Sunday, August 26, 2007

Early Syriac Translation Technique, Genitive Absolutes & ἔτι

In my last post, I talked about the distinction between Greek ἔτι 'still' and the simultaneous relative time significance of the present tense participle. After coming to the conclusion that ἔτι is not merely redundant with the simultaneous time significance of the present participle, the question became more intriguing to me as I considered how some early translations of the Greek New Testament handled something like a potentially redundant ἔτι.

I took a look at Peter Williams’ Early Syriac Translation Technique and Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels, published in 2004. You can see Justin Taylor's interview of Peter Williams as Williams has recently taken over as warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK. Williams points us to reviews of his book here, some of which are available online. I have no knowledge of Syriac, so I am completely dependent on the textual apparatus of NA27 and Williams' monograph for the Syriac text.

In his introduction, Williams (2) summarizes three broad explanations regarding the presence of similarities and differences between Greek manuscripts and the Syriac versions...

The first is the hypothesis that the translation is essentially a literal representation of its Vorlage, the second, that formal alterations were made in the process of translation, and the third, that alterations were made in the process of transmission of the translated text to us.... It is contended here that the Vorlage Hypothesis has been used too much and the Translation Hypothesis explored too little.
In the 21 brief rules that Williams (294) includes in Appendix 1 for using Syriac as evidence for support of a Greek Vorlage, he includes this one about adverbs...

(13) Be careful using [Old Syriac] witnesses to attest the omission of the adverbs ἐκεῖθεν, ἔξω, ἔτι, μόνον, νῦν, and τότε. Never use [Old Syriac] to attest the absence of ἤδη.
This is one of two rules in which Williams uses the language of "be careful" instead of "do not," so that gives us a hint that Syriac is a bit more consistent in formally representing ἔτι and other adverbs than it is with other features of the text. Looking more specifically at Williams' section on adverbs, he (160) gives this introduction...

In broad outline the data below suggest that the [Old Syriac] tradition in particular did not feel constrained always to represent these elements when they were present in the Greek. It should be remembered that the [Old Syriac] translation is not one that seeks formal correspondence with its Vorlage, and that in many cases no equivalent Syriac adverb was readily at hand to match the Greek one. There is no reason to believe that there was a systematic decision not to represent adverbs. Rather, whether consciously or subconsiously, these adverbs were sometimes felt not to be important enough to be translated.
Regarding ἔτι specifically, Williams (163) writes...

Greek ἔτι is a word which receives no fixed equivalent in Syriac because it fulfills so many different functions.

Before looking at the Syriac data for ἔτι, what were my expectations? I figured if the Syriac translation omitted a representation of ἔτι, one explanation might be that ἔτι was considered unnecessarily redundant with the simultaneous time aspect of the present participle. Of course, there are other possible explanations for Syriac omissions. Williams (163-64) suggests some alternate explanations (but he is responding to the common practice of hypothesizing an equivalent Greek Vorlage for instances of Syriac omission)...

It is possible that factors causing variation in Greek manuscripts and in Syriac texts could be partly independent. Some variation in Greek manuscripts could be explained by the small size of the particle and therefore its natural oversight in transmission. Variation in Syriac witnesses could be ascribed to the lack of a ready Syriac equivalent in many contexts in which it occurs. Of course, variation in Syriac manuscripts inevitably will also affect the Greek manuscripts from which the Syriac translations are made.
Of 37 occurrences of ἔτι in the Gospels, Williams only finds three references where the Syriac omits the particle over against a consistent Greek tradition: Lk. 8.49; Lk. 9.42; Jn. 16.12. In addition to these, he cites two other references in which the Syriac tradition omits ἔτι where there is only weak support for omitting it among the Greek manuscripts: Mt. 19.20; Lk. 22.71. Williams (164) concludes...

These five cases take the edge off our confidence in the correctness of NA27's notes saying that [the Curetonianus version of Old Syriac] and [the Sinaiticus version of Old Syriac and the Peshitta version] witness against ἔτι in John 4.35 and 11.30, respectively.

In other words, since in 5 out of 37 cases there are Syriac texts which omit ἔτι where there is little or no support for such an omission among the extant Greek manuscripts, then Syriac may exhibit a certain tendency to omit ἔτι for reasons other than simply following the Greek Vorlage.

Since Williams stated in his introduction that the Translation Hypothesis is explored too little, I would like to explore one possibility for the infrequent Syriac tendency to omit ἔτι where the likely Greek Vorlage includes it. In 2 of the 3 cases in which Syriac witnesses omit ἔτι over against the entire Greek tradition, the adverb is part of a genitive absolute construction.

In Luke 8.49 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος "while he is still speaking" follows immediately after Jesus' statement to the woman who has been healed from her 12-year hemorrhage. Since the previous verses include Jesus speaking, the ἔτι in vs. 49 is truly redundant. It is not needed to show that Jesus was speaking before the action of the main verb began. The verse still means the same thing if the ἔτι is omitted. It is possible that the Syriac would have been deemed unnatural if the redundant ἔτι were formally translated. Therefore, the omission in Syriac can possibly be attributed to formal alteration in the process of translation while maintaining the same meaning.

In Lk. 9.42 ἔτι δὲ προσερχομένου αὐτοῦ ἔρρηξεν αὐτὸν τὸ δαιμόνιον "while he was still approaching, the demon threw him down" comes after Jesus has told a man to bring his son with a demon to him. In this case the omission of ἔτι changes the meaning of the text ever so slightly. Without ἔτι the action of the genitive participle happens simultaneously with the main verb in which the demon throws the boy down: "while he was approaching, the demon threw him down." Without ἔτι it is possible to understand the demon's activity being initiated almost as soon as the boy begins his approach. But with ἔτι included, it is apparent that the boy has been approaching Jesus before the demon attacks him. However, such a slight change in meaning may have been easily overlooked by the Syriac translators. Even if they were aware of the fact that they were leaving it out and the slight difference that would make in meaning, they may not have recognized any importance in maintaining such a detailed distinction. Furthermore, perhaps it would have sounded unnatural to speak of the boy "still coming" when it had not yet been specifically mentioned in the text that he had already started to come.

Zephyr update on August 27:
Williams takes the 5 out of 37 instances of the Syriac omission of a representation of ἔτι and states that this suggests some kind of "Syriac tendency." However, he appropriately restricts his conclusion and merely states, "These five cases take the edge off our confidence in the correctness of NA27's notes... in John 4:35 and 11:30."

Perhaps there is some Syriac tendency to omit a formal representation of ἔτι, but since at least a few of the 5 instances of Syriac omission can readily be explained by translation factors, any 'tendency' might be more usefully applied if it is understood as a more specific kind of formal alteration in the translation process. I suggest that the specific formal alteration in translation is a tendency for Syriac to omit representations of ἔτι when ἔτι might be considered redundant in the text.

Looking at the two texts to which Williams makes application of the suggested tendency (Jn. 4:35; 11:30), it seems apparent that there are translation factors of redundancy involved similar to those references that include the present participles in Lk. 8:49 and 9:42.

In Jn. 4:35 Jesus says...
οὐχ ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι Ἔτι τετράμηνός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ θερισμὸς ἔρχεται;
Don't you say, "There are still four months and the harvest comes"?
The use of καὶ 'and' here is iconic in that the order of the clauses reflects the natural order of sequential events in time. Therefore, the ἔτι is not necessary to give the right meaning in this text. It might have been considered redundant by the Syriac translators.

In Jn. 11:30 the redundancy of ἔτι is perhaps more apparent. The text reads...

οὔπω δὲ ἐληλύθει ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν κώμην, ἀλλ’ ἦν ἔτι ἐν τῷ τόπῳ ὅπου ὑπήντησεν
αὐτῷ ἡ Μάρθα.
Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but he was still in the place where Martha met Him.
We can think of the word οὔπω 'not yet' as the negative equivalent of ἔτι 'still'. Jesus had not yet gone to the new place because he was still in the old place. The old place is the place where Martha met him, and that meeting occurred in vs. 20. Of course, even though Jesus had not yet gone to the village, this does not entail that Jesus was still at the place where he met Martha. However, the 8 verses of dialogue that follow vs. 20 are naturally understood to have occurred in the same place where Martha met Jesus and they started talking. Thus, we might say that even the whole second clause in vs. 30—"but he was still in the place where Martha met Him"—is logically unnecessary. Yet more specifically, the representation of ἔτι 'still' in combination with οὔπω 'not yet' is probably somewhat redundant, especially since there has been no mention of Jesus moving from the place where he has been for the last 10 verses.

Given the above discussion, I would agree with Williams that the other Syriac omissions of a representation for ἔτι "take the edge off our confidence in the correctness of NA27's notes" that indicate that the Syriac supports the Greek omission of ἔτι in John 4:35 and 11:30. However, I want to argue more strongly than Williams does at this point that this is probably a tendency that is influenced by translation factors. This is not just a general tendency to omit a representation of ἔτι that is equally applied across the board.

I think that sufficient arguments could also be made for translation factors being involved in the other passages where Syriac omits the representation of ἔτι (Jn. 16:12; Mt. 19:20; Lk 22:71). It would be interesting to continue this investigation and consider if the use of ἔτι seems to be less redundant (or less susceptible to other translation factors) in the instances where the Syriac does include a formal translation of this adverb.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Genitive Absolute & Redundant ἔτι?

Today in my Greek course, I introduced the genitive absolute construction. An interesting question came up regarding the relative time relationship of the present genitive participle to the verb and the use of ἔτι 'still'.

I introduced genitive absolutes by looking at Mark 14:43. Jesus tells his disciples that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be betrayed. His betrayer has drawn near. Then in vs. 43, it reads,

Καὶ εὐθὺς ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος παραγίνεται Ἰούδας…
And immediately, while he is still speaking, Judas arrives…

The genitive absolute construction includes an anarthrous (no article) genitive participle (λαλοῦντος “while speaking” in Mk. 14.43), and it usually appears at the front of a sentence and usually with a noun or pronoun (αὐτοῦ “of him” in Mk. 14.43) also in the genitive case. The significance of the genitive absolute construction is that the agent of the participial action is different than the agent of the main verb in the sentence. If it was the same agent performing both actions, then the participle would be in the nominative case, not the genitive.

Present tense participles signify continuous or repeated action that happens at the same time as the main verb. Thus, if the main verb is understood to have happened in the past, the present participle is also understood to have happened in the past concurrent to the action of the main verb. Likewise, if the main verb is present or future, the present participle happens simultaneously in the present or the future, respectively. Therefore, in Mk. 14.43 the word ‘while’ is frequently used in English translations to show this simultaneous action.

So a question was asked in class about ἔτι ‘still’. What is the difference between the simultaneous time indicated by the present participle and the meaning ‘still’ from ἔτι? What is the significance of ἔτι? If ἔτι was not there, would it have the same meaning?

This is the kind of question I’m thrilled to hear my students asking. It means they are thinking critically about the text and how to best translate it accurately into their own languages. It’s also an opportunity for me to think on my feet, and to quickly give my students the best educated guess that I can quickly come up with. But it’s a chance to model humility, and to let them know that I’m not always sure of the answer. This leads naturally into teaching them how to seek out the answer to such questions on their own.

My first response was that the meaning of ἔτι ‘still’ and the simultaneous action significance of the present participle seem virtually identical. I suggested that the text would pretty much have the same meaning if ἔτι was not there. But perhaps the ἔτι gives more prominence to the idea that Jesus was speaking at the same time that Judas arrived. I compared the use of ἔτι to the (redundant) use of nominative subject pronouns, since the verbal morphology already includes the person and number of the subject. When a subject pronoun is also used, it is usually there for emphasis, or to contrast to some other subject in the context. Likewise, ἔτι might be used with the present participle to emphasize the simultaneous action.

After thinking about this further, however, I consider that ἔτι has somewhat of a different function than to indicate simultaneous action. The use of ἔτι 'still' suggests that the action of the participle starts before the action of the main verb, and then the start of the main verb action occurs before the participial action has finished. This is in contrast to the aorist participle that signifies action that has been completed prior to the main verb.

Thus, ἔτι in Mk. 14.43 makes it clear that Jesus had already been speaking about his betrayer coming before Judas arrived. Without the ἔτι, it may be possible to interpret this text as Jesus talking and Judas arriving at the same time such that Jesus didn’t start talking before he caught some clue that Judas was approaching with the crowd that was with him. With the ἔτι, however, it becomes clear that Jesus had started speaking first and Judas arrived before he finished.

There are 13 other New Testament references where ἔτι occurs in the same clause with a genitive absolute:

  • Mt. 12.46 Jesus still speaking, his mother and brothers standing outside
  • Mt. 17.5 Peter still speaking, cloud overshadowed (transfiguration)
  • Mt. 26.47 Jesus still speaking, Judas arrives (betrayal)
  • Mk. 5.35 Jesus still speaking, they come from synagogue leader’s house
  • Mk. 14.43 (2) Jesus still speaking, Judas arrives (betrayal)
  • Lk. 8.49 (2) Jesus still speaking, they come from synagogue leader’s house
  • Lk. 9.42 Spirit-possessed son still approaching, the demon slams him down
  • Lk. 14.32 he (other king) still being far away, he (the king) asks for peace
  • Lk. 15.20 [lost son] still being a distance away, the father saw him
  • Lk. 22.47 (3) Jesus still speaking, Judas arrives (betrayal)
  • Lk. 22.60 Peter still speaking, rooster crows
  • Lk. 24.41 disciples still not believing, Jesus said to them… eat
  • Jn. 20.1 Mary Magdalene comes, darkness still being
  • Ac. 10.44 Peter still speaking, Holy Spirit fell

A quick glance at these other references confirms the conclusion that the combination of ἔτι with a present genitive participle signifies a participial action that has started before the action of the main verb and is still continuing at the time the main verb begins. It does not seem to indicate, however, how long the two actions continue simultaneously.

Often, it seems that the start of the main verb action represents the completion of the participial action. Thus, the ἔτι with present genitive participle combination seems very similar to the use of the aorist genitive participle, which signifies subsequent action. However, an ἔτι with the present genitive participle indicates an overlap of action, even if that overlap means that the completion of the participial action is concurrent with only the very start of the main verb action.

It is probably significant that ἔτι does not occur in the same clause with an aorist participle in the New Testament. Although ἔτι may represent an overlapping of subsequent and simultaneous time, it is more clearly associated with the simultaneous time significance of the present participle. Nevertheless, it seems an inherent property of its lexical meaning that it should indicate an action that has previously started. In Mk. 14.43 the use of ἔτι is a sign that Jesus is knowledgeable about the future and he is in control of the event in which he is betrayed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bible Translation and Stomach Idioms

I was recently asked if I had a story about Bible translation that would interest children. Well, children like to talk about their body parts, and one thing that's really fun is our bellies. Many of the language communities in Papua New Guinea think of the stomach and/or the liver as the seat of emotions, feelings, and cognitive processes. So the following explanation about Bible translation was written for children. I have simplified the language expressions from one of the languages I work with that refer to the stomach and to the liver, and I have translated them all back into English with the word 'belly'. Enjoy...

Most languages in Papua New Guinea only like to use words that refer to things that you can see and touch. They do not have many words that refer to emotions and qualities about people that we cannot touch like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, grace, mercy, hope, faith and faithfulness. But they usually do have ways of expressing these meanings.

One way that languages in Papua New Guinea frequently express these kinds of ideas is by describing how their bodily organs are feeling. We do the same thing in English. We can say that someone feels ‘broken-hearted’, or one can “harden his heart.” Or, I can say that “my heart goes out to you.” You can “lose heart,” “pour out your hearts,” “open your heart to someone,” “take heart,” or even—“eat your heart out.”

Languages in Papua New Guinea have lots of expressions like this too, but the difference is that instead of talking about their hearts, they usually talk about their bellies. It may sound really funny to us, but they might think it sounds funny if they heard us talking about our noses running and our feet smelling. They might wonder if we were really upside down! But every language has their own unique way of talking about how we experience the world around us.

In one language of Papua New Guinea, they can say “good-belly” as a way of welcoming someone. They say “belly-talk” when they make a decision. If you “give-belly” then you are loving someone. For taking pity on someone, you would say “belly-cutting.” If you are worrying, then you’d say “belly think.” If people do not agree, they are “belly-fighting.” To be angry is to have a “sharp belly.”

So when the translators from this language were trying to translate Luke 1:50 where Mary says that God’s mercy extends to those who fear him, at first none of us knew how to express ‘mercy’ in their language. In the pidgin trade language Bible of Papua New Guinea, grace and mercy are almost always translated with the same word that refers to some vague notion of kindness. But many times when we read about God’s mercy in the Bible, it often refers to God lovingly holding back his judgment on our sins.

I explained to the Onnele translators that it's like when God is angry with us for our terrible sins, but then he decides to love us anyway and not give us the punishment we deserve. When the translators from Papua New Guinea heard this, they knew exactly how they needed to translate mercy—“God’s sinking belly.” That’s what they say when a person relaxes his anger. His belly goes down for us. And now the Onnele people can understand about God’s mercy in their own language. Words that sound funny to us, but very meaningful to them.

Learn New Testament Greek - Dobson #2

I started reviewing John H. Dobson's Learn New Testament Greek here. I failed to mention that we are using the 3rd revised edition, with accents, published in 2005.

Today I just want to comment that this 3rd edition has the Greek accents added whereas the 1st and 2nd editions only had breathing marks. I never used those earlier editions, but I must say that this is a step forward. Even if students don't learn anything about accent marks, they ought to at least become familiar with seeing them there. Also, the accent marks are an aid to memory, since it is helpful to learn vocabulary by consistently hearing and saying the words with the accent on the right syll-A-ble.

But I must say that wow, there seems to be a lot of typographical mistakes in this 3rd edition. Many of them are so obvious that even someone who has finished their first year in Greek should be able to recognize them--breathing marks pointed the wrong way, accents, missing accents, extra letters, missing letters, missing iota subscripts, wrong letters.

I have found enough of these types of errors that I have wondered if there is a list of errata available somewhere. Does anyone have some contact information for John Dobson? Or, since this edition was published by both Piquant Editions in the U.K. and Baker Academic in the U.S., which publisher would be more likely to have such a list of errata. It's been two years since it was published, so I'd think someone has already made such a list.

In edition to such typographical errors, the pagination has changed since the 2nd edition. The editor has not done a very good job of making sure the pagination coordinates well with the layout. For example, in section 12.8 we are given three paradigms--near demonstrative pronouns, relative pronouns, and the neuter noun. In the 2nd edition, the neuter noun paradigm falls on the following page. In the 3rd edition, the verticle space between these three paradigms is almost completely absent so that it appears that the headings "Masculine... Feminine... Neuter" at the top of the demonstrative paradigm carries over to the relative pronouns and the neuter nouns. Well, that's good because it should carry over for the relative pronouns. But that's bad because it shouldn't carry over for the neuter nouns. In the 2nd edition, the fonts are different enough, too, so that there is a more distinct difference between the demonstrative pronoun paradigm and the relative pronoun paradigm. In the 3rd edition, it just runs together with only the headings "Singular" and "Plural" separating the individual parts of the paradigms and the separate paradigms themselves.

Follow-up By Zephyr at 4:55 PM--
To give you some idea of the frequency of the typographical errors. I have found 12 in the first 21 chapters. So perhaps this is not as bad as my description above would suggest. But these are just the ones I've happened to notice. I did not read the first 21 chapters thoroughly to check for these kinds of mistakes.

Also, I compared those 12 mistakes with the 2nd edition. Of the 12 errors I found in the 3rd edition, the 2nd edition includes the same material for 10 of them. Interesting enough, the 2nd edition has all 10 of these correct! So the errors in the 3rd edition are all errors that were introduced with the 3rd edition.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Reading the Letter of James #1

Contrary to a previous post, I only preached this one Sunday on James. We have an opportunity to allow a visiting translation consultant preach next week, so I agreed to preach both my sermons today. Well, I actually combined them into one.

A few weeks ago, we heard a sermon on how we should read the Old Testament. We were reminded that God is always the main character, accomplishing his purposes despite the sinful nature of his people. This was illustrated for us in the story of Jacob in Genesis 27.

So today I talked about how we should read the New Testament book of Jacob. That’s right—the Greek name for James is really Ἰάκωβος, ‘Jacob’. And it’s addressed to the ‘twelve tribes’ even as Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

But more than the fun similarity of the names, the Letter of James is often thought of as the New Testament book most like the Old Testament. It’s called New Testament wisdom literature. More than any other New Testament book, it speaks about what we must ‘do’. We are to persevere so that we can become mature or ‘perfect’. We are to hear the word of God and do it. We are to have faith with works. The Law is spoken of in favorable terms.

Because of this emphasis on what we do, Martin Luther called it eyn rechte stroern Epistel, “a right strawy epistle,” and in 1522, in his first translation of the New Testament into German, he allocated it to an obscure place behind Revelation. He called it an epistle of straw, alluding to 1 Corinthians 3.11-13…
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is
Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver,
precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for
the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself
will test the quality of each man's work.
So is James really an epistle of straw? Can we move beyond Luther in our appraisal of James? Well, it is clear that Luther himself moved beyond his earlier perspective since he preached and taught from James in later years.

How should we read James? Is there more there than just practical wisdom? Is it more than just a collection of unrelated topics?

This series of posts (Reading the Letter of James) will focus on how to read James in a way that moves beyond the typical understanding of it as a serious of separate topics. What can we learn from “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”?

My sermon today was about God's grace and mercy in James. Although there is much in James about what we do, God's grace is the beginning and end of it all. Just like in the Old Testament, God is also the main character of the New Testament, and in the Letter of James. More on that next time...

Wikipedia - Good for Research or Not?

Wikipedia is that online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. And it has made the headlines this week when a student created a software program that allows you to figure out who has edited articles from the history of computer IP addresses that have accessed the site. It's pretty interesting to see who has edited what.

Bibliobloggers (first by Ben Witherington III and then by Jim West) have begun commenting on this and the usefulness of Wikipedia and other internet resources for academic research. But I really must side with Mark Goodacre on this one. Good on you, Mark, for encouraging your students to engage their resources critically!

Part of the reason the internet is such a valuable resource is that it makes many resources available quickly. This enables research to be pursued critically much more readily than the perusal of print resources. Not that the internet should replace research of print resources, but the process of critical evaluation can happen so much more quickly (and broadly) using the internet. I have often found that Wikipedia touches on a wider range of issues relating to a topic (and links to related articles) that aren’t always covered by more specialist resources.

It wasn't until the last class of my second M.A. program (at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics) over a year ago that I was required to do some internet research for a class project. We were supposed to interact critically with the sources we found. While I skipped "Andy's paper" on the topic I was researching (even though he got an 'A'), I did include the Wikipedia article among other quality sources that I found. Comparing the resources allowed me to evaluate the Wikipedia article. I found that although other internet resources went into more detail and were perhaps more accurate in some respects, the Wikipedia article had value that other resources did not. And Wikipedia pointed me to other resources as well!

The unique aspect of Wikipedia that makes it attractive as a source is that it is easily editable by anybody. Although that may also be its greatest weakness, it is at least potentially a great check for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Their strict “no original research” and “neutral point-of-view” policies mean that only verifiable information is allowed. These seem to be good checks for reliability. Of course, there is always the question of the Wikipedia editors' bias.

Wikipedia doesn’t need to be ruled out as a source. But we do need to critically assess anything we read.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blessing and Cursing our Brothers

Dr. Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, has issued a corrective for Wiley Drake, the California pastor who has called his congregation to pray curses on those who have opposed his combined religious and political activites. Witherington gives us a more appropriate hermeneutic for understanding human curses found in the Bible...

His supposed Biblical precedent for this is the imprecatory psalms of David. I don't know what seminary this pastor went to, but boy has he misunderstood those psalms. They don't reveal the will of God in such matters, rather they shed God's light of truth on what is in the wicked heart of human beings, including in David's heart, that old murderer and adulterer.
Witherington continued to point out Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings in the New Testament (Matthew 5.44; Romans 12.14) about loving our enemies, blessing them, praying for them, and NOT cursing them.

This is a good reminder to me. I have recently considered the appropriateness of following in the footsteps of Elijah and calling down fire from heaven. Seriously, when my house and my family are threatened, my first inclination—even my second, third, and fourth—is to respond in kind. And I don’t mean kindly, but in the same kind of way, but perhaps worse. After all, I’ve got God on my side, and I could show them what power really is, right? But when the disciples considered doing this, Jesus rebuked them because that was not the right spirit…

When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.”

Luke 9.54-56

One response to the Witherington’s post raised the issue of God's purposes in OT curses...

What is the best way to view these psalms of cursing? I have been reading Christopher Wright's book Mission in the OT and as I read the post I was reminded of the Abrahamic promise that God would curse those who curse Abraham's descendants. I wonder if some of these psalms are outworkings of this promise. Of course, it should always be kept in mind that the central purpose of the covenant with Abraham was to bless the nations with the knowledge of God.
I appreciate Witherington's follow-up comments, especially since he brings James into the mix...

I think actually Luther had a very good point when he said that in the prophets God speaks to us, but in the psalms we speak to God, and what is in and on our hearts is truly and truthfully revealed. How then are such psalms God's Word? The answer is not difficult-- they show God holding up a mirror to us so we will see our own hearts and what is in them-- ranging from praise to cursing. As James once said-- blessing and cursing should not be coming out of the same human mouth or heart for that matter.
I love this illustration of God’s word being like a mirror so that we can see our own hearts. The last devotion I gave in the Greek course this week was from 2 Corinthians 3.18...

Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Even though mirrors normally just show us the reality of what we look like (imperfections and all), when we look at God’s word as a mirror, or when we look at our Lord Jesus as a mirror, God uses the mirror to actually change us. We are transformed so that the glory in the image of Jesus is reflected back into us. We become like Jesus. His desires become our desires.

What is so interesting to me about the comparison between the comments of Jesus and James in Matthew 5.44 and James 3.1-12 is that they both have the spiritual status of the Christ-follower in mind, not primarily that of the enemy. Thus, not only does Jesus say to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" in Matthew 5.44, the next clause says, "so that you may become sons of your father in heaven." While we are urged to pray for our persecutors, the issue in focus in Matthew 5 is our own standing before the Father who acts graciously to both the just and the unjust. I'm surprised that the text doesn't urge prayer so that ‘your enemies’ can come into relationship with the Father. Instead, it says so that YOU may become sons of your father. Perhaps that's what Pastor Wiley Drake should be concerned about.

And what about Christians who follow Jesus' ethics? Has Pastor Drake in some way become our enemy? How should we respond to him and about him? Let's hope we reflect our Father's character.

By the way, the follow-up comments to Ben Witherington’s post includes an interesting translation-related question regarding the Arabic name for God, Allah. Arabic Christians and Muslims worship a God named Allah. But the Muslim Allah is the God of jihad and curses, and the Christian Allah is the God of blessing and love for one’s enemies.

Is Greek a "Must" to Love God?

My first several posts on this blog included references to learning Greek as a spiritual discipline of the mind. This was discussed in my July 30th posting Love God and Others: ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ, in my July 31 posting Teaching New Testament Greek: Guiding Principles, in my August 1st postings Learning Greek is a Spiritual Discipline and Luther and Hafemann on Studying Greek, and in my August 2nd posting Researching God's Word, My Sometimes Idol.

A friend viewed these posts and asked...
Can I still love God with my mind if I don't know Greek?
This is a great question. One might wonder from all my ramblings about the topic if my answer might be 'no'. But of course, there are lots of opportunities in which one can use the mind to love God. We use our minds to love God any time that we use critical thinking skills to weigh the input we're receiving from the world around us and submit that process to what we know of God's revelation to us.

But what about using the mind specifically in the process of understanding the scriptures? Can I still love God by using my mind to study his word if I don't know Greek? Well, certainly you can. You can read God's word, seek to understand his word, live of life of prayer informed by his word, and do his word, applying it critically and creatively in the world around you.

But what is God's word and what is your responsibility for training others in how to read it? No matter what English version you're reading, it's still a translation from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts, and there is no such thing as a perfect translation. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that Philip explained the scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35), and that people like John Wyclif, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, William Carey, and Cameron Townsend advanced the cause of Bible translation so that the common people can hear God's word in a language they understand. And that's why I'm an advisor for mother tongue translators.

But the fact remains that the scriptures were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Anything else is a translation. No translation can reflect the intricacies of the source text language, and attempts to thoroughly do so may easily lead to information overload or distort the focus of a passage.

Every translation is also an interpretation. Even if the translators seek to remain unbiased in translating the meaning of the text, it is impossible to translate without interpreting the source text. They may do it inadvertently, but they do it.

Without the use of the original language tools, one can compare translations and read commentaries. But if one is willing to do that time-consuming work on a regular basis, why not rather learn Greek and Hebrew and interact more meaningfully with those secondary sources?

Here's what William Mounce says about this in his Basics of Biblical Greek grammar...
The main purpose of writing this book is to help you to understand better and to communicate more clearly the word of God.... Remember the goal: a clearer, more exact, and more persuasive presentation of God's saving message. But is knowing Greek essential in reaching this goal?
Mounce uses an illustration of an engine overhaul to make his point...
What tools do you select? I would surmise that with a screw driver, hammer, a pair of pliers, and perhaps a crow bar, you could make some progress. But look at the chances you are taking. Without a socket wrench you could ruin many of the bolts. Without a torque wrench you cannot get the head seated properly. The point is, without the proper tools you run the risk of doing a minimal job, and perhaps actually hurting the engine.
This reminds me of a saying I have often heard my dad say. Whenever we're working on a project and we struggle to get it right for a while before we find the proper tool for the job, my dad always says, "It's easy... when you have the right tool." When you finally have the right tool, you wish you hadn't wasted all that time trying to do the job with the wrong tools. The right tool does the job right and it does it quickly. The same is true for the task of studying God's word. Mounce continues...
The same is true with preaching, teaching, preparing personal Bible studies, and learning Greek. Without the proper tools you are limited in your ability to deal with the text....

But there is more. Almost all the best commentaries and biblical studies require a knowledge of Greek. Without it, you will not have access to the lifelong labors of scholars who should be heard.
So can we love God with our minds without Greek? Of course we can! But Greek is an invaluable tool for studying God's word more precisely and meaningfully.

Learn New Testament Greek - Dobson #1

It's not #1. This is just my 1st post about it. The textbook we are using for the New Testament Greek course is John H. Dobson's Learn New Testament Greek. This textbook was chosen by others who developed the course before I was asked to teach, so I cannot be credited or blamed for this choice. But at least I have the opportunity to review it. You can see where it lines up with other grammars according to Mark Goodacre's poll of favorite Greek grammars at his NT Gateway Weblog last month. My choice would have been William Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek, which ranked highest in Mark's poll. I used Mounce when I started over learning Greek the summer before I entered the Wheaton College Graduate School in 1998. But perhaps Dobson's approach is the best choice for Melanesian students and the learning style that they are familiar with. I'll blog more about this later.

The first thing I can say about Dobson's textbook is that it far beats the textbook with which I was introduced to Greek in 1994. When I was at Houghton College, we used Story and Story's Greek to Me. Although it's a cute title for a Greek textbook, I'm afraid that was also the result--Greek was still pretty much a foreign language for me. The main feature of Story and Story's textbook was these little cartoon drawings that were meant to be used as mnemonic devices to learn vocabulary and grammar. The only one I remember was the first one in the book for the word ἐγείρω, which means "I raise up." A Robin Hood character is raising up an 'egg-arrow'. That one was actually pretty helpful. The others were not.
My contention is that mnemonic devices work best when the learners create them in their own minds.

Perhaps it would have worked better if the cartoons were in color like the one here, but the black-and-white line drawings had too much detail to easily make them out. My time would have been better spent using my own brain to learn Greek than trying to figure out what somebody else's memory aid was supposed to mean.

The main feature of Dobson's Learn New Testament Greek is that it has was designed for non-native English speakers. This means that grammatical terminology is only explained after the forms have been introduced in exercises that illustrate how they fit within the context of sentences. For example, the terms 'nominative', 'accusative', 'genitive', 'dative', 'masculine', 'feminine', and 'neuter' are only introduced in ch. 12, pg. 67, after these things have been introduced in successive chapters with only the use of English glosses.

I do appreciate the attempt to teach Greek in a way that follows some natural language-learning principles. I hope that the abundance of practice exercises in each chapter proves helpful to my Melanesian students who so frequently learn skills within their cultures by doing them, not by reading about them.

Because of the avoidance of grammatical terminology, the section headings in each chapter normally do not contain any description of the section's content. It seems that the book was intended simply to be used as a step-by-step procedure. This lack of descriptive headings, however, makes the book difficult to use when one wants to go back and review earlier content.

Certainly for people who speak English as a second language, the use of grammatical terminology could amount to information overload. Since I am teaching national Bible translators and pastors who regularly consult secondary literature, however, one of the goals of the course is for them to become familiar with the standard terminology. So in class, I use the terminology, and I remind them that they will not be tested on the terms. But I tell them I want them to be familiar with it so they have some idea what others are talking about when they come across these words in commentaries and translation helps. I usually get a classroom full of approving nods.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cheap Theses and Dissertations

Rick Brannon of Logos Bible Software (what a great resource for those of us who need to carry our libraries with us to the farthest parts of the world!) recently posted about the high cost of some academic publications and one possible way to get similar content for cheaper.

Rick's post was about a book that I have desired related to one of my latest interests in biblical studies, textual criticism. James Royse's dissertation, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri, is a groundbreaking study in textual criticism that is frequently referenced in current literature on the subject. And now we can buy it for just $369.00 from Brill! Ouch! Well, that's the difference between publishing 100,000 copies of a book that will end up in every bookstore around the world and printing only several hundred copies that will end up in every major university research library around the world (and in the personal libraries of a chosen few who deem the subject worthy of such expense).

But even for those of us who think the book might actually be worth it's weight in gold, what if we just don't have the gold? We can either find it in our local research library--but I'm a few thousand miles away from my local research library(!)--or we can follow Rick Brannon's suggestion. Royse's original 1981 dissertation of 751 pages is available from UMI Dissertation Express for $41.00 plus shipping. That's still quite a bit, but it's 89% off the price from Brill. Of course, we don't know how much the dissertation has been changed in the last 26 years. Royse has not been idle for the last quarter century.

This option for getting Royse's dissertation reminds me of another service that's available to get electronic copies of theological theses and dissertations. Theological Research Exchange Network, or TREN, sells graduate studies in PDF format for a relatively small price. For example, an M.A. thesis from Wheaton College Graduate School titled "Noachic Allusion and Echo in James 3.1-12: Implicatures of New Creation Eschatology" is available there for $15.00. That one was completed in 2002 by someone very close to me. Of course, I could give you a higher quality searchable PDF for free.

But something I just noticed for the first time yesterday is that TREN offers all of their titles for free to TREN authors...
And remember if you are the author of a title on this list or in the TREN E-Docs library ( and would like a free PDF copy of your file please write to me at to request your copy. I'll be glad to email it to you pronto. Also, as an author if you notice a title in the TREN Edocs library that you'd like to have let me know. It's yours for the asking. Many thanks for your participation in TREN.
I don't know how long that has been true. I have purchased a few TREN titles in the last year. But now I and any other TREN authors can get all the other titles for free.

If you're not a TREN author, there are other great deals I just learned about today. Some of their titles are always offered for FREE! And you don't have to buy the other titles individually for $15.00. A 6 month subscription costs $100.00 and allows you 25 titles ($4 each). A year's subscription is $200.00 and allows you 70 titles ($2.85 each). There's a deal there for libraries too.

Zyphyr update on August 26, 2007:
I have learned today that I was mistaken about TREN authors being able to get unlimited TREN e-docs for free. The offer is simply for a free copy of the author's own work plus ONE additional title. Sorry for the confusion!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Greek and James: God's Grace and Mercy

I'm going to be relying heavily on the Lord's grace and mercy over the next two weeks.

In the Greek course, we will be reviewing after only 10 days of class...

  • Greek alphabet and diacritical marks
  • present verbs
  • imperfect verbs
  • subjunctive mood
  • contract verb forms
  • the gender, number and case of nouns and articles
  • personal pronouns
  • relative pronouns
  • demonstrative pronouns
  • adverbial and substantival participles

This next week Iwill be introducing...

  • capital letters
  • forms of εἰμί ('to be' verbs)
  • prepositions
  • infinitives
  • the gender of participles
  • and giving the first exam

So what does this have to do with James? Well, nothing, except that I will be preparing at the same time for my preaching responsibilities over the next two weeks at the international church here.

Here is what I have communicated to the church...

If you would like to prepare to hear God's word over the next two Sundays at the English morning service, the sermons will come from the Letter of James. It might be the most helpful if you try to read James as a coherent whole and not as a collection of unrelated topics. From James, we will continue to hear what we were hearing this morning. As it was summarized at the end of the message today, our faith comes from and is directed towards Jesus from beginning to end.

And the sermon titles for the next two Sundays...

  • 19 August: "James on God's grace in the believer's life journey"
  • 26 August: "James on God's mercy in the believer's judgment"

Consider it all joy,


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Meaning of the Word "the"

Since I was out sick yesterday, today was my first day in the classroom with 13 students who have been learning Greek for a week and 5 students who just arrived over the weekend. So the first group read chapters 10-12 for today while the newcomers are somewhere around ch. 6. My goal is to help make this course as successful as it can be for everyone, so I'm just thrilled that we have a full classroom and that the newcomers made the effort to earn their travel fare and make the long trek here.

Today in class, I decided to go back and review the main content in chs. 7-9, even though it was covered yesterday in my absence. I figured with several new members of the class and the quick pace of the course, it couldn't hurt to spend a little more time on review.

Since feminine nouns were introduced in ch. 9, this led to a comparison of Greek, English and the students' local languages in regards to the use of articles. I suspected that many of them did not even have definite articles in their languages. I made the point that Greek is very different from English in the use of definite articles, since English only uses 'the', but Greek has a paradigm of articles that includes three genders and five cases. And then someone asked...

What does the word 'the' mean?

Good question!

In English we call 'the' the definite article. It specifies a noun that is definite. It's known information. I used an example of a boy who walks into the back of the class. We could refer to that boy as 'the boy' because everyone in the class saw him come in and the noun phrase 'the boy' would refer specifically to him. On the other hand, if I talk about a boy that I can see walking by the window in the back of the class, I need to refer to him as 'a boy' because no one else knows who I'm talking about.

Because the definite article is used with nouns that refer to known information introduced earlier in a text, it serves a discourse function. The definite article doesn't operate only at the sentence level. In this way, English and Greek can be very similar in the use of articles.

On the other hand, there are differences. One readily observable difference is the use of articles with names in Greek! So when we read 'the God' in Greek, this should not necessarily trigger our normal English-language understanding of such a phrase. Greek also regularly speaks of 'the Jesus' just like it refers to 'the James' and 'the Peter'.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Greek Course Goes On Without Me

I came down with a bad cold on Tuesday, the day before the Greek course started. I survived the first three days of the course, teaching for most of 6 hours each day. I thought the weekend would give me a chance to rest up and get over it, but it steadily got worse on Saturday, and by Sunday it was clear I had a sinus infection.

So I contacted the three mentors who are helping with the course and asked if they could cover for me on Monday. I saw the doctor and started taking meds. She said I could go back on Tuesday if I was up to it. I'm so thankful for these assistants and all they're doing to help the course run smoothly.

One of the biggest reasons I don't want to be out for more than this one day is that 5 new students arrived late to the course over the weekend. They had to travel all night by boat and all day by vehicle to get to the course. It's going to be tough for them to catch up after missing the first three days of an intensive course, but we'll help them be successful.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Singing Greek Prayers for Greek Learning

'Kumbaya' is that old campfire song that has been sung so much that it tends to usher forth groans. But many Papua New Guineans also know the song, at least in the pidgin version. And so we sing it in Greek as a prayer at least a couple times a day to let Jesus know that his presence is welcome in our study of Greek. He is Lord of the beginning, middle and end, just as we started singing from Revelation 1:8 on the first day of class. And so we also invite Jesus to come and be present with us in our study of Greek:

ἔρχου ὧδε κύριε, (3x)
ὦ Ἰησοῦ κύριε

Come here Lord, (3x)
Oh, Jesus Lord.
Having the guitar close by to sing these songs is a good tool for when we need to maintain our focus on learning Greek as a spiritual discipline. It can be easily forgotten when we're learning to recognize and write a new alphabet, forcing our tongues to make new sound sequences, and trying to distinguish between all those little diacritical marks that we see in the text.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Greek Diphthongs, Diacritics and Punctuation

Here's the next Greek lesson for those who mastered the alphabet...

1. Greek includes these diphthongs (two vowels that make one sound). Notice that four of them have Upsilon as the second vowel and four of them have Iota as the second vowel:

 αυ     αι

ου οι

ευ ει

ηυ υι
2. Greek has these improper diphthongs (a small iota written under α, η, or ω). We can remember which vowels can have a iota subscript by noticing that it is only the three vowels that have some kind of dent or open area at the bottom of the vowel. All the other vowels have rounded bottoms.

 ᾳ  ῃ  ῳ
3. The Greek letter gamma (γ) is pronounced as /n/ or /ng/ (called a 'gamma nasal') when it comes before other velar letters (made with the back of the tongue touching the top of the mouth):

γ is pronounced  /n/  or  /ng/  before κ, χ, ξ, or another γ
αγκα = angka
αγχα = angkha
αγξα = angxa
αγγα = angga
4. Greek includes these other diacritical marks:

ά (acute accent)
ὰ (grave accent)
α` or ᾶ (circumflex accent)

Accents with breathing marks:
smooth rough
acute ἄ ἅ
grave ἂ ἃ
circumflex ἆ ἇ

Apostrophe: ’
(δι’ αὐτοῦ' from διά αὐτοῦ, 'through him')

When a preposition ends with a vowel and the next word begins with a vowel, the final vowel of the first word drops out and is marked with an ’ apostrophe. This is similar to English contractions (I am becomes I’m, and we are becomes we’re )

Diaeresis: αϊ

(two dots over the second vowel to show that this is NOT a diphthong producing a single sound, e.g. Ἠσαϊας, Isaiah)
5. Greek includes some punctuation marks that differ from English:
            Greek  English
Comma: λόγος, word,
Full stop: λόγος. word.
Colon: λόγος• word;
Question: λόγος; word?

Researching God's Word, My Sometimes Idol

From my last post, I must recognize that I need to be the learner just as much as the teacher regarding this call from Scott Hafemann that I passed on to my students:
I would like you to think about Greek as loving the Lord with your mind in the same way that you engage in loving the Lord with your heart and your soul and your strength in all the other pursuits of your life.
Oh, how often I need to hear this in my own daily ministry routine. It's ironic that I can be so deep into God's word—preparing for a translation session, a teaching assignment, or delving into a biblical research interest—and yet I can easily approach God's word as a work project devoid of any real relationship with God.

I'm not talking about reading the Bible as a task to be checked off. No, for me it's that I too often fall in love with the practice of the reading the word instead of loving the Presence of the Word who can speak into every minute of my life. I love my work, and I enjoy the flowers alongside of the road. But I can get so engrossed in the details of the exegetical pathway that I lose sight of the journey's destination. In this sense, even my time in God's word can become an idol. It reminds me of something that my first undergraduate Bible teacher, Carl Schultz, used to say at Houghton College:
Make sure that in your exegesis you do not exit Jesus.
I think he was talking about a certain brand of scholars who tend to divorce the divine Jesus from the biblical text. But the warning applies equally well to my pursuit of biblical scholarship without it being a spiritual discipline offered in love to God.

When the study of God's word lacks devotion to God himself, it could be an idol for me. Do I love my academic discipline more than my Lord and my God?
μὴ γένοιτο. May it never be!

But he gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James 4.6-8

Lord, give me your grace each day to draw near to you, and won't you arouse me from my spiritual wandering when I simply follow the daily grind?

Meaning of ψιλον

The question came up in class about whether the letters of the Greek alphabet had meanings like so many of the Hebrew letters do. It's clear that Omicron and Omega are related 'o' vowels as we can tell when Omicron gets lengthened to Omega in subjunctive forms. The very names of these vowels mean "small 'o'" (o-micron) and "big 'o'" (o-mega).

We also know that epsilon and eta are related in the same manner. So my students wanted to know the meaning of ψιλον found in Epsilon and Upsilon. Although Eta (as the long 'e' vowel) relates to Epsilon in the same way that Omega relates to Omicron, they do not correspond in the meaning of their names the same way that Omega and Omicron do. It is not 'e-micron' and 'e-mega'! So does the 'ta' have a meaning in the vowel Eta?

And what does ψιλον mean? I have seen suggestions of 'plain', 'bare', 'simple', and 'strait'. But that also raises the question of the Upsilon. What was the corresponding non-plain, non-bare, non-simple, or non-strait u vowel earlier in the history of the Greek language? It was the Digamma. Both Upsilon and Digamma derived from the Phoenecian letter Waw. Linguistically, that the /u/ sound would be related to the /w/ sound makes perfect sense.

Knowing a little bit of this Greek language history helps us with Koine Greek. Why doesn't the verb ἀκούω contract? The Upsilon has replaced an earlier Digamma. Why doesn't the verb καλέω lengthen its contract vowel? A Digamma had formerly followed the Epsilon (examples from William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 1993, pp. 134, 160).

But can anyone clarify the meaning of ψιλον and tell us what its corresponding non-ψιλον vowel means?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Luther and Hafemann on Studying Greek

When I first found out that I would be teaching the introductory New Testament Greek course to national Bible translators and pastors in Papua New Guinea this month, I had to write my former Greek teacher, Scott Hafemann, right away. He was the first one who ever thought I would be doing this. Back when I was taking his classes for the Wheaton College Graduate School in 1998-99, I knew I was studying Greek so I could be a better qualified advisor to national Bible translators. But he was confident that I would be training mother tongue translators to use the Greek text for themselves.

So when I wrote to Scott with the news, he immediately made available to me the CD for his soon-to-be-released online course for distance learning through the Semlink Office at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

In the first lesson on the CD, Hafemann reminded me of a quote from Martin Luther that he had recited for us in class in 1999. Luther talks about how important the study of Greek is…
Insofar as we love the gospel, to that same extent, let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of languages we can scarcely preserve the gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught. Where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the scriptures will be searched, and the faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.
I explained Luther's images of the sheath, the chest, and the goblet so that my English-as-a-second-language students could fully grasp the word pictures. Papua New Guineans frequently use 'tok piksa' in their daily conversations. Judging from the nods and groans that accompanied the teaching, I believe Luther's message spoke powerfully to the students. One student even came and asked for the quote after class. He got the following quote from Hafemann as a bonus.

Echoing Luther in his online course, Hafemann states:
Our study of the Greek language is not an end in itself, but we study Greek for the sake of knowing scripture, and we know scripture for the sake of understanding God’s self-revelation to us, and we want to understand God’s self-revelation to us that we might live in relationship with him. So Greek for the sake of scripture, scripture for the sake of knowing the Lord, and knowing the Lord for the sake of living in relationship with him. Greek and the gospel: inextricably linked...

It’s a spiritual discipline. Learning Greek is not simply an academic exercise. It’s a calling and it’s a privilege. It is a spiritual exercise like any other spiritual exercise, whether it’s prayer, fasting, worship. I would like you to think about Greek as loving the Lord with your mind in the same way that you engage in loving the Lord with your heart and your soul and your strength in all the other pursuits of your life.
That is what I am asking my Greek students to do here in PNG. Throughout the 6 hours that we have together each day, we intersperse the lectures and group activities with prayer, singing, Christian greetings, and lessons from God's word that illustrate the Greek material. They are used to hearing explanations of God's word through two or three subsequent translations, and they said "maybe something has gone missing." So they are motivated to learn Greek so they can really hear God's message to them and live in relationship with him.

Learning Greek is a Spiritual Discipline

My passion for Greek was ignited in 1998 when I started graduate school at Wheaton College and took classes from Dr. Scott Hafemann. His teaching was a model for academic rigor that is not divorced from a life of faith lived in service for others. His challenge was that the study of Greek not simply be an academic exercise, but a spiritual discipline in which we love God with our minds (cf. Mark 12.30). This was a challenge I needed to hear.

So, this is how I seek to teach my intensive introductory New Testament Greek course to Papua New Guineans this month. One of the things we are doing as we learn Greek is to learn Greek scripture songs.

We started with the alphabet. In Revelation 1.8 we read that "Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was, and is, and is to come, the ruler over all things." So Jesus used the Greek alphabet to explain his sovereignty. He is ruler of all. And that means he is ruler over this Greek course. An intensive NT Greek course that meets for 6 hours a day for 6 weeks is difficult! But Jesus is ruler of this course as well.

So the first song we learned goes like this:

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon,
Zeta, eta, theta, iota,
Kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron,
Pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon,
Phi, chi, psi, omega,
Ἰησοῦς ἐστίν τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ
(Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega)

It sure is pretty powerful to hear a room full of Papua New Guineans belting this out full voice on the first day of class. Although it seems a little bit like 1st grade with the alphabet in big letters up on the wall across the length of the room, it's not just an academic exercise. Even the foundational lesson on the alphabet is a spiritual discipline of singing praise to Jesus as Lord.

Greek Alphabet and Pronunciation

This was covered today during the first day of class.

For those of you who would say that Greek is "Greek to me," here's a lesson for you...

1. Here is the Greek alphabet in capital letters and lower case letters with their names:


α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ
μ ν ξ ο π ρ σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω

alpha beta gamma delta epsilon zeta eta theta iota kappa lambda mu nu xi omicron pi rho sigma tau upsilon phi chi psi omega

2. These Greek letters look similar to Latin letters and also represent similar sounds:

α β δ ε ι κ ο ς τ υ
alpha beta delta epsilon iota kappa omicron sigma tau upsilon

3. These Greek letters look like Latin letters but represent different sounds:

η (ēta) is not 'n'. The Greek letter η makes an /e/ sound, transliterated as ē.

ν (nu) is not 'v'. The Greek letter ν makes an /n/ sound.

ρ (rho) is not 'p'. The Greek letter ρ makes an /r/ sound.

χ (chi) is not 'x'. The Greek letter χ makes a /kh/ sound, transliterated as 'ch'.

ω (ōmega) is not 'w'. The letter ω makes an /o/ sound, transliterated as ō.

4. These Greek letters are transliterated with two letters:

θ = th
ξ = ks, xs, or x
φ = ph, pronounced /f/
χ = ch, pronounced /kh/
ψ = ps

5. The Greek letter sigma is written differently when it appears at the end of words:

σεισμός, seismos, 'shaking, earthquake'
σής, sēs, 'moth'
σιτιστός, sitistos, 'fattened'

6. Greek vowels and ρ (rho) must have breathing marks ( ̔ or ̓ ) if they begin a word:

ἀ, a (smooth breathing)
ἁ, ha (rough breathing – makes 'h' sound)

ῥ (rho) and ὑ (upsilon) always have rough breathing when they begin a word.

7. Greek has two sets of vowels that relate to one another:

ω (ō mega) is the long form of ο (o micron)
η (ēta) is the long form of ε (epsilon)