Category Archives: Greek

Linguistics and Greek Pedagogy

(From Dave Black Online, Friday, February 23, 2018. Used by permission.)

9:46 AM I hope you saw our announcement about our linguistics conference, slated for April, 2019. I’ve always found it interesting to watch how different minds tackle the same problem. Someday, praise God, we’ll no longer have the need to study languages – any language. The one thing all of us teachers of Greek have in common is a love for the language and an irrepressible joy when we see our students “get it.” But none of us would claim that we have the last word when it comes to grammar or even pedagogy. In the midst of all this, I’m still mulling over the matter of verbal aspect. What in the world shall we call the three (or two) aspects? This morning I want to share a few comments in the hopes of nudging the conversation forward.

First, as I reread Joshua Covert’s summary of recent approaches to the problem – and the wide variety of terms used to describe the aspects – I’m more convinced than ever that this is a real problem for Greek scholars and students alike, and it’s frankly beautiful to watch the discussion proceed. For our students’ sake (at the very least), we need to work towards some kind of agreement or standardization, don’t you think?

Secondly, I think the elephant in the room has yet to be discussed. It seems to me that a major part of the problem, if not the biggest challenge we face, is the fact that Greek teachers and linguists are often talking past each other. Each of us approaches the problem from a different set of perspectives. For the Greek teacher, for example, pedagogy is paramount. Moreover, most of us have little or no formal training in the science of linguistics. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in what linguists are saying. We are. It’s just that we don’t always feel that we necessarily have to follow their explanations or terminology. Perhaps a classic example of this is what we encountered in our Greek 4 class on Tuesday night. Both of our commentaries (by Fee and Weima) expressed puzzlement over the fact that Paul used the adverb pantote (“always”) with an aorist infinitive. How in the world can something that’s “punctiliar” (both commentators used that word) be continual? This will not do. Ever since Frank Stagg published his essay “The Abused Aorist” in JBL(followed up later by Charles Smith’s “Errant Aorist Interpreters” in GTJ), teachers have been cautioning their Greek students not to view the aorist as referring to a “punctiliar” action. Yet still today one hears statements, in both sermon and commentary, such as “The aorist here shows that Paul had in mind a once-for-all-action.” Much of this confusion stems (I believe) from A. T. Robertson’s use of “punctiliar” to describe the aorist tense. Of course, Robertson never meant us to understand a “once-for-all action,” yet the term “punctiliar” was easily misunderstood to mean that very thing. After all, something that is “punctiliar” has one single “Punkt” or “point,” doesn’t it? My point here (no pun meant) is simply this: While Greek scholars are obliged to learn as much as they can from linguists (and I, a non-linguist, have even published two books on the subject), they are not obligated to follow linguistic science blindly.

Thirdly, I’m not sure we New Testament teachers are as far apart as the evidence may seem to point. I prefer “aoristic” instead of “punctiliar” because of the way the latter term has been abused by preachers and commentators. “Aoristic” works because its very meaning is “undefined.” In other words, by choosing aoristic aspect, an author is intentionally refraining from trying to describe how an action occurred. The action is a-oristos – “unlimited” or “undefined” in terms of its kind of action. This is precisely the point that was made by both Stagg and Smith in their journal articles.

Finally, let me say why I still prefer my terms. Think about how easy we make it for our students when we say that the imperfect tense has “imperfective” aspect, and that the perfect tense has “perfective” aspect, and that the aorist tense has “aoristic aspect.” Now don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to change my nomenclature if I can be convinced to do so. Indeed, Robert Picirilli, in a JETS essay, makes a suggestion I am almost happy with. Addressing the “issue of terminology,” he writes:

I think we must recognize that it is too late in the game, as A. T. Robertson said long ago, to change the names of the tenses or the word “tense” itself. It is hard enough to teach Greek students that “tense” does not meantime and “present” does not mean present; but we have learned to handle that. If aspect theory is to win wide recognition and usage, as I think it should, I believe we must develop a terminology that does not overlap with those names and is both appropriate in meaning and relatively easy for students to learn and use. I tentatively suggest, then, that “progressive” works better than “imperfective” and that “wholistic” works better than “perfective.” I have no suggestion as a replacement for “stative.” From this point on, then, I may speak of aspect or perspective, and of progressive perspective or imperfective aspect (for the present and imperfect tenses), of wholistic perspective or perfective aspect (for the aorist tense), and stative perspective or aspect (for the perfect and pluperfect tenses).

“Wholistic” may well work better than “aoristic,” and I’m open to using that language, though I still feel it’s too confusing, from a pedagogical standpoint, to use “stative” for “perfective.” Anyways, I hope you’re enjoying this discussion as much as I am. I’ve held conferences at SEBTS to discuss the synoptic problemtextual criticism, the authorship of Hebrews, the ending of Mark, and the story of the adulteress, and I’m hoping that our gathering in 2019 will shed more light than heat on the topic of verbal aspect. As with so many other matters, “Let the discussion continue!”

Paul, Tenses, and Exegesis in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

8:58 AM This week in Greek 4 we’re going through 1 Thess. 2:13-16. What a fascinating passage!

What I find incredibly interesting about this paragraph is the way Paul switches from aorist tense participles to present tense participles.

I’ve seen this pattern elsewhere, except in reverse order. Here the switch is extremely important exegetically.

One of the continuing hotbeds of discussion in Pauline studies is whether or not this passage can be used to suggest that Paul was in some way anti-Semitic. I’ve striven hard to consider the evidence with evenhanded fairness, but I really don’t think there’s any way this text shows that Paul had an animus against his Jewish brethren. This debate is one of the most volatile in the church today and will merit in-depth discussion on Tuesday. I love the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians on apologetics and evangelism. I like the way students are being exposed to Paul’s philosophy of ministry. I especially love exploring with them the implications of the text for teaching and praxis. Any course in exegesis that fails to do this is doomed to irrelevance.

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.)

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.)

Are Grammar and Thought Inherently Related

6:45 AM Last night I was prepping for our LXX class in the spring semester (which I’m co-teaching with my esteemed Old Testament colleague, Chip Hardy), and I thought to myself, “Our once casual relationship with Greek and Hebrew is about to transition to ‘It’s complicated.'” I honestly don’t remember how I decided to offer this course years ago. I think I just sent an email to my dean saying, “I want to do one. Haha.” You know, like how Sir Edmund Hillary informed his friends he wanted to climb Mount Everest. “Summiting the world’s highest mountain. I may want to do that. Haha.” Well, we pushed the button, and the rest is history. This is now the fourth (or fifth) time we’ve done this. There are plenty of obstacles to keep us busy. The first fallacy we have to deal with is the supposed difference between Hebrew and Greek thought. Hebrew, we are told, is obviously good. Greek is irretrievably bad. Hebrew thought is better because it is holistic, concrete, and dynamic. We are told, furthermore, that the whole Bible, including the New Testament (written in Greek), is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach. We are reminded that the aim of the Hebrew system is da’ath Elohim (“Know God”), whereas the Greeks emphasized gnothi seauton (“Know thyself”). Thus in the Greek system, knowledge is emphasized; in the Hebrew system, the goal is to shape the character of the student. It’s Athens versus Jerusalem all over again. Listen, it’s all very simple. The Hebrew language was used by God to deliver His truth to Hebrew speakers. The Greek language was used by the same God to deliver His truth to Greek speakers. A “Christian” worldview bestrides them both.

I recall someone arguing that Hebrew is action-oriented because of its unmarked word order: verb, then subject. In English we say, “God created.” In Hebrew we say, “He created, God.” This is said to reveal ” … the dynamic variety of the Hebrew’s thinking” (Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, p. 28). Ergo, Hebrew thinking is dynamic; Greek thinking is static. What, then, do you do with languages like Korean, where the verb comes at the end of the sentence? Or German, which has a mish-mash of word order depending on whether the clause is a main clause or a subordinate clause: “I know that the student is good because he has studied” = “Ich weiss dass der Student gut ist weil er studiert hat” (lit., “I know that the student good is because he studied has”). Speak like Yoda I can! Woohoo!

And then there’s the question, “Which language is easier to learn: Hebrew or Greek?” Some say that Greek grammar is more complex than Hebrew. Others argue that Hebrew grammar is more complicated than Greek. After all, “Hebrew often lacks a verb in its sentence!” Huh? Of course there’s a verb there. It’s just implied, as in the Greek sentence Ho anthropos agathos, “The man is good.” This phenomenon even occurs in English: “KNX News Radio time, 10:30.” My opinion is that if you enjoy learning languages, you’ll find neither Greek nor Hebrew to be very difficult. You’ll probably have to work harder at your Hebrew vocabulary simply because Greek shares more cognates with English. But vocabulary acquisition is simply a matter of rote memory.

The bottom line: I think it’s a bit misleading to insist that grammar and thought are inherently related. There are just too many philosophical difficulties inherent in any theory of mental representations. Human language is an adequate vehicle to communicate divine truth. Every human language. Just ask Wycliffe Bible Translators.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Some Subtleties in 3 John

[12/27/2016] 7:34 AM This morning I read 3 John as part of my “daily devotionals.” (I don’t have daily devotions, as everyone knows. There’s nothing virtuous about that statement. If you have “devotions,” more power to you. But my relationship with Christ is such that I’ve never been able to schedule a time to meet with Him. Yes, I’m a crotchety grandpa about certain things.) Here are a few takeaways in no particular order:

1) The chiastic structure of the letter. Ah yes, another “chiasmus.” There is a certain attraction to assigning the name chiasmus to just about anything we find in the New Testament. Here is the trouble: It’s too easy to impose on the text something that isn’t there. That said, I’d outline 3 John as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Praise for Gaius
  3. Condemnation of Diotrephes
  4. Praise for Demetrius
  5. Conclusion

The bull’s-eye, the central matrix, is what John has to say about Mr. “Nourished-by-God,” who wanted to be the boss of the church. More on that later.

2) How to filter the kingdom. The Christian life is more than being faithful to the truth. Gaius was that, to be sure. But John commends him for “living out the truth” — living in a manner worthy of the calling he’s received. God makes us worthy as we desire to “imitate what is good” (v. 11): meeting needs, nurturing little souls, the daily labor of parenting, etc. What keeps you from doing the truth? What changes do you need to make in 2017? Bonhoeffer, writing in prison, was on target when he said that repentance is “not in the first place thinking about one’s own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 361). Good advice, if you ask me. I need to take it to heart.

3) Minimizing human leadership. Our human pedestals are such nightmares. They always backfire. Diotrephes had to be “number one.” I don’t mean to minimize the importance of pastoral leadership. But folks, our priorities are backwards. All the wrong things become too big (hierarchy, professionalism, success, size of membership) and all the right things become too small (Jesus first, humility, simplicity, everyone pulling their weight). This issue is no longer trite. It is destroying churches. When our Christian superstars fail, the church loses influence in our culture. It’s high time we humbled ourselves as Christian leaders. Ultimately, the claim of being Top Dawg predicates the rejection of Jesus’ sole lordship (Col. 1:18). It’s just that serious.

4) The passive voice. Say what? Take a look at verse 12. The idea here is “Everyone speaks well of Demetrius.” Many translations actually render the verse this way. But John actually wrote, “Demetrius is well-spoken of by everyone.” That’s the passive voice. And there’s a difference between the active and passive voices. The passive voice usually calls attention to the grammatical subject. Compare these two sentences:

  • “Today, Japanese Prime Minster Abe will visit the Arizona Memorial.”
  • “Today, the Arizona Memorial will be visited by Japanese Prime Minister Abe.”

See the difference? The second sentences carries a meaning like, “Today, the Arizona Memorial [of all places!] will be visited by Japanese Prime Minister Abe.” This is part and parcel of grammar. We study language, and we reap the benefits.

5) The importance of your physical health to God. Note John’s greeting in verse 2: “I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” Why isn’t this a reality for so many? We live with such a ridiculous “the spirit matters” but “I don’t have to care for the temple” mentality. What an insane approach to the body God has given us. I mean, we Baptists are the worst offenders. Of course, you can be a skinny person and still be a glutton. But if the number of self-deprecating potluck jokes from our pulpits means anything, we’ve got a problem, Houston. If you need to exercise, then exercise. Wrestle whatever is holding you back. You are too important to the body of Christ to lose years to heart disease and obesity. (Talk about pressure. I have to be fit to preach about presenting our bodies to God as living sacrifices?)

Well, I need to be off and running with today’s chores. Yet who can deny the importance of lying back in our lounge chair and listening to Him? Then, and only then, can we make a hard and fast connection between the brute facts of life and the reality of God. Perhaps if you and I read John’s third letter now and then, we’d find more ways to love God and people.

(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.)

Reading Hebrews in the Good News Bible

8:06 AM I was reading Hebrews 1 this morning in the Good News Bible (TEV).

book jriririroiroParts of it are truly outstanding. The translators render “Thou are my Son; today have I begotten thee” as “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Great so far. And then there’s this footnote on v. 8: “or, God is your kingdom.” The text of the Good News Bible, of course, reads “Your kingdom, O God, will last forever and forever!” The confusion here stems from the Greek: Is theos nominative or vocative? The translators have taken it as a vocative (correctly, in my view), but at least they note the alternative. Good for them. But here’s what puzzles me. Notice that they begin a new paragraph in verse 4.

book hbeyeueieieThis is impossible. It contradicts the Greek text. Verses 1-4 are all one long sentence in the original. Making a new paragraph in verse 4 is just not empirically possible. It’s completely illogical — like asserting “married bachelor.” This sort of inconsistency drives me nuts. (People sometimes tell me I’m too OCD about these kinds of things but it’s part of my temperament.) I really, truly, sincerely believe we can do better. And yet, these kinds of oversights are hardly exceptional. Am I hereby trying to make a case for the study of Greek? In one sense yes. But at least you can compare other English translations before arriving at your conclusion as to the paragraph structure of a New Testament book. Again, I deeply appreciate the translators who produced the Good News Bible. When I was a teenager I literally could not put this book down. The text was readable, and the line drawings were fantastic. But our focus should always be on faithfulness to the text as the Holy Spirit inspired it — and this includes matters of syntax and structure, not just words.

Finally, as an aside, I had to smile when I realized (again) how Hebrews is placed after Philemon in our English Bibles. This wasn’t always the case. In our earliest manuscripts, Hebrews comes after Romans or between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. (Both codex Sinaiticus and codex Vaticanus place Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians.) In other words, Hebrews assumed a prominent position in the Pauline letters at an early date. It was only in the fourth century that Hebrews began to consistently appear after Philemon. My point is that, according to the earliest manuscript evidence, Hebrews was an integral part of the Pauline collection. David Trobisch, who is an acknowledged expert in all things canonical, has argued that the placing of Hebrews after Philemon was a distortion of the original canonical edition of the New Testament. (See The First Edition of the New Testament, p. 25.)  Needless to say, these facts are not sufficiently heeded by today’s New Testament students, in my opinion.

All of this is relevant to our LXX class, because one of the earliest questions we will face is: “Which books should be included in the Septuagint?” It’s necessary to raise this question because there is no one indisputable “Septuagint” but “Septuagints” (plural). Ralhf’s edition of the LXX even contains the Song of Mary from Luke 2!

9781938434730mThink about this: If Hebrews is genuinely Pauline, this would change everything about the way we interpret Paul. Hebrews would be included in our New Testament theology books, and when we wanted to study, say, Paul’s view of church leadership, we’d have to include such passages as Heb. 13:7 and Heb. 13:17. The undeniable reality is that questions of canon and authorship matter. Of course, both sides demonize the other. Proponents of Pauline authorship are dismissed as obscurantists, while proponents of Hebrews’ non-Paulinity are accused of succumbing to the spirit of the age. But why should we tolerate this kind of judgmental divisiveness? Maybe we need another conference on campus to discuss the issue!

Anyhow, that’s my take on Hebrews for today. The fact is, all of us have biases and presuppositions. Many issues we have never personally studied. We tend to rely too heavily on the work of others. I know I do. So whether or not you espouse the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, prayerfully consider looking at the evidence yourself before making up your mind.

And do be patient with me when I chase rabbit trails.

Peace out,


(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)