Archives For G(r)eek Stuff

A smattering of Greek links, books etc…

A new Greek New Testament is coming out at SBL edited by Michael Holmes.  Find out more HERE.  I encourage you to read the introduction to learn more about it.

HT: Rod Decker

From Dave Black:

So you’re studying New Testament Greek and finding it a bit of a challenge. A lot of people don’t stick with it. “I tried learning Greek and it didn’t work for me.” The problem with these people may just be that they never learned persistence. Do you want to master the Greek language and be able to use it in your walk with God and in your service for Him? If you do, you will have to put forth some effort. How can we “stick with it” in a practical sense?

One aspect of persistence is spending time in your Greek New Testament every day. Notice, I said spend time. It’s an investment, a conscious choice on your part. Don’t wait for it to just happen. Make time in the Greek text an indispensable part of your day. I do, and I never fail to benefit from it. If you need to, use any help that is out there, including interlinears. Yes, I said interlinears – which are usually considered anathema to Greek teachers. But if an interlinear can get you into the text, it’s worth the effort. As one preacher put it, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all.” Amen!

Second, take time to pray. Ask God to help you. For many Greek students, things go well for a few weeks. But as soon as a little difficulty comes their way they say, “Forget it. This is impossible.” That’s when you need to go to God in prayer. John wrote, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer is your lifeline to God and your only source of strength. Take advantage of it.

Third, those who want to master the Greek language must grow constantly in their knowledge of grammar. If you’ve already had a year of Greek but are floundering, why not pick up a good intermediate textbook and begin reviewing your paradigms and syntax? Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is excellent for this purpose. Others find my It’s Still Greek to Me helpful. If you’re going to master Greek you’re going to have become a perpetual student of the language. I’m sorry, but there aren’t any shortcuts, no easy solutions. We can’t skip a grade or two.

Fourth, to master Greek means to be patient with yourself. You put one foot in front of the other. It’s a steady gait, not a foot race. As I said above, the only way to get the job done is to stick with it.

Finally, let me suggest that you teach others what you’re learning. It’s often been said that the best way to learn something is by teaching it. This can make all the difference. It’s interesting that my best students tend to be those who are teaching Greek to others, whether in their small group fellowships or to their children at home or in their Sunday School classes. Last year I taught beginning Greek in my local church every Monday night for a year. We started out with 55 students and finished with six. At times I almost decided to give up. It’s at times like these that I have to ask myself, “Who am I serving? Am I doing this for God or for me?” The Bible says, “Let us not grow weary while doing what is good, because at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). I’m so proud of those six students who finished the course, who ran the race to the end. I’m also deeply appreciative of the efforts of those who had to drop out along the way, some for serious medical problems. (My wife Becky, one of my very best students, had to leave the course because of her surgery and chemotherapy).

I know that Greek can be tough. If anyone ever experienced a sinking feeling while studying this language, it was me. I dropped out of my beginning Greek class at Biola after only three weeks! Thankfully I went on to take Moody Bible Institute’s correspondence course and, by God’s grace, aced it. Remember what Peter’s problem was when he was walking on the water? He took his eyes off the Lord. And that just about says it all.

My professor, Dr. Pennington, showed us today how you can access Codex Sinaiticus online.  I am sure this is not new news, but it is new to me.  If you do not know what Codex Sinaiticus is, here is brief description off their website.  In short, it is one of the major copies of NT that we have.  Here is their description.

Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.

Go to the website HERE

From Dave Black:

1. Greek is not the only tool you need to interpret your New Testament. In fact, it’s only one component in a panoply of a myriad of tools. Get Greek, but don’t stop there. (You’ll need, for example, a Hebrew New Testament as well.)

2. Greek is not the Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. All it does is limit your options. It tells you what’s possible, then the context and other factors kick in to disambiguate the text.

3. Greek is not superior to other languages in the world. Don’t believe it when you are told that Greek is more logical than, say, Hebrew. Not true.

4. Greek had to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament truth because of its complicated syntax. Truth be told, there’s only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today. I emphasize this point only because there are some today who would seek to resurrect the notion of “Holy Ghost” Greek. Their view is, in my view, a demonstrable cul-de-sac.

5. Greek words do not have one meaning. Yet how many times do we hear in a sermon, “The word in the Greek means…”? Most Greek words are polysemous, that is, they have many possible meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs. (In case you were wondering: Reading all of the meanings of a Greek word into any particular passage in which it occurs is called “illegitimate totality transfer” by linguists.)

6. Greek is not difficult to learn. I’ll say it again: Greek is not difficult to learn. I like to tell my students, “Greek is an easy language; it’s us Greek teachers who get in the way.” The point is that anyone can learn Greek, even a poorly-educated surfer from Hawaii. If I can master Greek, anyone can!

7. Greek can be acquired through any number of means, including most beginning textbooks. Yes, I prefer to use my own Learn to Read New Testament Greek in my classes, but mine is not the only good textbook out there. When I was in California I taught in an institution that required all of its Greek teachers to use the same textbook for beginning Greek. I adamantly opposed that policy. I feel very strongly that teachers should have the right to use whichever textbook they prefer. Thankfully, the year I left California to move to North Carolina that policy was reversed, and now teachers can select their own beginning grammars. (By the way, the textbook that had been required was mine!)

8. Greek students think they can get away with falling behind in their studies. Folks, you can’t. I tell my students that it’s almost impossible to catch up if you get behind even one chapter in our textbook. Language study requires discipline and time management skills perhaps more than any other course of study in school.

9. Greek is fun! At least when it’s taught in a fun way.

10. Greek is good for more than word studies. In fact, in the past few years I’ve embarked on a crusade to get my students to move away from word-bound exegesis. When I was in seminary I was taught little more than how to do word studies from the Greek. Hence, I thought I had “used Greek in ministry” if I had consulted my Wuest, Robertson, Kittle, Brown, Vincent, or Vines. Since then I’ve discovered that lexical analysis is the handmaiden and not the queen of New Testament exegesis. Greek enables us to see how a text is structured, how it includes rhetorical devices, how syntactical constructions are often hermeneutical keys, etc.

11. Greek can cause you to lose your faith. It happened to one famous New Testament professor in the US when he discovered that there were textual variants in his Greek New Testament, and it can happen to you. When the text of Scripture becomes nothing more than “another analyzable datum of linguistic interpretation” then it loses its power as the Word of God. That’s why I’m so excited about my Greek students at the seminary, most of whom are eager to place their considerable learning at the feet of Jesus in humble service to His upside-down kingdom.

12. Greek can be learned in an informal setting. The truth is that you do not need to take a formal class in this subject or in any subject for that matter. I know gobs of homeschoolers who are using my grammar in self-study, many of whom are also using my Greek DVDs in the process. If anyone wants to join the club, let me know and I will send you, gratis, a pronunciation CD and a handout called “Additional Exercises.”

13. Greek is not Greek. In other words, Modern Greek and Koine Greek are two quite different languages. So don’t expect to be able to order a burrito in Athens just because you’ve had me for first year Greek. On the other hand, once you have mastered Koine Greek it is fairly easy to work backwards (and learn Classical Greek) and forwards (and learn Modern Greek).

Work has been somewhat slow the last couple of days and I have been able to read through some of Steve Runge’s past blog posts.  I found his critique of Porter’s verbal aspect theory interesting.  I do not think I know enough about the subject to comment.  I will give the highlights but it might just be best for you to go and read the post yourself.

Runge begins by explaining what contrastive substitution is, which Porter leans on significantly.

Now Porter relies heavily upon a concept called “contrastive substitution” in building his case against tense grammaticalizing time in Greek. The basic idea is that if the Present tense really grammaticalizes present time as a tense, then it should not be found in non-present contexts. The reasoning goes that if the tense-forms are regularly found in contexts that clash with their purported temporal meaning, then it must be grammaticalizing something other than tense, i.e. aspect.

In Wallace’s article on Figure and Ground he applies the same model of contrastive substitution to English.  By Porter’s standards, this should significantly undermine the well-accepted notion that English verbs grammaticalize tense. Here is what Wallace says about English.

But ‘present’ and ‘past’ tenses are by no means free from meanings traditionally classified as modal. Note the pervasive existence of the ‘historical present’—the ‘present’ tense used to narrate past events—in languages such as Greek, Latin, English, French, Georgian, and Bulgarian (Comrie 1976:73-8); Bennett 169; Goodwin 269). The effect of such usage is supposedly to make the narrative more ‘lively’ or ‘vivid’ (but see Wolfson). Observe further the polite or indirect use of the ‘past’ tense in English and French (Leech 11; Waugh 1975:463-5) where one might expect the ‘present,’ especially with regard to cognition and emotion. In English, for example, to say ‘Did you want me?’ with reference to a present desire is more tentative and thus more polite than to say abruptly ‘Do you want me?’…

The fundamental question therefore is: If ‘present’ and ‘past’ tense do not necessarily refer to present and past time, if the ‘present’ can refer to the past and the ‘past’ to the present, how are we justified in talking about tense and time with regard to these categories? At least to me it would seem that when authors talk about the ‘imaginative use of tenses’ (Babbitt 264) or the ‘illusion of presentness’ (Comrie 1976:74), they are no longer talking about time but something else. No reasonable person would deny that time is an important semantic property of the categories of tense. The moot point is whether or not it is a focal, central, neutral property…In fact, one wonders whether a language exists in which ‘tense’ refers only to time.4

Runge therefore notices the following:

First, Wallace does not claim that tense is absent in English on the basis of contrastive substitution; instead he uses it to illustrate the complexity of the issues. Even a highly time-oriented tense system like English does not grammaticalize absolute time in the tense. He seems incredulous that such a thing is even possible. Yet this is the very kind of standard to which Porter holds the Greek tense-form, and not surprisingly finds it wanting. He summarizes the case of the present tense-form, stating: “Applying this to the Greek examples above, it becomes clear according to a principle of contrastive substitution…–by which the identical form is used in different temporal contexts—that Greek does not grammaticalize absolute tense with the Present, since only Matt 8:25 clearly makes reference to present time as defined above.”5 He makes similar claims about the other tense-forms elsewhere in this chapter.

And concludes:

It should have been clear from reading Wallace that to claim that tense does not grammaticalize absolute time in Greek on the basis of contrastive substitution is little more than a straw-man argument. Sadly, this claim has gone largely unchallenged for two decades.  Far from disproving the presence of a temporal semantic element in the tense-form, it merely highlights the complexity of the system, a point Wallace has already made clear from his use of contrastive substitution in English. Far more would be required to be able to substantiate the claim that temporal semantics are absent in Greek tense-forms.

Verbal Aspect

April 22, 2010 — Leave a comment

This semester was my first introduction to Greek verbal aspect.  The most helpful article I read on it was Naselli-Verbal Aspect which is a brief introduction to the subject.

Phil Gons also has a good summary of Constantine Cambell’s Introduction to Greek Verbal Aspect.

Steve Runge just posted Dr. Gentry’s class notes that he handed out in our class on verbal aspect.