6:05 AM With the rise of computer programs, websites, and online tools, you can do just about any aspect of exegesis well. But to read and interpret participles, well, you’ll need to be able to encounter the text for yourself. Greek (as is often said) is a participle-loving language. That’s why I am excited to be teaching the participle in my Greek 2 classes when we return from spring break.
To be frank, participles are often the most significant elements in the expression of thought and are key to understanding what an author is trying to say. Therefore, understanding the basic uses of the participle is a key to correct interpretation and application of the New Testament.
Part of the beauty of the Greek language is that the construction of its verbs and participles clearly shows who does the action, when the action happens, and whether the action is marked as being on the main line of the argument or not. By thinking through the participle, new vistas of insight will be opened to you. A good example is the “warning passage” in Heb. 6:4-6, where the shift from the 5 aorist participles to the 2 present tense participles is brilliant.
By the way, I’m so proud of my students for making it to “mile 20” of their Greek “marathon.” (My textbook has 26 chapters.) Every marathoner knows that the halfway point in a 26 mile race isn’t mile 13. It’s mile 20. In other words, you expend the same amount of energy in the last 6 miles of a marathon as you do in the first 20. But it is worth it. You will never regret your study of New Testament Greek. God is going to open a whole new world of understanding to you, and you are going to be so grateful to him.
7:20 AM Asyndeton. Gives me a Charlie Horse between the ears every time.
When an author fails to use a conjunction, how are we to understand his or her logic? Does the sentence in question go with what comes before it? After it? Or is it meant to be a stand-alone concept?
I was pondering this roadside hazard while reading Philippians last night. Here is Phil. 4:4-7. Paul’s injunctions stab the ears:
Always be full of joy in the Lord!
Again I will say it, Rejoice!
Let everyone see how bighearted you are!
The Lord is near!
Don’t worry about anything!
Instead, pray about everything! Tell God what you need and don’t forget to thank him for his answers!
Then you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will set a guard over your thoughts and hearts as you trust in Christ Jesus.
Notice the words in green: The Lord is near! Why the reminder of the Lord’s presence? And why here? I think the answer might have something to do with the word I translated “bighearted.” The word can be used to describe a temperament that is even-keeled and well-tempered. A bighearted person doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He or she accepts the hand they’ve been dealt. They don’t insist on their own way. They are willing to meet others halfway. They are fair, self-controlled, gentle, and steady. When others freak out, they remain calm. Their whole demeanor says, “God is in control.”
How can you and I be like that? The Lord is near! When we are tempted to press the panic button, the Lord is right there facing the problem with us. And, since we are never far from his presence, why be anxious? We can take our concerns to him in prayer any time of the day or night. He is as near as the air we breath. Christ offers a haven for the storm-tossed vessel. Even in the midst of trouble, even there, yes, especially there, God is our refuge and our strength. I am going to try and remember that this week when I’m faced with anxieties and struggles, both within myself and with others.
Honestly evaluate your life. How do you respond to stress and hassles? Begin working with God to make his “Peace Plan” more evident in you.
(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!
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.
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?
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.
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.