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John McRay, RIP

John McRay died recently.  From 1980 to 2002 he taught in biblical studies at Wheaton College, the place I now teach and where I serve as Dean of the School of Biblical and Theology Studies.  When he retired, he was awarded emeritus status.5121

I never met John personally, but I did know him through his books.  I used his book on Paul the apostle in undergraduate courses at Houston Baptist University, until Randy Richards, Rodney Reeves and I wrote our own.  It was a solid book on the apostle, but I didn’t always agree with him.

Perhaps John’s greatest accomplishment in scholarship came through his study of the New Testament through the land and material culture of Israel.  He was part of the digs at Caesarea (Maritima), Herodium and Sepphoris, three premiere sites in Israel.  Through his passion for the people and the land–and students–he became a beloved member of the Wheaton faculty.

If you’d like to know more about John, there is a good article about him on his Wheaton Emeritus site:


I’m grateful now to be a small part of the history of a college that has done so much to serve the church and benefit the world.

Today, I led in Graduate orientation at Wheaton College and we had students from China, Zimbabwe, England, Colombia, and all around the country.  In part, the success of our program goes back to people like Dr. John McRay.  Rest in peace, John.





2 & 3 John

I had the great fortune yesterday (6/12/2016) of teaching  Mark Lanier’s Sunday School class at Champions Forest Baptist Church.  Mark is one of the best communicators and Bible teachers you will ever hear so I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity.  He and his wife Becky are currently in Oxford awaiting the birth of their first grand baby.

Brent Johnson and his staff at Champions Forest were excellent to work with. They have already made the video available.

I taught on 2 & 3 John because Mark has been working his way through the New Testament for nearly 49 weeks now.  I’m grateful to have the opportunity to talk about these little, neglected books.

To see the video click here.

Or here is the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wJXNu1ncN0

E. Earle Ellis, 1926-2010

Six years ago this week my Doctor Father, Earle Ellis, died.  When he came to his final teaching post in the mid-1980s, I was his first graduate assistant and one of only five students who finished under him in about 25 years of teaching.  Dr. Aaron Son, one of his other students, informs us through Facebook that Southwestern Seminary has established a lectureship in Ellis’ honor.  I’m pleased to learn of this today.  It is an honor well deserved.  He was a great scholar, teacher and mentor. ellis

The inaugural lecture will be given by Professor Craig Evans who recently moved to Texas after decades of teaching in Canada, most recently at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia.  Dr. Evans is a good choice for an inaugural lecture because Ellis thought highly of him, and Evans in many ways continues along the academic trajectory begun by Ellis and many of his colleagues.  My memory may be faulty, but I seem to recall meeting Evans through Dr. Ellis in the late 1980s.

Dr. Son wrote Ellis’ obituary on the website of the Society of Biblical Literature.  The link is here.  It contains a list of his most important publications and some poignant details about his life. Ellis was a rigorous scholar who demanded and received a great deal from his students.  He was a lifelong bachelor and committed Christian.  He lived a life worthy of emulation.

Ellis leaves behind not only a group of grateful students but a number of important books he penned over his impressive career.  He established a research library which is now part of the collection at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He also established the Institute for Biblical Research, a collegial organization of scholars dedicated to the kind of reverent biblical scholarship which was the hallmark of Ellis’ life.  Information about IBR can be found here.  I’m pleased to have been elected to the board of IBR last year.

Thanks to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for highlighting and continuing his legacy. I hope one day to be able to attend and be part of the honor.

Rest in peace, Dr. Ellis.



Professor Craig Evans Joins the Faculty at HBU

The announcement was made yesterday, Tuesday June 9, 2015, that Dr. Craig Evans will join the faculty of Houston Baptist University in January 2016.  Here is the official announcement:


Craig has been a friend for a number of years, and I’m thrilled at the prospect of him being a part of our faculty.  He will add a great deal of expertise to the School of Christian Thought at HBU.  His current post is at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia.  He will find the Houston winters much more agreeable, but he will definitely have to get used to the heat!  Welcome, Dr. Evans!Craig Evans

Are Print Books a Thing of the Past . . . Like Scrolls?

Before the birth of the Christian movement, scrolls were the book-form used by most if not all people.  Scrolls, also known as rolls, were pages sewn or glued together end-to-end to create a long roll, sometimes up to 35 feet long.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are probably the best known and most significant collection of ancient scrolls, but rolls continued in use for 500 years after the birth of Jesus, mostly among non-Christian groups.scrolls

The codex form of the book was invented in the first century about the time Paul was crossing Asia Minor and planting churches in Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece).  The codex form is the kind of book we use today with individual pages stacked and sewn together along the same edge.  We don’t know exactly who invented the codex, but we do know Christians popularized it and used it for most of their books for the first five hundred years.  With a  couple of exceptions the Greek manuscripts we have of the New Testament from the earliest centuries are written on codex.

Scholars have proposed a number of reasons why Christians adopted the codex book-form. First, codices (the plural of codex) are easier to use than scrolls.  If you want to see something at the end of a scroll, you have to unroll it first. With a codex, you can simply open up the stack to find the right place.  Second, scrolls were written only on the inside which wastes half the space.  A codex is written on the front and back of each leaf.  This makes better use of the pages.  Remember, paper wasn’t available to them so they wrote on papyrus, sheets made of a plant material, or on parchment, sheets made of a well prepared animal skin (the soft underbelly of a goat, cow, or ibex).  Both were expensive writing materials.  There is good evidence that the earliest Christians were poor so they wanted to use every square inch of the writing materials they could get their hands on.  Third, the codex form may help distinguish Christian books from Jewish books.  The Christian movement was started by Jews for Jews (Jesus was a Jew and all his disciples were too!).  But when more and more outsiders (non-Jews) entered the Church, tensions grew and eventually there was a parting of the ways. Judaism became one religion, Christianity another.  At first, there was no real need to distinguish these communities, but as time went on both Jews and Christians wanted to find ways to distinguish themselves from each other.  The scroll and codex form may have been part of that.  codex

For the first 1500 years of Christian history all books were hand-copied.  With the invention of the printing press (around 1450) books could be produced mechanically.  That presented a huge shift in culture.  Hand-copied books took a long time to create, were very expensive, and had variations in them.  A machine-produced book could be printed quicker, were less costly, and had fewer variations.

In the last decade of the 20th century another huge shift took place as digital technology became less expensive and more available.  Today you probably read on computers, a Kindle, a smart phone, or a tablet.  These digital technologies have made books even cheaper, easier to carry around with you, and more available.  When we started work on The Voice Bible project we were all well aware we’d create print copies and digital versions.  I read The Voice in paper sometimes.  My students read it on their smart phones in class.  I often research and write on the computer using www.biblegateway.com, which has The Voice translation (as well as many others).  Exactly where this is all headed it is hard to say.  Some have predicted the end of print books (that is, the codex form).  Others aren’t so sure.

Michael Hyatt, former president of Thomas Nelson Publishing, is a digital guru I like to follow. Hyatt  thinks for many applications and kinds of reading print books are still the best format and will endure.  In a recent article he acknowledges there are good reasons scientifically to continue to use paper books.  Here is a link to his on-line article:


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