Entre Amigos Conversation
In this extensive, one-and-a-half-hour interview on the Entre Amigos Podcast hosted by Ze Bruno, Andreas Kostenberger discusses a wide range of subjects with his Brazilian friends. Topics include biblical interpretation, biblical theology, and others. The podcast is in both English and Portuguese.
The following is not a transcript of the interview but covers some of the questions discussed and some others we didn’t have time to discuss.
1. How was your encounter with Jesus Christ? How did your conversion take place?
I grew up Roman Catholic but was not religious when I went to college. I met an American opera student on a train from Vienna, Austria to Venice, Italy who talked to me about Christ and my need for salvation. After some serious soul-searching, I gave my life to Christ and chose to follow him.
2. How do you identify your vocation? What did God call you to? How did you understand that what you say is your vocation is what God has called you to?
My conversion was also my call to ministry. I was convinced of the final authority of God’s Word. Not that I heard an audible voice or other direct divine communication about my calling. It was rather a deep inner conviction that I God called me to study his Word seriously, which meant to do so in the original languages and by following proper rules of biblical interpretation, and to teach others to do the same.
3. You are a prolific author. You have works on family, hermeneutics, New Testament, Trinity and others. How are these books born? How do you discern what the theme of your books will be?
First of all, let me say that early on in my Christian life I became convinced of the strategic importance of Christian publishing. Books impact people, and so if you want God to use you significantly, it may mean you should write, if that is part of your gifting and calling obviously.
Now you’re asking about how books come into being. The answer is every book has a story behind it that is unique. Normally, my books are born out my interest in a topic and a desire to communicate biblical truth about that topic. My interests are diverse and varied. I love the Gospel of John. I am also very interested, as you know, in marriage and family, as well as in hermeneutics and biblical theology.
In addition, a few years ago I made a strategic decision to work primarily on textbooks that could be used for a given course. As a teacher, I know that it is vital to have a good, reliable textbook as I teach my students, and so I focused on writing textbooks on topics such as New Testament Greek, New Testament introduction, and hermeneutics, typically with co-authors to share the load.
4. Each vocation brings with it its own temptations. What are the main temptations of an author, pastor and theologian? And what precautions should they take?
That’s a very good question. For a seminary teacher, one problem is that you tend to become the answer man, and at times students put you on a pedestal as the one who is the expert. For this reason I have become convinced that it’s really unhealthy spiritually for anyone to be a seminary teacher for any length of time without taking a break. It’s similar to a politician who serves in office for decades and gradually loses touch with the people he serves. The problem is even more acute for published authors. There are temptations of arrogance and expecting to be treated differently, as a celebrity. There is also the temptation of self-promotion when the Bible says it should be the lips of others to praise you, not your own.
5. About The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown. What is the importance of writing a book with a more conservative content regarding the reliability of the biblical account of these events?
As you know, most New Testament introductions are written today from a historical-critical perspective. That is, many authors claim that Matthew or John didn’t write the Gospels attributed to them, Paul didn’t write some of his letters, and neither did Peter or others. The problem with this, of course, is that in many cases it directly contradicts the truthfulness of Scripture, because, for example, in the case of epistles there is no evidence that pseudepigraphy was common practice in the first century. I could go on, but such a critical approach to the claims of Scripture is deeply problematic.
Now what you need to know is that even reputable Christian publishers put out New Testament introductions that are thoroughly embedded in historical criticism. They market those introductions to a conservative evangelical audience, but what they don’t tell their readers is that those authors don’t believe that, say, Paul wrote 1-2 Timothy and Titus and so forth. So, buyer beware, and that includes teachers, too, make sure that a given book is truly undergirded by a high view of Scripture that takes the claims of a given New Testament writing seriously.
When we wrote The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, and then revised it for a second edition, we believed that there is a great need for a conservative New Testament introduction. What is more, we wanted our book not only to be academically respectable and historically accurate but also spiritually nurturing, so I wrote twenty-seven devotionals, one for each New Testament book, because we believe Scripture was written not only to increase our Bible knowledge but also to help us to live the Christian life under the authority of God’s word.
6. How do you see the issue of the applicability of the law, and these more traditional views, such as tripartite (moral, civil and ceremonial), and the idea of casuistic or apodictic laws?
Well, this is a bit more of an Old Testament question, and my research has focused primarily on the New Testament, but we do address this issue in our book Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, especially in the second edition that came out just last year. I don’t think the threefold division of the law you mention can be cleanly and consistently made, so I don’t find that approach particularly helpful. There are New Testament passages such as Matthew 5:17 or Romans 10:4 that focus on the prophetic nature of the law as pointing ultimately to Christ. Jesus, of course, set aside Old Testament food laws, so we know those no longer apply.
Otherwise, I’d say that to the extent that the Old Testament law, such as the Ten Commandments, reveal God’s character, they are certainly of abiding relevance. Here, what Paul says in Romans 6-7 is important, where he says that the law is good; the problem is not with the law itself but with our inability to keep the law because of our innate sin nature.
The book of Hebrews, too, cites the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 to the effect that the old covenant is now obsolete, again because in the new covenant, God wrote his law on our hearts. So now the law is no longer just a matter of external expectations but the Holy Spirit indwells us and enables us to live out the Christian life in his strength. As Paul says in Romans 8, as Christians we have a new “law,” the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”
7. How does your study routine work?
Well, it depends a bit on the project I’m currently working on. I typically try to focus on one project at a time, my main project, as much as possible. I start research about six months before I actually focus on a given book and start writing. In my case, of course, I can build on thirty years of previous study on many subjects, so I don’t start from scratch but already have some previous research, and often previous publications, to draw on. I read strategically, the most important works on a given subject, and take rather thorough notes, including quotes I may want to use.
I also like to develop a study routine which may vary from book to book in terms of when and where I do my work, whether in my office, or at some other location, and at certain times. Typically, I like to get up early and work in larger blocks earlier in the day, as I do my best work before lunchtime. So, on a given day, I may get up at 7 in the morning and start writing around 8 or 8:30, until about 11:30 or 12. Then, in the afternoon, I edit my work and add footnote references and that sort of thing, and think about what I want to research and write the next day.
8. What tip would you give a young seminarian pastor?
Don’t neglect your marriage and family. It’s very important to cherish and nurture our loved ones and not to merely go in maintenance mode. Our spouse and our children need us, and if we truly love them, we’ll make them our first priority, other than our relationship with God, of course. A second, related, tip would be not to neglect your daily time with God, preferably in the morning, which would typically include reading God’s word, and usually a good devotional, and a significant time of prayer.
9. Does your introductory book to the New Testament dialogue with issues related to Second Temple Judaism? What do you think about this line of research? What contributions has he made to New Testament studies?
Yes, we have a whole chapter (2) on Second Temple Judaism, history, literature, and theology, which is over 70 pages, I believe, and very thorough. In all three areas, Second Temple literature is very important as a background to the New Testament, though, of course, none of these writings is inspired, and some are more reliable than others. For example, 1 Maccabees is an invaluable source of intertestamental history; without it, we would know very little about this period. Other books, such as Tobit or Judith, are more legendary, and even include occult practices or other doctrinally problematic passages, so using the Second Temple literature definitely calls for discernment.
So there are both extremes, ignoring this literature and speaking of four hundred “silent years” between Malachi and Matthew, and maximizing this literature, even putting it above the New Testament. I argue for a middle way, discerning use as background, with Scripture as the final authority. This is important especially in areas such as the new perspective on Paul.
10. In your book on Family, you mention the issue of remarriage. But don’t delve into it. How do you understand this phenomenon? What does the Bible say about him or nothing at all?
Yes, we talk about remarriage in the chapter on divorce, so we have to back up here. Generally, the Bible does not condone divorce, but it makes two exceptions in cases of adultery and abandonment of the marriage by an unbeliever. In such cases where the divorce is biblically permissible, I believe Scripture teaches that remarriage is allowed as well, based on passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:39, where it says, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”
Note: Books mentioned in the above interview include The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel, and God, Marriage, and Family. Most of those books are also available in Portuguese.