Tag Archives: New Testament

Gifts – Greek -sis and -ma Endings

[Friday, September 15]

6:20 AM The study of Greek has changed my life in such acute ways I can no longer envision my life without Greek in it. And I don’t think I’m weird in this respect. Some of you are the same way. Before I studied Greek I had no idea how languages worked. Then I joined the fray. I’ve had so many great teachers. One of them, a certain Colin McDougall, exposed me to morphology when I was in seminary. He was the only Greek prof at Talbot, as I recall, who paid any attention to linguistics. His discussions changed my life for the better. My book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek is all his fault, I guess you could say. I’ve never done this publicly before so here goes: Thank you, brother McDougall, for being a true advocate of language study. Which brings me back to the subject of morphology. Which of the following renderings of James 1:17 do you like the best?

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father (NLT)

Every good and perfect gift is from above (NIV)

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above (NASB)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (ESV)

Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift is from above (ISV)

As I write this, my Greek 3 students are reading my chapter on morphology in Linguistics. They’re learning the difference between a –sis suffix and a –ma suffix, for example. Notice what James writes (James 1:17):

Πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν

This verse has earned a clear spot on my Morphology Greatest Hits List with its interesting use of both of these suffixes within the space of 4 words. The first word for “gift” has the –sis suffix — a process morpheme — and the second word for “gift” has the result morphemema. Let’s see how this plays out. The NIV thinks the repetition of “gift” is redundant — hence “Every good and perfect gift.” The ESV translates both of the “gift” words but without any distinction in meaning. The ISV deviates from the norm and tries to tackle the issue of morphology — “Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift.” I’m not saying this is necessarily correct. But why would James use two different words for gift unless he wanted to stress different nuances? Again, it could be simply for stylistic variation without any change in meaning. But it could also be because he wanted to emphasize that both the gifts we give to others and the generous impulse that led us to give those gifts come from God. There’s a nice flavor here, wouldn’t you admit? Admittedly, I’m a bit biased toward the ISV’s rendering. In addition, I have an inexplicable, boundless love for all things Greek. But the best thing about Greek is that it helps us to ask questions. Hear this (again): Greek isn’t the Abracadabra of exegesis. We’re so conditioned to hearing “The word in the Greek means …” from our pulpits that we’ve forgotten that meaning is a very muddy concept. Calvin referred to “the God who lisps.” He didn’t mean that the Bible contains mistakes. He meant that when God decided to speak to us, He decided to use ordinary human languages, with all of their susceptibility to ambiguity. I’ve discovered I can study a passage in Greek for days and still not really understand exactly what it’s saying. My goal becomes: This matters, this doesn’t. This counts, this doesn’t. I’m so grateful for the work of Bible translators. Without them most of us would be in the dark. I’m sure of it. But no two translators see the text in exactly the same way. Hesitantly, I offer to you the ISV’s rendering as one possible alternative to what you’re used to reading. Clearly I believe my job as a Greek prof is more than teaching paradigms. Are there ways a knowledge of Greek can enhance our study of God’s word? I think maybe there is. And James 1:17 might just be one example.

I have no expectation that this rather whimsical post this morning will radically alter anybody’s life. Aside from simply loving Greek, I think the inspirations underlying my teaching have changed through the years. The biggest driving force has been to help students think for themselves. I feel a real sense of urgency to show them ways that Greek can make a real difference in their lives, even in such areas as the way they think about giving. If you want to study Greek, just do it. As with running, it’s not as hard as you think. You just need to modify your schedule a little bit and be sensible. Needless to say, once you’ve crossed over to the dark side, you’ll never be the same person again.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

*OF* Learning Greek

[Thursday, September 14]

7:26 PM What does the phrase “the faith of the Gospel” mean in Phil. 1:27?

for the faith, which is the Good News (NLT)

the faith that comes from the gospel (HCSB)

the faith that the Good News brings (God’s Word)

people’s trust in the Message (The Message)

so da odda peopo goin trus da Good Kine Stuff Bout Christ too (Hawai’i Pidgin)

Fee (p. 77) thinks the phrase means either “the faith contained in the gospel” or “the faith, that is, the gospel.” The NLT agrees with the latter:

fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

It’s so tempting to translate this literally, to go along with the majority of translations, but this will not do, simply because “the faith of the Gospel” doesn’t mean anything in English. (Yeah, I know, I used that expression in an earlier blog post today, but I’ve since repented.) Unless Paul is intentionally using ambiguity here, he means one thing, and it’s our job as exegetes to determine which meaning he had in mind. As I told my Greek 3 students last Tuesday night when we were going over the Greek cases, the genitive will give you a Charley Horse between the ears if you’re not careful. All due respect to those who render the expression as “the faith of the Gospel,” but pretending that people know what that means isn’t being honest with the text. Caring about the deep structure of the text is a big, big deal. And here — as in so many places — Greek simply will not tell you what Paul means, though (thankfully!) it will limit your options. Genitive of source? Genitive of apposition? There is no secret way around the problem. You guys, this is exactly why we need to learn Greek.

The end.

(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.)

The Doctrine of the Church: 8 Points

4:48 AM Looking forward to our study of the doctrine of the church on Sunday mornings. Much of what we call “church” today originated, not in the New Testament, but in post-apostolic times.

  • The Lord’s Supper has changed from a celebration to a ceremony.

  • Worship has changed from participation to observation.

  • Witness has changed from relationship to salesmanship.

  • Leadership has changed from servanthood to professionalism.

  • Mission has changed from being missionaries to supporting missionaries.

  • Body life has changed from edification to entertainment.

  • Buildings have changed from functional to sacred.

  • Child care has changed from the hands of parents to the hands of strangers.

The New Testament shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

13 Things Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You

1:36 PM The Reader’s Digest once published an article called “13 Things Used Car Salesmen Won’t Tell You.” Well, here are “13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You.”

1. Greek is not the only tool you need to interpret your New Testament. In fact, it’s only one component in a panoply of a myriad of tools. Get Greek, but don’t stop there.

2. Greek is not the Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. All it does is limit your options. It tells you what’s possible, then the context and other factors kick in to disambiguate the text.

3. Greek is not superior to other languages in the world. Don’t believe it when you are told that Greek is more logical than, say, Hebrew. Not true.

4. Greek did not have to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament revelation. Truth be told, there’s only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today. I emphasize this point only because there are some today who would seek to resurrect the notion of “Holy Ghost” Greek. Their view is, in my view, a demonstrable cul-de-sac.

5. Greek words do not have one meaning. Yet how many times do we hear in a sermon, “The word in the Greek means…”? Most Greek words are polysemous, that is, they have many possible meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs. (In case you were wondering: Reading all of the meanings of a Greek word into any particular passage in which it occurs is called “illegitimate totality transfer” by linguists.)

6. Greek is not difficult to learn. I’ll say it again: Greek is not difficult to learn. I like to tell my students, “Greek is an easy language; it’s us Greek teachers who get in the way.” The point is that anyone can learn Greek, even a poorly-educated surfer from Hawaii. If I can master Greek, anyone can.
7. Greek can be acquired through any number of means, including most beginning textbooks. Yes, I prefer to use my own Learn to Read New Testament Greek in my classes, but mine is not the only good textbook out there. When I was in California I taught in an institution that required all of its Greek teachers to use the same textbook for beginning Greek. I adamantly opposed that policy. I feel very strongly that teachers should have the right to use whichever textbook they prefer. Thankfully, the year I left California to move to North Carolina that policy was reversed, and now teachers can select their own beginning grammars. (By the way, the textbook that had been required was mine.)

8. Greek students think they can get away with falling behind in their studies. Folks, you can’t. I tell my students that it’s almost impossible to catch up if you get behind even one chapter in our textbook. Language study requires discipline and time management skills perhaps more than any other course of study in school.

9. Greek is fun. At least when it’s taught in a fun way.

10. Greek is good for more than word studies. In fact, in the past few years I’ve embarked on a crusade to get my students to move away from word-bound exegesis. When I was in seminary I was taught little more than how to do word studies from the Greek. Hence, I thought I had “used Greek in ministry” if I had consulted my Wuest, Robertson, Kittle, Brown, Vincent, or Vines. Since then I’ve discovered that lexical analysis is the handmaiden and not the queen of New Testament exegesis. Greek enables us to see how a text is structured, how it includes rhetorical devices, how syntactical constructions are often hermeneutical keys, etc.

11. Greek can cause you to lose your faith. It happened to one famous New Testament professor in the US when he discovered that there were textual variants in his Greek New Testament, and it can happen to you. When the text of Scripture becomes nothing more than “another analyzable datum of linguistic interpretation” then it loses its power as the Word of God. That’s why I’m so excited about my Greek students at the seminary, most of whom are eager to place their considerable learning at the feet of Jesus in humble service to His upside-down kingdom.

12. Greek can be learned in an informal setting. The truth is that you do not need to take a formal class in this subject or in any subject for that matter. I know gobs of homeschoolers who are using my grammar in self-study, many of whom are also using my Greek DVDs in the process. If anyone wants to join the club, let me know and I will send you, gratis, a pronunciation CD and a handout called “Additional Exercises.”
13. Greek is not Greek. In other words, Modern Greek and Koine Greek are two quite different languages. So don’t expect to be able to order a burrito in Athens just because you’ve had me for first year Greek. On the other hand, once you have mastered Koine Greek it is fairly easy to work backwards (and learn Classical Greek) and forwards (and learn Modern Greek).

Okay, I’m done. And yes, I’m exaggerating. Many Greek teachers do in fact tell their students these things. May their tribe increase.

Now who wants to tackle “13 Things Your Hebrew Teachers Won’t Tell You”?

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

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.)

A New Testament Theology Recommended

Speaking of books, all of my valuable time this past week was taken up by reading the various New Testament theologies that are out there in preparation for my fall class on the subject. I’ve decided to require Frank Thielman’s Theology of the New Testament. Thielman is very readable and interesting, and he takes a canonical (rather than a systematic) approach. The focus on the cross is wonderful, and at 800 pages the book is a veritable mine of information. Thankfully the author refuses to be dull or boring.

Thielman, Theology of the New Testament
Thielman, Theology of the New Testament

If you’ve never read this book (or any book on New Testament theology for that matter), I strongly urge you to do so. The New Testament is so wonderful, so full of surprises, so deep and wide and profound that you can never wrap your mind around it — and that’s just for starters! Good stuff, I tell you. It’ll be a small class (yeah!), so I’ll get to treat it more like a graduate seminar than a typical class — which means high class participation.