( March 22, 2019) 7:45 AM “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). This verse might well be the motto for our upcoming Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference. I realize that in its original context this proverb is about individuals. But it’s also true, I believe, about biblical exegesis and linguistics. Each method is a challenge to the other, for better or for worse. Simply put, there seems to be a strong correlation between the Bible and science, between Greek and linguistics. During the so-called Enlightenment, many abandoned the Bible for science altogether. But in recent years, the Bible and science have moved closer together. It became apparent that Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic were, in fact, languages just like any other human languages, even though God had used them to inscripturate His divine truth. If it is true that Koine Greek is a language, then the science of linguistics has much to commend it. The main alternative — viewing the Greek of the New Testament as sui generis, as a kind of Holy Ghost language — has in my opinion little evidence for it compared with biblical linguistics.
In the past several decades, the study of New Testament Greek has moved from viewing Greek as a special field of study to viewing it as a part of the broader science of how languages work. The shift began well before I published my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek in 1988. It was essentially based on the groundbreaking work of 19th- and early 20th century scholars such as Moulton, Blass, Winer, and A. T. Robertson. Since then, biblical scholars have split over whether or not exegesis allows for the full integration of linguistics into biblical studies. Some evangelicals have felt threatened by this new approach to the study of the Greek of the New Testament. However, since we evangelicals believe that God is the unifier of the cosmos, we shouldn’t feel threatened by the various models of linguistic research that have become available over the past century. Among the branches of linguistics, historical-comparative linguistics proved to be the most interesting to biblical scholars of the past century. Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research — affectionately known to students as his “Big Grammar” — moved biblical studies in this direction like no other work that preceded it. Then discoveries in the field of semantics began to inform our discipline, resulting in groundbreaking works like Moisés Silva’s Biblical Words and Their Meanings and Johannes Louw’s Semantics of New Testament Greek. Currently it looks like the field has begun to burgeon far beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations, owing in large part to the tireless work of scholars like Stan Porter, Steve Runge, and Stephen Levinsohn. If we take semantics as a trustworthy approach, books like Biblical Words and Their Meaning become indispensable. Clearly our discipline could do without such exegetical fallacies as illegitimate totality transfer, etymologizing, and anachronism. With the rise of the field of biblical linguistics, evidence that the Greek of the New Testament is in fact not sui generis has risen dramatically, putting even more pressure on the claim that the New Testament is comprised of Holy Ghost Greek.
With this brief summary, we see that the field of New Testament Greek linguistics has made a number of discoveries that challenge evangelicals’ traditional approach to hermeneutics. It has also made others that challenge the methodological certainty of the scientific community. Unfortunately, evangelicals have not found as much common ground as we would like for a unified response to modern linguistic science. Yet all can (and do) agree that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, and that it is crucial that people recognize this. However, there is as of yet no agreement on the detailed model of linguistics that should prevail in our schools and seminaries. How is New Testament Greek to be pronounced? How many aspects are there in the Greek verb system (two or three) and what should we call them? Is the term deponency to be used any more? What is the unmarked word order in Koine Greek? These are basic and central matters that should not be overlooked in the midst of our intramural disputes.
The speakers at our conference hardly agree among themselves on many of these topics. We should not be surprised to find such disagreement. After all, evangelicals are not united in many other areas of interpretation, including the mode of baptism, the biblical form of church government, eschatology, and whether or not miraculous gifts are valid today. Despite our disagreements, however, we should not throw in the towel but should continue to seek solutions in all of these areas. In our conference, we hope that the papers will give us some helpful suggestions for making progress in relating the New Testament to the science of linguistics. For an evangelical, both nature and Scripture are sources of information about God. But because both have fallible human interpreters, we often fail to see what is there. Ideally, scientists (whether secular or evangelical) should favor the data over their pet theories. Hence we have asked each of our speakers to be as fair and judicious in the way they handle disagreements in their assigned subjects.
Many pastors and even New Testament professors in our schools do not think they are exegeting God’s revelation in nature when they do exegesis. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t. This is not to say that New Testament Greek linguistics has solved all the problems of relating biblical and scientific data. It has not. Further investigation and reflection, long after this conference is over, will be needed in this area. Our desire in organizing this conference is that, far from treating science as an enemy, we should all realize that science is simply the process of studying general revelation. Our hope is that God will continue to reveal Himself to us as long as we do not rule out divine inspiration in the process.
Linguistics is, of course, a large subject. No one can ever hope to master its entire scope. Nevertheless, it is obvious that students of New Testament Greek can and should have a working knowledge of linguistics – the science of language.
One thing seems clear as we anticipate our conference. We who study and teach New Testament Greek cannot be satisfied with superficial answers. We must carefully scrutinize the pages of general revelation and consider how they may influence our current approach to Greek exegesis. If we need to be cautious in our handling of the scientific data, we also need to be hopeful and optimistic.
(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.
Note on header: Energion Publications will have a 4×6 handout card with special offers for conference attendees. You won’t want to miss either the conference or these offers!)
(2/16/2019) 9:15 AM In one of my talks at Phoenix Seminary I quoted the Scottish proverb that says, “Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it’s not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.” Oh, I do hope the message came through loud and clear. Seminaries do not exist for scholarship. Yes, we need to study the Bible, and study it carefully. But the goal of the careful study of the Bible is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to become obedient Jesus-followers who feed the poor and open our homes to strangers and share Jesus with the lost and live lives characterized by scandalous love for our enemies. Show me a New Testament teacher off mission, and I’ll show you somebody who has no concept of what the New Testament is all about.
6:10 AM Let me tell you why I teach Greek. It’s simply this. God has a plan for individuals. And He’s communicated this plan to us in His Word. Our God is a communicative God, and He has made known His will to us through those who penned the Scriptures. Biblical truth is just that: truth that is communicated in and through the Bible. It’s truth that is at once “inspired by God” and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” What all this implies is that if we are to move from the classroom to real life we will have to prize what we learn and view it as a life skill and not merely as an educational attainment. Of course, this isn’t easy. Almost all of us feel tremendous ambivalence as we wrestle with the question of just how to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. Yes, knowledge of Greek is essential if we are to have a firm foundation upon which to build our exegesis of the New Testament. On the other hand, I must say forcefully that facts, no matter how brilliantly taught or diligently acquired, are nothing more than the raw building blocks of life. How we put them together, and for what use (and whose glory), is another matter altogether.
It will be an exciting week in Greek 2: the aorist middle plus the imperfect middle/passive. I’m convinced that my calling in life is not to be just a Greek teacher (or even a just Greek teacher) but to be a Christian. In that spirit, I’m praying hard for my Greek students. Theirs is a daunting task, but God is able!
(From Dave Black Online, used by permission. Dave Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and Aprenda a leer el Griego del Nuevo Testamento, along with many other books.)
(September 8, 2018) 6:25 AM Greek students, for what it’s worth, here’s my approach to doing Greek sentence diagramming within a paragraph. Note: It has nothing to do with English sentence diagramming!
Instead, my goal is to identify all main clauses and then identify any clauses that are syntactically subordinated to those main clauses. Here’s a simple example from 1 Thess. 1:2-5:
As you can see, there’s only one main finite verb in the entire paragraph: “We give thanks.” This verb is marked in blue. There are other finite verbs in the paragraph (marked in green), but they are not main verbs. The main verb “We give thanks” is then expanded in a series of participial clauses, three in fact:
See how this works? Easy cheesy! At this point, your teaching outline practically jumps off the page:
1) The When of Paul’s Thanksgiving.
2) The What of Paul’s Thanksgiving.
3) The Why of Paul’s Thanksgiving.
In other words …
1) Paul gives thanks when he prays personally for the Thessalonians.
2) Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians’ practical faith, sacrificial love, and unwavering hope.
3) Paul gives thanks because he knows that God has chosen them.
The next step is to produce a translation of the paragraph based on your own exegesis of the text.
The final step is to draw as many practical applications from the paragraph as you can. Here’s a sampling (for more you can go here):
- Paul had no orphans. When he left the church in Thessalonica, he did not forget about them.
- Paul wants his readers to know that he personally (note the middle voice of “mentioning”) prays for them.
- Thanksgiving is not thanksgiving unless it is expressed.
- “Faith without works is dead.”
- True love always involve sacrifice.
- We can endure suffering and persecution because we have placed our hope in Jesus and in His coming back to earth.
- The church is a family (Paul calls these believers his “brothers and sisters”).
- Teaching and preaching is more than “words.” It involves Holy Spirit power and full confidence in the efficacy of the Gospel.
- “Examine my life,” says Paul. The selfless life he led backed up the Gospel he proclaimed.
Now that is true greatness.
Good day! (Said in my best Paul Harvey voice.)
(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)
(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 problem, textual 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!”
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.
[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 morpheme –ma. 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.)
[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.
(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)
(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.)