Tag Archives: Greek

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.

Teaching Students to Think Biblically

This semester I’ll be doing more than teaching Greek. My goal is to train my students to think biblically — and to think on their own. All too often we take an a priori approach to the New Testament in our study of soteriology, ecclesiology, etc. The result is that the biblical text is sometimes overlooked and its concepts blurred. In the spirit of Paul (“you’re doing well but you can always do better”) I hope to explore with my students the underlying presuppositions that are of paramount importance in biblical exegesis. For example, a cardinal question concerns ordination. In the New Testament, the church was a brotherhood of believers. But by the third century all this had changed. The charismatic ministry began to give way to a hierarchical and institutional church. In the New Testament, no ministerial “office” (the word is never used for positions of leadership) implies status or position in the secular sense; the influence of leaders is always measured by their Christ-likeness and the degree to which the Holy Spirit is active in their lives. The Spirit gave them the gifts and abilities needed to serve the Body at large and to represent their collective concerns. But a two-tiered clergy-laity division never existed. Leaders were extensions of the Body, not a special class set over it. But the bottom line is this (and this is a point that is often overlooked): The essence of any church ministry is that of service in the spirit and pattern of the Lord Jesus. If a church — any church — loses that sense of Christ-ministry is ceases to be the church and becomes secular, basing its methods on the kingdom of this world.

Another glorious yet often overlooked truth is that the church is, essentially, a mission body. It is a mission body before it is anything else. Therefore, in order to fulfill its world-wide mission as commanded by Jesus, its structure must be a mission structure. There is no possible logical reason for a church to have within it a separate “missions committee,” just as a seminary that calls itself a “Great Commission” seminary would do well to rethink its philosophy of having a separate missions and evangelism department. When it is understood that every believer is a fulltime missionary and that every believer is necessary within the church’s life and witness, churches will be revolutionized to become what they are in essence: a witnessing community. They will no longer seek after the “world-wise” wisdom of this age that focuses on “relevance” to the exclusion of the Good News of the kingdom. The Head of the church wills the growth of His church, but when the whole church ceases to perform its function and assigns the roles of “missionary” or “evangelist” to certain specially “called” individuals, something fundamental is lost.

Thus, in teaching Greek, I am concerned basically for the renewal and growth of not only my church but all evangelical churches in these exciting days. My goal is to see every one of my students realizing their full, God-intended potential in the kingdom, even if they never enter so-called “fulltime Christian ministry.” The God who speaks to us in the pages of the New Testament must be given full reign. Revelation must no longer be understood as dogma so much as divine action. We must move from an emphasis on the concept of Christologos to that of Christophoros — from being Christ-talkers to Christ-bearers. I greatly appreciate the effort my students put into learning the Greek language, but all will be for nothing unless they take this next step.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.  Dr. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm.)