How to Easily Cite ANF and NPNF with Zotero

The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) series are now well over a century old.1 But they continue to prove useful resources. And when you need to cite them, Zotero can easily handle SBL style’s special requirements for these works.

Use a Critical Text First

Useful as they are however, the translations in ANF and NPNF aren’t based on critical texts of the fathers. And the manuscripts of the fathers’ works sometimes evidence different readings, just as do manuscripts of biblical literature.

So, before you rely on ANF or NPNF, you should typically ask yourself if there’s a better text available. Often, there will be.

The Fathers of the Church (FC) series published by Catholic University of America Press can often be a good alternative. The introduction to each volume typically tells you what text the translation is based on. So, you can double check before opting to work with that text.

What SBL Style Requires

But let’s say you look around for a better option than ANF or NPNF and, for whatever reason, you don’t find one. In that case, the general citation pattern SBL style requires is as follows

  1. Tertullian, On Baptism 1 (ANF 3:669).

If you’re citing NPNF, however, there’s an additional wrinkle that you need to distinguish between the first or second series. SBL Press’s guidance on this question has changed over the years. But according to the SBL Handbook of Style blog, the example given for citing NPNF in the SBL Handbook of Style’s second edition isn’t the most consistent with what the style does in similar cases elsewhere.2 So,

Contra the example given in SBLHS, the series number is best indicated by a 1 or 2 plus a solidus preceding the volume number (not a superscripted 1 or 2). Thus volume 12 of the second series would be cited as follows:

NPNF 2/12:85–963

Consequently, as SBL Press explains, you’d generally have a fuller have a citation like

44. Augustine, Letters of St. Augustin 28.3.5 (NPNF 1/1:252).4

How to Use Zotero to Cite ANF and NPNF

To cite ANF and NPNF as SBL style requires with Zotero, you’ll first want to have the current style installed.

How to Set up Your Zotero Records

Once you do, you’ll generally want one record for ANF, one for NPNF 1, and one for NPNF 2. You’ll then add to the Extra field for each of these records

  • annote: <i>ANF</i> for ANF and
  • annote: <i>NPNF</i> for both NPNF 1 and NPNF 2.

These entries will tell Zotero to bypass its normal process of composing citations and instead use the abbreviations you’ve specified.5

How to Create a Citation

So, if you wanted to recreate quoted above from the SBL Press blog, you’d

  • create a citation with your NPNF 1 resource,
  • leave the locator field set at “Page,” and if you’re citing NPNF 1 or NPNF 2, enter the corresponding series number and a forward slash (thus: “1/” or “2/”),
  • in the locator field, enter (also) your citation’s volume and page number or range (thus: 1:252 or 1:252–53),6
  • in the prefix field, enter everything you want Zotero to include before the series abbreviation (e.g., “Augustine, <i>Letters of St. Augustin</i> 28.3.5 (“), and
  • in the suffix field, enter the closing parenthesis that should follow the page number (thus: “)”).

Conclusion

If you look carefully enough, you’ll probably often find you’re often able to find better translations of the fathers than what are included in ANF and NPNF. But when you can’t, these series can be incredibly helpful standbys that Zotero can help you manage your citations for, despite SBL style’s special requirements.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 13 July 2017; Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), 101. 

  3. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  4. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  5. Normally, you would want to specify separate abbreviations for separate sources. But in most cases an abbreviation-based citation in SBL style requires a space between the abbreviation and the locator. And there’s not currently a good way to tell Zotero to exclude this space if the citation is for NPNF 1 or NPNF 2. Something like this is what would be required to use an abbreviation like <i>NPNF</i> 1, <i>NPNF</i> 1/, <i>NPNF</i> 2, or <i>NPNF</i> 2/ successfully. So, for the time being the user needs to supply the series information in the abbreviated citation. 

  6. Zotero will only automatically convert hyphens to en dashes and truncate page number ranges if page numbers, commas, and hyphens are the only things in the locator field. Having the colon for the volume number disrupts this flow. So, you’ll need to enter in the locator field exactly what you want Zotero to output. In the future, we may be able to adjust the style to provide the volume number directly. In this scenario, you would want to have one record in Zotero for each volume number in ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2. If your piece has a bibliography, you would then also need to condense the references so that you listed a full reference to ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2 just once in your bibliography or in an abbreviations section at the front of your piece. 

Zotero Can Now Do Even More with Your Citations

Zotero is a free tool for managing bibliographies and citations.1 It’s now even more useful for researchers in biblical studies. That’s particularly true if you use the styles for the

Catholic Biblical Association

The style for the CBA is what you’ll see if you read a Catholic Biblical Quarterly article. Zotero has supported CBA style for some time. But per CBA’s current guidelines, the Zotero style now

  • supports custom citations specified by CBA and stored in Extra via the annote variable (e.g., annote: BDF),
  • allows series abbreviations to be stored in Extra via the collection-title-short variable (e.g., collection-title-short: NIGTC),
  • truncates page ranges per the guidance of the Chicago Manual of Style (e.g., 115-116 becomes 115-16),2
  • capitalizes English titles stored in sentence or lower case in “headline” style,
  • gives citations with a “sub verbo” locator the “s.v.” notation and those with a “section” locator the § symbol,3
  • overrides Chicago’s en dash with a hyphen when delimiting page ranges, and
  • includes a period at the end of a citation.

The style now also comes without a few bugs that it had previously. These include

  • correcting the output of a work cited with only editors as responsible parties from “, ed. [name(s)]” to “[name], ed.” or “[names], eds.”,
  • correcting the delimitation and spacing with volume-page citations (e.g., “1:105”), and
  • lowercasing “rev. ed.” and, if it appears other than at the start of a sentence, “ibid.”

Society of Biblical Literature

Like CBA, SBL style requires you to cite a number of resources by specific abbreviations.4

Abbreviation-based Citations

I’ve previously discussed how you could modify the SBL style in order to store and cite by these abbreviations. That was pretty messy.

Or you could install a customized style file where I’d already made that change. That worked, but it meant that you didn’t receive updates as quickly. It also meant that I had to keep re-producing the modified style every time an update came out. Or neither you nor I would benefit from the corrections that that update included.

Now, however, abbreviation-based citations are supported in the SBL style that’s in the Zotero repository.5

Commas before Locators

SBL style consistently calls for a comma before the abbreviation for “sub verbo” when you cite a source like BDAG.6 But other types of locators don’t get commas before them (e.g., section numbers or page numbers when you’re citing a multivolume reference work).7

Consequently, the style supplies a comma after the abbreviation when you select a “sub verbo” locator in the Zotero citation dialog. But the style otherwise omits one.

If you need a comma, you can include the comma as part of the abbreviation in the annote variable (e.g., annote: <i>ANET</i>,).8

Similarly, when citing signed dictionary articles, the style had been producing a comma before the locator. But SBL style calls for no comma to appear there, and that’s now the case.

Section Locators

In addition, for some time, citations with section locators had a space after § or §§ that shouldn’t have been there (thus, e.g., “§ 105” rather than “§105”). That’s now fixed too.

So, if you cite a grammar, you can just choose “section” as the locator type. You don’t any longer need to drop in § or §§ as the first characters in the locator field.

Just choose a “section” locator and enter the sections you’re citing. Zotero will take care of the rest.

Quotation Marks with Sub Verbo Locators

When citing lexicon entries from sources like BDAG or HALOT, SBL style wants the head word to come in quotation marks. The Zotero style will automate this behavior if you select the “sub verbo” locator type in the citation dialog box.

Support for Identifying Sources as Physical

When you have an electronic source that’s identical to its print counterpart, SBL style generally treats the citations identically.9

In such cases, you give no DOI or URL in the citation because you’re citing a print-equivalent source. But in other styles—like that for the Tyndale Bulletin—you need to include a DOI or URL for a source whenever possible.

One solution is to add or remove DOIs or URLs from your Zotero library as needed for a given style. But that’s entirely unnecessary busywork.

Even if you have a DOI or URL stored for a given record, you can get the SBL style to suppress that information. To do so, just enter dimensions: yes in Zotero in that record’s Extra field.10

That way, you’re telling Zotero to treat the source as something that has physical dimensions. So, the SBL-style citation won’t include DOI or URL information.

Tyndale Bulletin

According to the Tyndale Bulletin style guide,

In most respects, Tyndale Bulletin follows the conventions described in the second edition of The SBL Handbook of Style.11

And of course, Zotero has long supported SBL style. But there are also important differences between the styles in some details. Some of these differences include Tyndale Bulletin’s preferences for

  • British-style punctuation for quotations and any punctuation appearing with them12 and
  • including a work’s Digital Object Identifier (DOI) whenever one is available.13

Quotations

You could spend quite a while accommodating these requirements by hand. But if you install Zotero’s Tyndale Bulletin style, Zotero will be able to handle the type of quotation marks required and the placement of punctuation with them. Just select the Tyndale Bulletin style as the one you want to use in a given document, and you’ll be good to go.

DOIs

Once you start using the Tyndale Bulletin style, Zotero will also start including any DOIs you’ve saved for the works you’re citing.

That said, if you don’t normally ensure you save a DOI when it’s available, you’ll have to add that information to Zotero. Otherwise, Zotero won’t know to include a DOI in a given citation.

It’s not hard to add DOIs where they’re available, however. And thankfully, there are some good tools you can use to help you streamline that process as well.

Conclusion

Citing sources is important work. And no matter how good software gets, you still have to know the style you’re writing in because you’re responsible for the final product.

That responsibility never changes. But it also doesn’t mean you have to do everything by hand.

Careful use of tools like Zotero will go a long way in helping you keep your citations in order while also clearing your way so that you can focus on the substance of your research and writing.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter. For more information or to download Zotero for yourself, see Corporation for Digital Scholarship, “Zotero: Your Personal Research Assistant,” Zotero, n.d. 

  2. If you specify the locator type as “section” rather than “page,” however, Chicago-style truncation doesn’t currently happen. 

  3. The style should be able to output § when you cite only one section and §§ when you cite multiple sections. But it currently uses § even when you cite multiple sections. 

  4. These comments pertain to the note-bibliography version of Zotero’s SBL style. If you use the parenthetical citation-reference list version, your needs and the behavior you observe may differ. 

  5. For some occasions where these abbreviations are relevant, see J. David Stark, “How to Cite Dictionaries with Zotero,” weblog, J. David Stark, 8 February 2021; J. David Stark, “How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style,” weblog, J. David Stark, 14 June 2021. 

  6. “Citing Reference Works 2: Lexica,” SBL Handbook of Style, 30 March 2017. 

  7. J. David Stark, “How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style,” weblog, J. David Stark, 14 June 2021; “Citing Text Collections 2: ANET,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 1 June 2017. 

  8. It should be possible to further automate the inclusion or suppression of this comma (e.g., based on the number of volumes specified in a given record). But it’ll take some work to confirm exactly where this comma should appear or not beyond the cases noted here and how best to trigger that. 

  9. E.g., SBL Press, “Migne’s Patrologia Latina,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 31 January 2017; Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §6.2.25. 

  10. You can actually follow dimensions: with anything you like. The property just has to have some value to trigger the suppression of DOIs and URLs for SBL style. 

  11. Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide” (Tyndale House, 2021), §4.1. 

  12. Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide,” §8.1. This preference means that commas or periods appear outside a closing single quotation mark in citations of book sections and journal articles. “Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide,” §§11.3.6–11.3.8. 

  13. Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide,” §§11.1, 11.3.2, 11.3.7 

How to Think Paul’s Implied Audience in Romans

When reading Romans, it’s pretty common practice to read the letter as addressed to both Jews and gentiles.1

Certainly, there were Jewish Jesus followers in and around Rome at the time Paul wrote. Those included among the individuals whom Paul asks his audience to greet in Rom 16 are prime examples (e.g., vv. 3, 7, 11; cf. Acts 18:2).2

But Does Paul Have to Talk to Everyone?

At the same time, simply because Jewish Jesus followers were around doesn’t necessarily mean Paul wrote Romans to them. Jewish Jesus followers might even have been present when the letter first being read. But as a growing amount of recent work suggests, even that fact doesn’t particularly tell the letter’s later interpreters who Paul was writing to.3

For a rough analogy, one might take a slight caricature of typical sermon topics for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in any number of churches. On Mother’s Day, the sermon gets preached to the mothers about what a wonderful blessing mothers are (and they are! 🙂 ). On Father’s Day, the sermon gets preached to the fathers about how fathers need to be just as good at fathering as mothers are at mothering.

The mothers may overhear the Father’s Day sermon. But it isn’t addressed to them. The fathers may overhear the Mother’s Day sermon. But it isn’t addressed to them.

And recent work on Romans has raised the question whether something similar might be happening there. Might Paul address the letter only to the gentile Jesus followers at Rome, irrespective of whatever Jewish Jesus followers might also be around?

Rethinking Romans’s Implied Audience

For a long time, I didn’t think so. Surely, the presence of Jewish Jesus followers at Rome seals the deal, right? How could one conceive of Paul writing to Rome without writing to them as much as (or maybe more than) he was writing to the gentile Jesus followers?

Those factors notwithstanding, I’ve been grateful particularly to Rafael Rodríguez for pushing back on some of the assumptions I’d been making about what different texts in the letter imply about its audience.

At the same time, I wasn’t satisfied with the existing analyses. So, I started structuring my Romans seminar around the question of the letter’s implied audience. In doing so, my students and I have been looking closely at whether any given text in the letter says anything definitive about the audience and, if so, what that is.

How Romans 1:13–14 Implies the Audience Is Gentiles Only

That project is still very much ongoing. But the Tyndale Bulletin has kindly published an essay of mine on how Rom 1:13–14 in particular characterizes the letter’s intended audience as gentiles only.4

This essay supports the thesis that Romans has an exclusively gentile implied audience. But it also critiques how Rom 1:13–14 has been handled by proponents of both the mixed and gentile-only audience hypotheses.

In short, the mixed audience hypothesis has trouble accounting for the connections between vv. 13 and 14 (and sometimes simply bypasses this question). On the other hand, proponents of the gentile-only hypothesis haven’t generally pressed their argument as far as it seems to need to go with these verses.

Instead, this essay argues that the hypothesis of an implied audience containing both Jews and gentiles becomes unsustainable when confronted with the

  1. case of the elements Paul unites with the τὲ καί (“namely … and”) constructions in v. 14,
  2. variety of complements Paul elsewhere gives to ὀφειλέτης (“debtor”; v. 14),
  3. explanatory relationship that v. 14 has to v. 13, and
  4. clearly personal focus of the language in v. 14.

Conclusion

This essay will hardly be anything like the last word in the discussion. But hopefully, it will prove to be a helpful contribution to it.

And one of the upsides of the piece being carried by the Tyndale Bulletin is that it’s already openly accessible. So, you can get a copy for yourself directly from the Tyndale Bulletin website. Or drop your name and email in the form below, and I’ll send you a copy of this article from the Tyndale Bulletin and a few others besides.


  1. Header image provided by Alex Suprun

  2. E.g., see Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2007), 953; Eckhard J. Schnabel, Der Brief des Paulus an die Römer, vol. 1, HTA (Witten: Brockhaus, 2015), 124. 

  3. E.g., see A. Andrew Das, Solving the Romans Debate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2007); Rafael Rodríguez, If You Call Yourself a Jew: Reappraising Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014); Runar M. Thorsteinsson, Paul’s Interlocutor in Romans 2: Function and Identity in the Context of Ancient Epistolography, ConBNT 40 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2003; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015). 

  4. Problems and Prospects with Romans 1:13-14 and the Letter’s Implication of a Gentile Audience,” TynBul 73 (2022): 45–69. 

Published
Categorized as Weblog

The Ultimate Open Online Research Library for Biblical Studies

The Internet is a massive library. On it, there’s a huge number of resources useful for your work in biblical studies and legitimately available.

But it can sometimes be hard to find what you need because there’s simply so much there. And while you need to do your own researchyou don’t have to search on your own.

This open online library guide already contains more than 200 resources that are pertinent to work in biblical studies, and I’m continuing to add more.

That way, you have a ready reference for them that you can use to find what you need quickly—not spend hours searching again for things I’ve already come across.

A Simple Guide to How to Expand Your Research Materials

As a biblical scholar, you need access to materials for your research—primarily books and journals.1

You need what’s pertinent to your work, regardless of how easy it is to get to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make accessing that material as easy as possible.

How to Expand Your Research Materials

To do so, you can use

  1. all of the collections at all of the libraries you have access to. When in doubt, check. What’s available might surprise you.
  2. Amazon and Google Books to preview substantial portions of volumes or even download the full text of works available in the public domain. Of course, you can’t limit your research to what’s available in previews. But you might well be able to find just that full chapter that you actually need. And
  3. the whole rest of the Internet as your personal research library. Doing so can take some work just because there’s so much available. But you can also check out this growing guide to get started with just a few of the resources I’ve found helpful for my own research.

Conclusion

In a 1524 letter about the importance of Christian schools, Martin Luther pressed the importance of biblical languages, saying

O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor—yes, almost without any labor at all—can acquire the whole loaf!2

Similarly, by comparison to how research had to be done in the past, the libraries and wider Internet make accessing material so much easier. And that becomes still more true over time as resources evolve and you get accustomed to where you need to look for particular things.


  1. Header image provided by Eugenio Mazzone

  2. Timothy Lull and William Russell, eds., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2012), 466. 

10 Reasons You Need to Read Your Bible

Academic biblical studies requires a lot of time in an array of primary and secondary sources.1 And among these sources, the Bible itself is the most primary. So, it’s important to maintain a regular habit of reading it for at least 10 reasons—namely, to

  1. Remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.
  2. Remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.
  3. Understand the biblical authors’ worldviews.
  4. See things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.
  5. Correct your reading of one passage against another.
  6. Focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.
  7. Sharpen your languages.
  8. Find things you won’t in translation.
  9. Notice scribal errors.
  10. Learn vocabulary.

Of these, the first 6 apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last 4 are special benefits if you’re reading the Bible in its primary languages.

1. Remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.

A lot of academic biblical studies has to do with thinking critically about the biblical text. It has to do with bringing preconceptions into question and making judgments like historians. It has to do with looking closely at the text again and again.

This work is good and important. Nothing can substitute for detailed, careful attention to a particular book, a given passage, or even a single verse.

But with this kind of close attention also comes the danger of paying so much attention to the individual trees that the forest fades from view.

There’s a risk of increasing knowledge of a small slice of the biblical literature at the cost of increasing unfamiliarity with other parts.

To counteract this tendency toward unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to cultivate a regular habit of Bible reading.

2. Remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.

Not all biblical scholars claim membership in a particular faith community—especially one they see as relevant to their scholarship. But biblical scholarship is a coherent discipline only because of the faith communities within which biblical texts emerged.

In practice, “Bible” might mean quite a lot of different things. It might be

  • A “Hebrew Bible” without a New Testament,
  • A “New American Standard Bible” with a New Testament but no apocrypha, or
  • A “New Jerusalem Bible” with both a New Testament and apocrypha.2

But whatever its specific content, speaking of a “Bible” as such inevitably requires reckoning with a text that has been deeply embedded in the faith and practice of the communities that have cherished it.

Ignoring this history is then precisely a historical oversight. And critical biblical scholarship undertakes precisely the task of avoiding historical oversights.

In addition, if you come to the biblical text from one of the communities that hears in this text the divine word, reading the text for its own sake can help remind you to cherish it—whatever else you also then do with it, either analytically or critically.

3. Understand the biblical authors’ worldviews.

H.-G. Gadamer helpfully reflects on what it means really to understand a text, saying,

We can set aside Schleiermacher’s ideas on subjective interpretation. When we try to understand a text, we do not try to transpose ourselves into the author’s mind [in die seelische Verfassung des Authors] but, if one wants to use this terminology, we try to transpose ourselves into the perspective within which he has formed his views [in die Perspective, unter der der andere seine Meinung gewonnen hat]. But this simply means that we try to understand how what he is saying could be right. If we want to understand, we will try to make his arguments even stronger.3

Understanding “how what [another person] is saying could be right” can be a tall order even toward those who share our same cultural contexts, or our own homes. Understanding the “perspective within which [another person] has formed his[ or her] views” can take consistent time and effort, even if that person is present. So, it’s certainly to be expected that similarly sustained effort will be required to understand the biblical authors.

4. See things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.

Specialization can be logical. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing other primary literature that might also prove relevant. And specialists in any given book or corpus have a real tendency toward functional ignorance of other books and corpora.

For instance, Luke and Paul shouldn’t be confused. Yet they’re both very early witnesses to the memory, faith, and practice of the Jesus movement.

So, these texts might, in principle, have just as much to say about each other as would Josephus or Philo. Readings of Luke might then feasibly enrich readings of Paul, at least as much as would readings of Josephus or Philo, and vice versa.

But literature you don’t know the contents of can’t help you. So, it’s helpful to read widely across the biblical text, as also in other primary literature outside it.

5. Correct your reading of one passage against another.

Related to the prior benefit is the fact that seeing things you won’t by reading only isolated passages can help you correct your interpretation of one passage against another.

Everyone understands some things better than others. And the more widely and carefully you read, the more the text has a chance to “push back” against interpretations you may have that are less than fully adequate.

Insight from Gadamer

Gadamer usefully reflects on this dynamic as well, asking,

How do we discover that there is a difference between our own customary usage and that of the text?

I think we must say that generally we do so in the experience of being pulled up short by the text. Either it does not yield any meaning at all or its meaning is not compatible with what we had expected. This is what brings us up short and alerts us to a possible difference in usage.



A person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something. That is why a hermeneutically trained consciousness must be, from the start, sensitive to the text’s alterity. But this kind of sensitivity involves neither “neutrality” with respect to content nor the extinction of one’s self, but the foregrounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices. The important thing is to be aware of one’s own bias, so that the text can present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against one’s own fore-meanings.4

A Personal Example

A personal example of this would be in my reading of 1 Cor 15:3a. There, Paul says he communicated to the Corinthians “ὃ … παρέλαβ[ε]ν” (“what [he] received”), but the text doesn’t specify from whom he received it.

What I’ve Suggested Previously

I’ve previously suggested in passing that this reception is “from others who also preached” the same message as Paul.5 In particular, I’ve noted that “part of what Paul likely received is a summary of the key components of the message that he rehearses in 1 Corinthians 15:3b–5.”6

This kind of interpretation is reasonably common for 1 Cor 15:3a.7 And it allows a few options for how one might understand 1 Cor 15:3 as consistent with Gal 1:12 and 2:1–10.

Options for Integrating 1 Corinthians 15:3 with Galatians 1:12 and 2:1–10

Among these are that,

  1. Both passages refer to the same core gospel, but they speak about Paul’s reception of it in different ways and at different times. Galatians stresses his initial reception of the gospel from Jesus; 1 Corinthians mentions how Paul later had this same message echoed back to him by others besides Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 11; Gal 2:2, 6–10).
  2. Galatians refers to the essential content of the gospel, which Paul received from Jesus. But 1 Corinthians is concerned with the specific form of the condensation of this gospel that appears in 15:3b–5, which Paul may have received from others besides Jesus.
  3. Galatians refers to the essential content of the gospel, which Paul received from Jesus. But 1 Corinthians is concerned with additional information about Jesus (e.g., details of his post-resurrection appearances in 15:6–7) that Paul might not have been privy to the details of previously but that also didn’t pertain to the core message he preached.

What I’m Now Pondering

That said, Paul also says that he “παρέλαβ[ε]ν ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου” (“received from the Lord”) information specific to the Eucharist’s institution (see 1 Cor 11:23–25). That specificity makes me wonder afresh about the source Paul implies for “what [he] received” in 1 Cor 15:3a.8

Resolving this reopened loop will take some more work. But it’s good that it’s reopened. And at least in the interim, that reopening will cause me to downgrade the “receiving from others besides Jesus” interpretation of 1 Cor 15:3a from “likely” to merely possible or to re-entertain the idea that both Jesus and others are included.

6. Focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.

When you think of Bible reading, you might tend to think of silent reading. But reading the text aloud can be beneficial too.

In a group, reading aloud helps everyone follow along at the same place. If you’re reading aloud to yourself, that’s not such an upside. You always know where you are.

But if you read the text aloud—even by yourself—you engage another sense in the reading experience. By doing so, you push yourself that much more into the experience of reading.

Do you ever get distracted when “reading” a page silently? You then suddenly realize you have no idea what you’ve supposedly just seen while your mind was wandering.

By contrast, if you’re reading aloud, you’ll probably realize much quicker that your mind has started to wander when you run out of words coming out of your mouth.

Engaging another sense also gives you another chance to make connections in the text that you might read right over on paper but pick up when hearing yourself repeat the same phrase.

7. Sharpen your languages.

When you read the biblical text in its primary languages, you can hone your ability to work with these languages. You’ll get a better feel for the languages by experiencing them first hand rather than only reading about them in a grammar.

Of course, grammars make very profitable reading on their own. 🙂 But they can’t substitute for deep, first-hand familiarity with the literature they try to describe.

If you’re reading in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, you can even take the opportunity to read the text aloud too. That way, you can practice your pronunciation and develop your “ear” for the language.

Don’t worry too much about your choice of a pronunciation system. And don’t worry if it sounds bad or halting. As a child, that roughness was part of your learning process for your first language. It will be here too.

But gradually, you’ll find yourself making progress. You might even see things in the text that you’ve previously missed because you heard yourself saying the text aloud.

8. Find things you won’t in translation.

To communicate some things in whatever language, translators inevitably have to obscure others. This fact is wonderfully encapsulated in the Italian proverb “traduttore traditore​”—”a translator is a traitor.”9

From an English translation, you might well learn about a time when a ruler of Egypt dreamed about cows. But English simply isn’t able to communicate the humorous irony involved in having פרעה (paroh) dream about פרות (paroth; Gen 41:1–2).

Many translations do a great job with rendering the core of what a passage communicates. But for the fine details both within and across passages, there’s no substitute for reading the original text.

Here also, your lack of familiarity with a biblical text’s primary language can be an asset in some ways. In translation, you might tend to read the text too quickly. As you do, you might gloss over important elements within it. But by reading the text in a primary language, you might pause long enough to consider it more deeply.

9. Notice scribal errors.

One way to notice scribal errors is, of course, to read the apparatus in your critical biblical text. But by reading the biblical text itself, you can also notice scribal errors—namely, your own scribal errors.

For me, reading aloud particularly helps in this regard. I’ll hear myself say something. I’ll then realize what I just read aloud is related to what’s in the text but isn’t exactly the same.

These differences often fall into well-known patterns of error that copyists might make during their work. And making them for myself gives me a more first-hand appreciation for when and how these errors might arise.

That better appreciation for possible pitfalls in reading a given text can prove helpful making text-critical decisions. It also proves helpful in making me a more aware reader the next time around.

10. Learn vocabulary.

When you learn biblical languages, you learn a certain amount of vocabulary that occurs frequently. But even with this under your belt, there is still a huge amount of vocabulary you don’t know.

Continuing to drill larger sets of vocabulary cards might have a place. On the other hand, you may well remember the language better by seeing and learning new words in context.

You’ll also learn new usages, meanings, and functions for the vocabulary you thought you knew. You may have learned a small handful of glosses for a word. But you’ll start seeing how a given term might have a much wider range of possible meanings than the glosses you memorized.

Don’t Settle for the Cliché

Unfortunately, biblical scholars who don’t have a regular discipline of Bible reading are common enough to be cliché.

Whether you find yourself in this boat or whether you’d just like to join others who are actively in the text, I’d like to invite you to join my students and me this term in our readings of the biblical text.

Every term, my students and I do a daily Bible reading exercise together. If you’re working in the original languages, I’ve scaled the readings to be short enough to complete without taking too much time out of your day. But the reading plan will work whether you’re using a translation or working from the biblical text in its original languages.

It would be wonderful to have you join us. To get started, just drop your name and email in the form below. You’ll then get an email delivering this term’s readings. And you’ll be ready to pick up in the biblical text right where my students and I are.

Looking forward to reading with you!


  1. Header image provided by Kelly Sikkema

  2. For further discussion, see my “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22.2 (2012): 226–27. 

  3. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed. (New York: Crossroad, 1989; repr., London: Continuum, 2006), 292; Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Revelations (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 303; italics added. The German insertions are drawn from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik (Tübingen: Mohr, 1960), 297. 

  4. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Revelations (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 280, 282; italics added. 

  5. J. David Stark, “Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation,” in Scripture First: Biblical Interpretation That Fosters Christian Unity, ed. Daniel B. Oden and J. David Stark (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2020), 56. For more about Scripture First, see “6 Ways to Make Scripture First.” For more about my essay, see “Behind the Scenes of ‘Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation’.” 

  6. Stark, “Apostolic Proclamation,” 56. 

  7. E.g., Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PilNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 745; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 32 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 545–46; Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 254–55; Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, ed. William P. Dickson, trans. D. Douglas Bannerman and David Hunter, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1879), 2:42; cf. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 88–89; A. T. Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2nd ed., ICC (1914; repr., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1929), 333. 

  8. Cf. C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC (London: Continuum, 1968), 337; John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John Pringle, 2 vols., Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1848–1849), 2:9. 

  9. For making me aware of this proverb, I’m grateful to Moisés Silva.