Tag Archives: eerdmans

Thoughts on Research and Note Taking After O’Brien and Eerdmans

Recently Eerdman's released a sad and tragic statement regarding some of Peter O'Brien's commentaries. They said

Eerdmans editors compared the text of The Letter to the Hebrews (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 2010) with various secondary sources and submitted findings to external experts for verification. Summing up the findings, Editor-in-chief James Ernest said, "Our own editors and our outside consultants agreed that what we found on the pages of this commentary runs afoul of commonly accepted standards with regard to the utilization and documentation of secondary sources. We agreed that the book could not be retained in print."

Examination of the same author's Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC, 1999) and Epistle to the Philippians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 1991) found them less pervasively flawed but still untenable.

Peter O’Brien responded with a heartfelt apology,

In the New Testament commentaries that I have written, although I have never deliberately misused the work of others, nevertheless I now see that my work processes at times have been faulty and have generated clear-cut, but unintentional, plagiarism. For this I apologize without reservation.

From the outside looking in this seems to be a situation where an honest mistake (a big one at that) occurred and, if I were to guess, it happened at the level of research and note-taking where personal writing and quotations/notes became conflated and sources were lost. This situation really could happen to anyone and it has caused me to rethink my research and note-taking strategies. In an age where information is at our fingertips and there are a thousand ways to organize, research, and write in a digital format it can be easy to get lost in it all. This is where a research workflow becomes vitally important so you can stay organized, cite correctly, and write efficiently.

Most broadly, there are three ways that research and note taking occurs:

  1. Direct quotations
  2. Summary
  3. “Original” thoughts1

When you are researching and doing steps 1 & 2 you always always always need to keep the citation with your writing. This is where an application such as Zotero can come in handy. Anytime I have any new research documents I add the citation in Zotero. Then when I am writing and taking notes I can just copy that citation from Zotero and just paste it in my writing document. I also find it helpful to use an app such as Evernote, Ulysses, or other writing software to keep a file for each document that I am using for research and tag it with the specific project.

For example, I am reading through Brant Pitre’s excellent new book, Jesus and the Last Supper. I currently have a document with the title of the book and all my notes go in there. After each entry within the note I will now put in parentheses (quote, page #) or (summary, page #). Quote will mean that this is a direct quotation from the book and summary means that I have modified it in some way. This also means I need to be careful to not conflate summaries and quotes in my notes or if I do to identify them correctly.

If I am writing some thoughts that are not quotes or summary from the book I will write (original, page or chapter). This way I can trace back to when I am writing my “original” thoughts. If I am reading chapter 2 of the book and I end up writing a paragraph or two sparked from what was said in that chapter I still want to document my thinking process even, if, in the end, I don’t need to cite it depending on how much dependence comes from Pitre.

All in all, I think this is a sober warning to all students and full-time researchers to document your research carefully. Yes, it takes more time and can be annoying but it is vital in the research process.

If you have any other thoughts or workflows I would love to hear them in the comments or via Twitter (@renshaw330).

  1. I put original in quotes because nothing is new under the sun but there is a difference between summarizing someone’s work and writing your own thoughts ↩︎

Abridged Reading Guide for John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift

After reading Barclay’s Paul and the Gift I’ve had several people express interest in reading the book but generally with the comment “if I ever have the time” or something to that effect. Granted, this book is fairly long and does take awhile to read. While most people outside those with a vested interest in NT scholarship will probably not have the time to read something of this size outside their field. But this book is important in many aspects and I think that many outside the field of NT (thinking especially of systematic theologians and those interested in church history) will need to wrestle or be familiar with the arguments of the book.

I thought writing up a simple reading guide for the book my help those who have an interest in the book but don’t have time to wade through the 500+ pages. So here is what I would recommend people who fall in this category to read in order to understand the argument without wading through the details. Of course, if you have questions on some of the conclusions you can dive deeper into some of the exegesis of individual texts.

  • 1.2 (24-50) – this sections covers some of the Greco-Roman background to the idea of gift and reciprocity. This sections is vital to understanding the patronage nature of ancient society and serves as a helpful foundation for the rest of the book.
  • 1.3 (51-62) – this section discusses the modern understanding of gift. Reading this will give you a helpful idea of how gifts are understood in the modern world and you will immediately notice some of the disconnect between modern western society and the ancient world regarding gifts and reciprocity.
  • 1.4 (63-65) – Barclay provides some summary of the first chapter. Personally, I find his conclusions and summaries very helpful in understanding the overall thrust of his book.
  • 2 (66-78) – this section is especially important as Barclay outlines his six perfections of grace. You will want to understand these perfections as they serve as guideposts for the rest of the book as he discusses different theologians, exegetes, and other ancient writings in connection with grace.
  • 3 (79-182) – this chapter surveys the history of interpretation of theologians and exegetes understanding of grace in Paul. The strength of this chapter is that Barclay utilizes his six perfections of grace outlines in chapter 2 in order to evaluate each person’s understanding of grace. Personally, I found this chapter one of the most intriguing and helpful in the book.
  • 4 (183-193) – Barclay helpfully summarizes part one of the book.
  • Part II of the book outlines the notion of divine gift in Second Temple Judaism. Within these chapters he surveys Wisdom of Solomon, Philo of Alexandria, The Qumran Hodayot (1QHa), Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, and 4 Ezra. While these chapters are extremely important for NT scholars I think most people can skip to his conclusions in chapter 10 (309-330). Once you read his conclusions and summary and you have specific questions you can go back to the relevant texts for a closer look.
  • 11.1 (331-332) – this short section introduces the notion of gift in Galatians
  • 11.4 (339-350) – Barclay outlines four different readings of Galatians (Martin Luther, James Dunn, J. Louis Martyn, and Brigitte Kahl)
  • 14.4 (442-448) – Barclay summarizes his conclusions to his exegesis of Galatians. Once again, if you have further questions find the relevant section and read his exegetical conclusions of that particular issue.
  • 15.1-2 (449-454) – Barclay outlines the notion of gift and mercy in Romans and discusses the transition from Galatians to Romans
  • 15.8 (490-492), 16.5 (516-519), 17.5 (556-561) – These are all conclusions and summaries to the different sections of Romans he discusses.
  • 18 (562-574) – Barclay provides his conclusions of the book.

Well there you have it! You can read Barclay’s Paul and the Gift in roughly 200 pages and get a general understanding of his argument and conclusions. I think it would be well worth you time to do so.