Tag Archives: exegesis

What Makes a Commentary Good?

(July 9, 2017) 8:50 AM I’m reading Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians this morning. It’s truly a unique treasure-trove.

As Don Carson writes on the dust cover, “Fee could not be boring even if he tried. The zest of his prose makes him exciting to read, and his scholarship is always rigorous.” This morning I’m focusing on Fee’s discussion of what he calls the “disruptive-idle” in 2 Thess. 3. Here are a few takeaways:

1) Fee correctly notes the beautiful play on words Paul uses in vv. 11-12 when he writes ergazomenous and then periergazomenous. The Thessalonians weren’t being “busy.” They were “busy-bodies”!

2) Fee is right to “translate out” (as he puts it) the “walking” metaphor that Paul uses to describe a person’s behavior. (Greek students are aware of this controversy: peripateo versus zao.)

3) The “traditions” to which Paul refers here have to do more with how God’s people live in the world than simply how they think. Hence this classic Fee quote:

At this point a certain sector of the Christian church wants to yell “foul,” because they think one really can divorce how one is related to God (by faith alone) from how one who has such faith must live in the world. But Paul was not privy to the kind of theology that thinks such division between faith and works can actually be made. Paul is obviously dead against anything that resembles “faith + works = a right relationship with God.” But as this passage makes plain, he equally spells death for “faith” that does not lead to “works” (= behavior) appropriate to that faith.

4) I love Fee’s emphasis on the imperfective aspect of the verb pareggellomen in v. 10:

Paul’s verb (pareggellomen) is in the imperfect, thus implying an ongoing, or at least repeated, command.

Friend, I’m less and less impressed with many of the newer commentaries that seem to be coming out these days at a furious pace. Their authors are new names to me, perhaps even those who are just starting out in the academic world. The best voices, however, are often those with a world of experience, both in the classroom and in the world. I’m compelled by this commentary because I know Gordon Fee to be a man who’s not content to sit behind a set typing script for commentaries. He’s genuinely concerned about the mess we humans have made with the world around us — and within us. He gets down on our level, shoulders brushing. Fee, like so many other outstanding commentary writers, had been trained (whether in seminary or some other way) to believe that a story isn’t enough. Faith without works is in fact dead. We dilute the power of the Gospel when we divorce it from the world God came to redeem.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Importance of Syntax in the Greek New Testament

7:55 AM “Christ died.” That’s in the aorist tense in Greek. So it must mean “once and for all action.” I was actually taught this in seminary back in the Dark Ages. Nobody would agree with that assessment today. The aorist tense says nothing about the kind of action of the verb. To get “kind of action” you have to go outside the tense to 1) the meaning of the verb and 2) the context. When you do that with “Christ died,” I suppose you could argue that the verb is referring to “once and for all action.” After all, how many times does a person die? And yet when the author of Hebrews wants to make the point that Christ died “once and for all” for our sins, he actually uses the adverb hapax — “once and for all.” Likewise, when the author of 1 Thessalonians commands us to “pray without ceasing,” not only does he use the present imperative, he adds the adverb adaileiptos — “without ceasing.”

Moisés Silva once reminded us not to place too much semantic weight on tense or aspect. He argues that it is the context that is determinative. Which means: Somehow we Greek teachers need to get our students to move beyond word-bound exegesis. Lexical analysis is important, but it is the “handmaiden and not the queen,” as the author of Using New Testament Greek in Ministry puts it. We’ve got to move beyond individual words to study the ways in which words work together to convey meaning. This is why I no longer postpone “exegesis” to third semester Greek. Students need to get this straight, and get this in their first year of Greek instruction.

To my Greek 2 students: The spring semester will be upon us before you know it. For me, morphology — how words are constructed — is vitally important. Yet I also believe that a language’s syntax is important, and getting the syntax right will help us to avoid the exegetical fallacies that many still commit. Furthermore, the study of syntax is where the fun is. Nuggets of truth often jump off the page instead of being buried under a wealth of morphemes. Yes, there is controversy over whether students can even be taught to read New Testament Greek. But I hope that one day we can put aside our methodological biases and equip our students with the tools they need to do accurate exegetical study. This includes the study of discourse analysis as an essential part of exegesis. It also means that we can no longer ignore the rhetorical level of language as a meaningful level for readers. To anyone who says style and rhetoric isn’t important, I would simply point them to the scale of the cosmetics industry, which is predicted to reach 265 billion dollars in 2017.

Don’t be discouraged from doing syntax. There is plenty of help for us out there in the cyber world. My friend Harold Greenlee is now with the Lord, but his essay The Importance of Syntax for the Proper Understanding of the Sacred Text of Scripture is still worth reading. Syntax has been one of the most enjoyable and fun things I’ve done in my 40 years of teaching, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Using Greek in Sermons

(From Dave Black Online, Used by Permission)

9:18 AM Good morning, bloggerdom! Greek teachers love to debate the marks of a good sermon. Some say it’s perfectly okay to use Greek from the pulpit. Others (myself included) think it’s quite unnecessary. Sproul’s famous dictum (“A great preacher is like an iceberg: you see only 10 percent, but underneath you sense the 90 percent”) suffices for me. Last night I was listening to a sermon on the radio. As the speaker began to use Greek in his sermon, he excused himself by saying, “Greek is far more expressive than English” (which it is not). At one point he “corrected” the translation he was reading from, noting that “here the Greek has ‘He emptied Himself'” — which is precisely what many English versions have as well.  Unreflective use of Greek can emasculate the message to the point of ineffectiveness. It can make you look foolish and pedantic, and can lead people to distrust the usefulness of their own English Bible translations. Not long ago I served as the editor (along with my colleague Allan Bevere) of a book called “In the Original Text It Says.” The publisher’s blurb reads as follows:

When you hear the words “in the original text it says” or “in the original text this means,” it’s time to be wary. Those words often provide the introduction to misleading information. But how can the hearer discern just what is correct and what is misleading? How can pastors avoid giving their congregations misleading information?

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I could write at length about all of the exegetical fallacies unearthed in this marvelous little guide to exegesis. I must also mention the ground-breaking work by my friend Moisés Silva called Biblical Words and Their Meaning. Incidentally, such books can be marvelous ways to nurture younger Christians. But one thing is sure: Those who may know very little about the Christian faith will not be helped very much by over-exegesis.