May 20, 2013
Yesterday my wife and I listened to Tim Keller’s sermon entitled The Witness of the Spirit (Rom 8:15-17). When the preacher immediately began drawing on nuances of Greek grammar, I knew it was time to get out my Greek NT. When you are listening to the message (linked to above), pay attention: after only 1:36 minutes Keller makes a grave mistake. He says the following (paraphrased): “Paul writes, ‘The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirits that we are God’s children’ (Rom 8:16). Now, Greek has a form called the neuter, which is foreign to us native English speakers. Although the word for Spirit is neuter in Greek, the writers of the NT do something interesting. They describe the Spirit with a masculine pronoun, thereby trampling upon grammar for the sake of truth.” In other words, Keller is trying to argue that instead of saying the “Spirit itself,” Paul says the “Spirit Himself,” thereby proving that the Spirit is a living person and a member of the Trinity.
There is just one problem here: Keller gets the Greek utterly, completely wrong. Paul writes in the Greek exactly the opposite of what Keller says he wrote, and thereby Keller’s entire theological point here is based on false information. In the Greek, Paul writes “the spirit itself testifies with our spirit…” The trampling of grammar, as Keller puts it, is not Paul’s doing, but the preacher’s.
This was my first time ever to hear a sermon by Keller, who is ranked as one of the most popular preachers in America right now. I’ll be honest with you, I listened very critically to the rest of Keller’s sermon, and came away with a bad first impression. Now, maybe you think I’m being to harsh on Keller. But consider the following points:
After reading his Scripture passage for the sermon, Keller uttered the following: “This is God’s word.” With this, he then began his message. This is God’s word. This is the main reason I am critical of Keller’s mistake. If indeed the passage is God’s word, then how grave a mistake to make it say something that the word does not in fact say. This is nothing other than taking the Word and making it say man’s own. What’s worse, this is done under the guise of learned education. Throw in a little Greek, put the title “Dr.” in front of the preacher’s name, and it has to be true, right?
If indeed we believe the Bible is God’s word, then we should be all the more scrupulous to interpret it accurately. The gender of Greek pronouns is elementary, something that first semester seminarians learn. This makes me wonder, then: 1) does Keller know any Greek at all? 2) does he only read the English translation, where “himself” appears, 3) despite only relying on the English, does he still attempt to expound upon what the Greek says?
Christians, I cannot emphasize enough the importance that you listen and read critically. Don’t just believe someone if they have a title in front of their name, or if they proceed to tell you what the Greek or Hebrew means. If you have the gumption and opportunity, learn these biblical languages for yourselves, and learn them well, especially if you believe “This is God’s word!”
April 1, 2013
This quote/translation serves as a good reminder for those of us who spend a good deal of time reading, and for those who may be aspiring to scholarship:
μέμνησο, ὅτι οὐ μόνον ἐπιθυμία ἀρχῆς καὶ πλούτου ταπεινοὺς ποιεῖ καὶ ἄλλοις ὑποτεταγμένους, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἡσυχίας καὶ σχολῆς καὶ ἀποδημίας καὶ φιλολογίας. ἁπλῶς γὰρ οἷον εἂν ᾖ τὸ ἐκτός, ἡ τιμὴ αὐτοῦ ὑποτάσσει ἄλλῳ. . . . ἢ τίνος ἕνεκα θέλεις ἀναγνῶναι; εἰπέ μοι. . . . τί σοι λείπει; βιβλία; πῶς ἢ ἐπὶ τί; οὐχὶ γὰρ ἐπὶ τὸ βιοῦν παρασκευή τίς ἐστιν αὕτη; τὸ βιοῦν δ᾽ ἐξ ἄλλων τινῶν ἢ τούτων συμπληροῦται. οἷον ἂν εἰ ὁ ἀθλητὴς κλαίῃ εἰς τὸ στάδιον εἰσιών, ὅτι μὴ ἔξω γυμνάζεται. τούτων ἕνεκα ἐγυμνάζου, ἐπὶ τοῦτο οἱ ἁλτῆρες, ἡ ἁφή, οἱ νεανίσκοι. καὶ νῦν ἐκεῖνα ζητεῖς, ὅτε τοῦ ἔργου καιρός ἐστιν;
Remember that it is not merely desire for office and wealth which makes people lowly and subservient to others, but desire also for quietness, and leisure, and travel, and scholarship. For it makes no difference what the external object be, the value you set upon it makes you subservient to another. . . . Or for what purpose do you wish to read? Tell me. . . . What do you still lack? Books? How or for what end? The reading of books is a kind of preparation for the act of living, is it not? But the full measure of the act of living is made up of things other than books. It is as though the athlete on entering the stadium were to fall a-wailing because he is not exercising outside. This is what you exercised for, this is the purpose of your weight-lifting and wrestler’s sand and your young training partners. And are you now asking for those things, when the time for action has come? (Epictetus, Discourses, IV, IV,1-11, trans. adapted from Oldfather).
February 20, 2013
Philo, while discussing the desire brought about by the Serpent in the garden, says:
μυρίοις ὑπερμάχοις καὶ προαγωνισταῖς ἡδονὴ χρῆται τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν καὶ προστασίαν αὐτῆς ἀνειληφόσιν, οἳ τολμῶσιν ἀναδιδάσκειν ὅτι πάντων τὸ κράτος ἀνῆπται μικρῶν τε καὶ μεγάλων, οὐδενὸς ὑπεξῃρημένου τὸ παράπαν.
Amid throngs of champions and cheering fans stands pleasure, all of whom devotedly take up for her, who dare to spread the rumor that she holds everyone without exception, small and great, firmly in her clutches.
I stumbled upon this passage as I worked on my dissertation this week. Philo, allegorizing about the snake in the Garden of Eden, compares the snake’s voice to pleasure. His description of pleasure is so fitting for our day as well, as it seems that pleasure is championed by culture.
This also happens to be the time of the year when many Christians are preparing for Easter by fasting. While I’m not fasting food for forty days, I am fasting from Facebook. This decision partly has to do with one of my New Years goals, which was to make better use of my time. How about you, what do think about Philo’s description of pleasure?
December 18, 2012
“May [this work] encourage close study of the Greek text of the New Testament, since interpreting the text grammatically–including giving attention to the nuances of prepositions–is the necessary prelude to understanding it theologically” (Murray, Prepositions, 15; emphasis added).
December 6, 2012
An old saying, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, says, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Well, I’m applying that maxim to my own situation: “When in Germany, pronounce Greek as the Germans do.”
Now, there are no glaring, huge differences in the way Koine Greek is pronounced by Germans. Although the differences are subtle, they are big enough that I was politely corrected by a couple of students the first time I read Greek out loud.
Here are the major differences between the German vs. American pronunciations of Koine Greek:
θ theta, rather than being pronounced like the th in “the” is a hard t sound, as in “two”
ο omicron, rather than having an “A” sound, as in “optic,” is pronounced almost identically to omega, and is pronounced by Germans as their word “Hof” (ie, deep in the throat)
ρ rho, rather than the r as in rhinoceros, is pronounced more like the German r (with a trill)
χ chi, rather than having a k sound, like kite, is pronounced like ch in the German machen.
ευ and ηυ, two diphthongs in Greek, are both pronounced like the English “oy” (eg “boy), rather than the English eu, as in “eugenics”
I’m sure you wanted to know all of that. But, there you have it: Greek with a twist. The key is to read Greek with a German accent, and you’ll be fine.
November 21, 2012
My friend and fellow blogger Jacob recently wrote a post about setting higher standards for the biblical languages. Jacob discusses a growing trend where biblical languages are taught as if they were living languages. Jacob asks,
is the solution learning to hear, speak, and compose Greek? Is it our goal to revive a dead language. I understand that being able to think in a language is instrumental in understanding it. But the language is dead. There are no remaining speakers of koine Greek. The conversation has stopped. Anything that modern day “speakers” of koine compose will, by definition, be artificial.
The first question that comes to my mind is this: “Do those who advocate such a learning model have fluency in any living languages, besides their mother tongues?” Such a point seems highly important to me, for if the Greek teacher speaks only his mother tongue (e.g., English), but has never acquired fluency in another living language (e.g., German), then how will he effectively teach his students Koine Greek in such a manner? He will, in a sense, be attempting to take them somewhere he has never gone–fluency. He runs the risk of artificiality at two points, for he attempts, in a sense, to revive a dead language, and secondly,to teach fluency, although he himself is not fluent in another language, and therefore does not truly know the intricate complexities behind the concept.
An interesting study regarding the biblical languages would be to examine how they were taught and learned throughout church history. It would be very interesting then to compare how the current American model differs from the pedagogical methods of previous generations. Although not strictly a biblical language, Latin might serve as an example. As is often stated, Latin was the gentleman’s language for many centuries. It was expected that an educated person could not only read Latin, but could correspond in it. Latin thus served as a unifying language for scholars, allowing people from various cultures to share a common language. And such correspondence in Latin is often witnessed, even in not so distant history, as when C.S. Lewis communicated with an Italian priest in Latin (cf. The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis).
I doubt that students were ever encouraged to learn Latin as if it were a modern language. Nevertheless, the level of proficiency in general was very high, so high that educated people often composed letters in Latin.
When it comes to Koine Greek, I think a better solution may be found. For those who really want to experience fluency in Koine Greek, I would suggest learning modern day Greek. Then one could take field trips to Greece and apply one’s knowledge–and truly test one’s level of fluency–while at the same time helping the Greek economy.
Fluency, I think, is a key component that is missing in the teaching of biblical languages. Most (American) students who learn the biblical languages can only speak their mother tongue (English). They have probably had four years of high school Spanish, which they studied because they had to, and have all but forgotten it. Personally, I’m finding that the process of learning to speak and communicate in German has greatly improved my Greek (I am currently living in Munich, Germany). Learning to speak this language has pointed out rough edges and sloppy areas in my biblical languages; it has created a greater precision in my approach to Greek. I wonder how the process of learning biblical languages would be different if students could draw from fluency in a second language.
Ultimately, I think Jacob hits the nail on the head in his post. Where is the solution for better acquisition of the biblical languages to be found? Teaching Koine Greek as if it were a modern language? I don’t think so; as I mentioned, Spanish is taught as if it is a modern language, and is also neglected. Instead, overcoming the biblical languages barrier has a lot to do with laziness. Once this is overcome, the student is well on his way to mastering biblical Greek.
January 31, 2012
This year I’m reading through a synopsis of the Gospels. Conveniently, the Gospels are divided into 367 passages, which makes it possible to read a passage a day and finish by the end of the year. I found one of my readings last week very interesting. The only way I could figure out how to show you was by taking a picture for you to see:
This passage is about the cleansing of the temple and is included in all four Gospels. On the far right side of the picture is Luke’s narrative, which in very few words explains that he (Jesus) went into the temple and began to cast out those selling goods. When you look at the middle column, it quickly becomes clear that the wording in Mark favors Luke in this part rather than Matthew: Mark and Luke both say in the exact same way that Jesus entered in the temple and began to cast out the sellers. Matthew’s language, however, is slightly different. The strange part is that after this introductory clause in which Mark and Luke are identical, Mark and Matthew then become identical, recounting how Jesus overturned the tables and the chairs.
The reason this is interesting to me is that it relates to the question of which Gospel was written first. Most would say that Mark was first. If that’s the case, then Luke and Matthew both borrowed from Mark in this passage. One can see, however, how things could be argued the other way; if Matthew was the first written, then Luke, and finally Mark, who pieced together segments from both Gospel.
One other point that is interesting about this passage (the above picture is from the next page, where the cleansing of the temple continues), is how each author tells the story from a slightly different angle. Notice that in Matthew, Jesus says “You are making it [the temple] a den of thieves.” Thus, Matthew emphasizes the present continuation of their (sinful) actions. In Mark, however, Jesus says, “you have made it a den of thieves,” emphasizing that their past action has results that continue in the present — i.e., because of what you did, it is still a den of thieves even now. Luke writes, “you made it a den of thieves,” viewing their action as a whole. Finally, John (whose passage could not fit in the above picture) writes, “stop making it a place of business.”
So, these are two simple observations I made while reading a synopsis of the Gospels. I hope to make many more while reading the Gospels this year.
December 23, 2011
As I’ve mentioned recently, my family is preparing for a move to Germany. As you’ve probably also noticed, I’m pretty excited and will have a lot to say about the process. Let me share with you what I am doing to help prepare myself for the academic studies in Munich:
- Between now and May/June when we hope, Lord willing, to move, I am focusing on honing my language skills. I am trying to read at least 10 verses a day from the Hebrew Old Testament. I refer primarily to Keil and Delitzsch for issues encountered in the Hebrew. I’m also practicing my Latin. Daily reading in the Vulgate is the bare minimum, but I’m also trying to work through a classical grammar.
- My major focus when it comes to language preparation is Greek and German. I’m balancing my time between these since the bulk of my work in Munich will relate to these languages. For Greek I am just about to complete my first reading of the Greek NT. I am also working through a classical grammar that includes translations from English to Greek. When it comes to German, I recently felt that I had hit a wall and was making little progress. Motivation had bottomed out. All of this changed when I was given a few new German magazines and the newest edition of Deutsch Perfekt. I’m finding the Zeitschrift entitled Deutsch Perfekt to be greatly helpful, since it offers contemporary readings on a host of topics and themes, with different levels of difficulty, and with reading helps on hard words. Now I’m finding it hard to put the German down and pick up the Greek.
- There are a couple of things I would like to read between now and Germany. Mostly I would like to read in the area of NT backgrounds: things such as Josephus, Philo, Apostolic Fathers, maybe some Apocrypha, a rhetorical handbook, Homer, and probably Dictionary of NT Background.
- In order to make time for these languages and readings, I am not aiming to try to get much published in the next few months. As of now I am only working on one book review (Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles by K. Jobes for Criswell Theological Review). I’m also planning on turning down an opportunity to write another article for the Lexham Bible Dictionary since this will take away time from my other pursuits.
In some upcoming posts, I hope to share with you how I’m preparing spiritually for Germany, and also how we as a family are preparing.
July 3, 2011
In reading through the book of Acts I became curious about Barnabas and his description in 4:36. This verse is often translated as “Barnabas, son of encouragement.” In fact, I’ve heard some pretty good sermons about the ways Barnabas encouraged others. But my question is this: Is the term “encouragement” the best translation of this passage? Here’s why I ask:
The term in the Greek is parakale̅sis. BDAG suggests that this term might be translated as encouragement, exhortation, comfort, or consolation. Each of these nuances are seen in Acts (9:31; 13:15; 15:31; 16:9; 20:12). The term is closely related to the one used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit (parakle̅ton, Jn 14:16) — often translated “comforter.” So, it becomes apparent that the term’s various meanings make it difficult to translate.
In considering the meaning of “Barnabas, son of parakale̅sis,” it is important to note Acts 11:23, where Barnabas goes to Antioch and “when he came and had seen the grace of God, was joyful and exhorted [parakaleo] them all to cling to the Lord with purposeful hearts.” Now, exhortation is a word that is not commonly used in English today. What does it mean? Websters defines “exhort” as “to incite by words or advice; to animate or urge by arguments, as to a good deed or laudable conduct; to address exhortation to; to urge strongly; hence, to advise, warn, or caution” Perhaps Luther had this idea in mind when he translated Acts 11:23 with “ermahnen,” meaning that Barnabas urged, cautioned, advised, or warned. Similarly, The Message uses “urge.”
So, was Barnabas the son of encouragement or the son of exhortation? Or can it be said that one can exhort by means of encouraging? I leave that for you to decide. For now I am simply musing over a slight nuance of the term, and wondering what implications it might have on this important early church leader. Interestingly, A. T. Robertson also mused about Barnabas and said, “Doubtless his gifts as a preacher lay along this same line [as his nickname parakale̅sis]” (Word Pictures, 57). If Robertson is correct and Barnabas’s gift of exhortation was located in his preaching skills, this might shed a glimpse on his later ministry alongside Paul. For later, Barnabas the son of parakale̅sis stepped aside, allowing Paul to become the team’s primary spokesman, the primary exhorter, if you will.
May 13, 2011
I have also laboured strenuously to partake of the realm of Greek prose and poetry, although the habitual use of my native tongue has prevented my attaining precision in the pronunciation. For our people do not favour those persons who have mastered the speech of many nations, or who adorn their style with smoothness of diction, because they consider that not only is such skill common to ordinary freemen but that even slaves who so choose may acquire it.
-Josephus, Antiquitis, ch. 20