reports on millennials and community, see this article in the New York Post: https://nypost.com/2018/07/10/millennials-are-horrible-neighbors/.) The comically tragic scene of a group of teens sitting together and each texting someone else outside the group has become commonplace across the country and across the globe. They live virtual lives in a virtual world. But human beings are not virtual. Although it may be uncomfortable, awkward, and presumably artificial at first, achieving real community on a seminary campus with today’s millennial students is deeply satisfying for those on both sides of the podium.

Young_people_texting_on_smartphones_using_thumbs

Public domain picture from Wikipedia

  1. support network

A seventh element can be added to the brick-and-mortar approach to education: the on-campus student has access to a world of knowledge, along with those who know how to access it. Nowadays, online education is exploding with internet-accessible information. But all this is equally available to on-campus students. Further, the full library services, tutors, study groups, mentor-students (those further along in the program), and the school’s other faculty as well as staff are matter-of-course for flesh-and-blood education and difficult, if not impossible, to come by for online education.

It seems that three-dimensional education, when both teacher and student are fully committed to the process, is hands-down superior to two-dimensional education. But we must not think that the latter has no value. Quite the contrary: it is the second best approach. As I mentioned earlier, for some students this is the only way they can get a theological education of any sort. For those who are not enrolled in a program of study, numerous online courses are available from excellent teachers. Once again, however, it must be underscored that whatever an online student can get an on-campus student can get.

In many respects, online education is like a letter from an apostle. John told the ‘elect lady’ in one letter and Gaius in another, “Though I have many other things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink, but I hope to come visit you and speak face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12; see also 3 John 13–14). Paul wrote to the Romans that he longed to visit them (Rom 1.10–11); meanwhile, his letter would have to do. Distance education—whether an epistle or a video course—is not to be cast off as so much refuse, but neither is it ideal.

I would like to close this blog-turned-dissertation with a few random notes, anecdotal and otherwise.

  1. Dallas Seminary started an internship program in the early 90s, in which a handful of Master of Theology students would be mentored by a faculty member over the course of a school year. The students were required to put in hundreds of hours of work for the professor. Ideally, the internship would help the teacher with his or her projects, and help the student to learn the ropes of an academic ministry. I have had well over a hundred interns during these years. In my three and a half decades of teaching in graduate school, I can say that absolutely nothing has been so rewarding as spending time with these select students. This kind of close, personal attention would simply not be possible with distance learning. Many of my interns have become professors and scholars, distinguishing themselves as gifted, personable, and approachable teachers. Others have become pastors, missionaries, and translators. They have learned what I attempted to model—and often, far better than my meager attempts at mentoring would suggest.
  2. Every year, I ask all my students to fill out what I call the SSRS—“Succinct Self-Revelatory Statement.” I am very nosey in the SSRS, asking the student about marital status, number and ages of children, weekly work hours, number of courses they are taking, etc. I want to assess the likelihood of their success in my class. Increasingly, students want to have it all: work 40 hours a week, take a full load at school, and raise two preschoolers with their spouse who is also working full-time. It’s a recipe for disaster and I let them know it. I want them to succeed—both in the course and in life. Learning to settle for limited objectives and delayed gratification is key to that success.

In the real-life setting of a living, breathing environment, students often learn of others’ needs and they pray as a family. This past semester, when one student learned of another’s car troubles during our opening prayer time, he gave him a car! Yes, he had another. But he could have sold the second car and paid some bills. Yet the need so impressed him that he donated his car to this student. That’s community at work. Could this happen in an online course? Yes, of course. But the likelihood is greater the more the students know about each other.

I also ask them how much Greek they have had previously and whether any courses they took were online. I can say that, more often than not, the students who are less prepared than others are those whose previous education in the language has been online. To be sure, some students are so highly motivated that they will learn well via any method, even being self-taught. They are the exception that proves the rule.

  1. Last month I spoke with professors (and even one president) at several theological schools, while attending the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. I asked their opinion about online education. I was surprised to learn how strongly negative their attitude was toward such an instructional model. Some departments, and even an entire faculty, refused to offer any online classes. They recognized that their stance was old school, and that the institute’s finances were perhaps hurting because of it. But their concern was to make sure that their students were well prepared for a real world—messy, sinful, dirty, ugly and beautiful, unpredictable, filled with heartache and joy. Real ministry involves all these things. They agreed with me that some students simply cannot get theological education any other way than through distance learning. But that’s second best.
  2. What about those professors who spend no time outside of class with their students? Or those who go through the motions, simply transferring their notes to the students’ notebooks, never passing through the crucible of life? Yes, there are those kinds of teachers. Is it legitimate, however, to compare the worst of 3D teachers with the best of 2D teachers? Minimalist teachers in the classroom are not the way it’s supposed to be. When I was in the master’s program, I sought out the very best professors teaching their best courses. If a particular course was a little outside my orbit of interest, it would still be preferred over one that was inside but taught by a prof with delusions of adequacy. I wanted to learn not only the content of a course, but how to love God with my mind.
  3. Finally, the bottom-line question that the prospective student needs to ask is not, “What’s the easiest route to take to earn that degree?” but, “What is the best preparation I can get for a lifetime of ministry?”