Brian LePort’s Short Review of Runge’s Greek Discourse Grammar

Brian LePort recently posted a positive short review of Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Hendrickson 2010). My linguistic journey began when I was introduced to using linguistics as tool for exegesis when I took a Biblical Hebrew Syntax course at Southeastern Seminary. Then while at Edinburgh I purchased Runge’s DGGNT and ultimately utilised the concepts from the chapter on Information Structure (Word Order Analysis) for my MTh dissertation on fronting in Amos 3-6.

Three things confirmed for me on the reasonableness of the concepts advocated in DGGNT: First, it was a cross-linguistic approach. The principles found in the grammar have been utilised by linguists and fieldworkers working in numerous types of languages. Thus, the principles are reasonable because they derive from how language works and is processed.  Second, while at Edinburgh I worked with a lecturer in the linguistics faculty and she found the framework linguistically responsible. Here was a linguistics scholar, not a Greek scholar, validating the linguistic framework. The last reason is the explanatory power I found while writing my dissertation. I found that I could explain particular phenomena in Amos that either scholars just make intuitively, but with no exegetical basis, or simply could not answer because they felt the evidence was ambiguous.

A great quote from Brian’s original post that sums my own feelings:

I confess that prior to reading this book I overlooked most (or read without being very conscious) of the devices used by authors to do things as simple as emphasizing the main theme over against an athematic point, or when the author seems to be commenting/explaining the text within the text, or when the author wants to introduce a change in time or place. In fact, many of these chapters introduced ideas that were completely new to me. If not completely new, then paradigm shifting and mind expanding. I found that my reading of the text seemed to go from 2-D to 3-D in the process.

Read the entire review here.

Dirk Jongkind on the Syntax of Revelation

Dirk Jongkind has posed some interesting questions about the syntactical construction of Greek prepositions in Revelation. Looking specifically at chapter 4, Jongkind notes,

I was looking at Revelation 4:9 where the text reads τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ with the variant ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνοῦ. . . . In the construction ‘he who sits on the throne’ the case of the prepositional phrase ‘on the throne’ (ἐπί + article + θρόνος) that follows the participle ‘he who sits’ is normally identical to the case of the participle.

So we have ἐπὶ τοὺς θρόνους … καθημένους (4:4); τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ (4:9); τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου (4:10).

There are a number of exceptions. With the nominative (ὁ) καθήμενος we find both ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ (21:5) and ἐπὶ τὸν θρόνον (4:2) and with other combinations of κάθημαι ἐπί (e.g. with αὐτός) it doesn’t apply as much. It would be nice if someone could give a good linguistic explanation of this phenomenon.

You can read, and perhaps interact with, the whole post here.

Some Advice for Seminarians

After spending the first two years of teaching at Cal Baptist preparing lectures, getting to know my school and administration, immersing myself and my family in our local church, and trying to do my best to not mess it all up, I now have a bit of time each week to work on some things I’d laid aside. Namely, I now have a bit more time to read, write, and work in the original languages.

The last of these is the easiest for a busy seminarian or graduate to drop from their regular schedule. This is true for the graduate no matter if they’ve moved on to pastoring, teaching, church planting, the mission field, or some parachurch ministry. Starting a new work, or having more time to devote at a current ministry after graduation, always makes for a busier schedule. For me, at least, the easiest thing to drop out of that schedule was the languages. Likewise, in seminary, with many students working part or full time along with having a family while taking 4-5 classes, it is very easy to stop working with Greek and Hebrew (not to mention German, French, and Latin).

I remember my first semester at SEBTS vividly; I had always looked forward to attending seminary so I could learn Greek and Hebrew (yes, we all know I’m a nerd). Dr. Black took us through Greek I and II with a potent blend of a complete mastery of the language and an engaging teaching style. When we finished Greek II in the J-term, he challenged us to join the 5 minute Greek club. The club, as he told us, has no dues and no meetings. We just all agreed to read Greek for 5 minutes a day. At first this was something I knew I could do – I was taking Greek III that summer, and so I had to keep up with it.

But then, as I entered my second year of seminary, I took Hebrew I and II during the latter part of the summer and Hebrew III that fall, and so turned my attention away from Greek. At that time I was also preparing for the PhD entrance exam, and we were expecting our first daughter in January. I started part time at the seminary that October and was full time within a year. I was working in the Field Ministry Office trying to help Dr. Wade start a new program that partnered with churches for theological education, and so the excitement of entrepreneurial work took up my time as well. On top of that I was an adjunct for an online program, a part time staff member at our church, and a teaching assistant. And then I started the PhD program, took one Greek seminar, and that was that. I wasn’t a member of the 5 minute Greek club anymore, and I gave up my membership in the Hebrew version after we got to weak verbs.

None of the above is an excuse. I mention it only to say what all of my language professors told me, but what I never let sink in – it is very easy to let the languages go, and often they go with a whimper. Busy-ness kills continued language proficiency. I’m working on building mine back up, and at times it’s easier than at others. But if I had listened to Dr. Black, if I had kept my membership in the 5 minute Greek club, it wouldn’t be an issue at all.

So my advice is simple – don’t let the languages go. They are vital to understanding God’s Word to us, and that means that pastors and professors alike ought to know them and know them well. It’s better to keep on knowing them than to have known them once and left them.

The Gnashing of Teeth

I’m reading through the Psalms for my daily devotionals, and today I read Psalm 35 [34 LXX]. In this psalm, the speaker asks the LORD to contend for him and deliver him from his adversaries. Interestingly, in v. 16 when speaking of these enemies, he says “like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth.”

The Greek verb used in Ps. 35:16 [34:16 LXX] for “gnash” is bruxō, and it is also found in Ps. 37:12 [36:12 LXX]; 112:10 [111:10 LXX]; Job 16:9; and Lam. 2:16. Of the occurrences, the ones in Psalms and Job both speak about adversaries of those under God’s protection, while the occurrence in Lamentations speaks about the adversaries of God himself. Of course, in the Psalter, “the righteous afflicted one” can be seen as a type of the Messiah, and this is especially true of Psalm 35. This particular psalm follows on the heels of Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” Psalm 37:12 also suddenly shifts to the singular in its mention of the righteous being afflicted by those who gnash their teeth.In other words, it is possible to read at least Psalm 35:16 and 37:12 as speaking about the LORD’s anointed, and then along with Lamentations 2:16 we have three specific instances where this “gnashing of teeth” is done by those who are enemies of the LORD. Even if one does not take the Psalms references as explicitly Messianic, though, we are still dealing with enemies of God’s people, which in the OT makes them enemies of God himself. The phrase in the OT, then, appears to exclusively refer to God’s (or God’s people’s) enemies.

In the NT, the phrase “gnashing of teeth” occurs exclusively in Matthew. bruxō is the verbal equivalent of the noun (brugmos) used in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus describes what will happen to those who are not part of God’s kingdom (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51). I think this verbal parallel with the OT occurrences tell us a few things:

  1. Hell is a place for the enemies of God. This phrase “gnashing of teeth” indicates rebellion against God in the particular state in which they find themselves. In other words, “gnashing of teeth” isn’t some sort of pain metaphor; it’s an indication of the disposition of the person’s heart in hell. Note that this says something to Rob Bell’s transformational view of punishment in eternity; people in hell are not inclined to turn to God, but in fact continue to rebel against him even in their judgment. They aren’t puppies with their tails between their legs who recognize that they’ve done wrong, but are in continual rebellion.
  2. I think Jesus’ use of the phrase lends greater weight to seeing Psalm 35, 37, and 110 as Messianic. Of course, Psalm 110 is used messianically all over the NT, but this may be further indication that it ought to be read as such. The parallels with Psalms 35 and 37 lend weight to reading them messianically as well.
  3. Finally, I think this tells us something about Jesus’ ministry and message in the Gospels. Jesus knew very clearly what he was saying and to whom he was saying it, and in many (all?) of the occurrences in Matthew he is speaking to Pharisees. This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Matt. 22:13, where he follows up his argument with the Pharisees and Sadducees and their request for a sign with this reference to God’s enemies gnashing their teeth. The implication is that it is they who are God’s enemies for not recognizing him as the Messiah. Another striking use is Matt. 8:12, where Jesus heals a centurion’s (read: GENTILE’S) servant, and then says he will sit at **Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s** (read: ISRAEL’S) table, but many “sons of the kingdom” will be cast into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. What is this besides a declaration that those Israelites who do not have faith in Jesus as the Messiah are no longer part of God’s people and even more bluntly are now enemies of God? No wonder the Jewish leaders wanted him killed.

Emmanuel Tov

Many thanks to David Stark for his post making me aware of Emmanuel Tov’s Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert are available as PDF’s in Tov’s publication section of his website.

Dan Wallace on the Discovery of 7 Early Manuscripts

Jim West recently posted a video of Dan Wallace being interviewed on the discovery of 7 early NT manuscripts. This is, to say the least, a very important find for NT studies. Watch the video here:

Dan Wallace on 7 Early MSS

via Dan Wallace on the Discovery of 7 Early Manuscripts.

The Kingdom New Testament

N. T. Wright has a new translation of the New Testament out called The Kingdom New Testament. Robert Gundry has reviewed it and praises Wright for the what he perceives as strengths of the translation, including Wright’s ability to use the English language vibrantly. He also asks some interesting questions about the KNT, the foremost of which if it is actually a translation. Gundry concludes that the work might have more affinity with Jewish Targums in its approach than with actual translations of the Bible. The whole review is worth reading. You can find it here.

A language tool worth investing in…

I was recently invited to write a testimony for the biblical language software, Paradigm Master Pro. I first became aware of this program when I was taking Greek with Maurice Robinson, Guardian of the Byzantine Text. After testing the software through the available free online quizzes (you do not even have to sign up to try out the quizzes) I was hooked. It has been the best investment to improve my grasp of the biblical languages. “What was the cost of my investment?” you ask–$30.

My problem with the languages was that I could not recall forms: nouns, verbs, you name it, as fast as I needed to when I was reading through different texts. I felt what I lacked was the drilling of forms. I needed to drill these forms into my mind until parsing became a reflex! I think this is the beauty of the software, the program is made of hundreds of different quizzes in both Hebrew and Greek and those quizzes are comprised from thousands of different forms found in both languages. I think a helpful analogy is to consider PMP like a trainer in the gym that constantly pushes you physically by using different workouts and different exercises ensuring that your body is fit and ready for anything. Like a trainer that observes your form in each exercise, the program keeps track of what you get correct and what you miss giving you immediate feedback on how well you know your different forms.

Another benefit of the program is that it can be integrated with whatever grammar book you may be using. The way I have used the program is to read through a chapter and then find the corresponding quiz to whatever I’m learning. And because there are hundreds of quizzes you know there will be a quiz for whatever you just read.

If you want to get serious about learning the biblical languages I encourage you to try the free quizzes I linked to above and then after you see how beneficial this will be to learning Hebrew and Greek then purchase the full program to get all the quizzes available.

2 Peter 1:19–The Prophetic Word more fully Confirmed?

A couple of weeks ago I was reading 2 Peter 1:16-21 from the NET translation. I appreciate the footnotes that accompany the translation because of the translator’s reasoning towards a translation. I hope that more translations in the future will follow suit and show its readers the issues in translation. I was particularly curious about the NET’s translation of 2 Peter 1:19a:

1:19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing.

This sparked my interest because of how some major translations have rendered this verse:

English Standard Version: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed

New American Standard 1995: So we have the prophetic word made more sure

New International Version: And we have the word of the prophets made more certain

The NET footnote for 1:19a reads:

The comparative adjective βεβαιότερον is the complement to the object τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον. As such, the construction almost surely has the force “The prophetic word is (more certain/altogether certain) – and this is something that we all have.” Many scholars prefer to read the construction as saying “we have the prophetic word made more sure,” but such a nuance is unparalleled in object-complement constructions (when the construction has this force, ποιέω is present [as in 2 Pet 1:10]). The meaning, as construed in the translation, is that the Bible (in this case, the OT) that these believers had in their hands was a thoroughly reliable guide. Whether it was more certain than was even Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration depends on whether the adjective should be taken as a true comparative (“more certain”) or as an elative (“very certain, altogether certain”). Some would categorically object to any experience functioning as a confirmation of the scriptures and hence would tend to give the adjective a comparative force. Yet the author labors to show that his gospel is trustworthy precisely because he was an eyewitness of this great event. Further, to say that the OT scriptures (the most likely meaning of “the prophetic word”) were more trustworthy an authority than an apostle’s own experience of Christ is both to misconstrue how prophecy took place in the OT (did not the prophets have visions or other experiences?) and to deny the final revelation of God in Christ (cf. Heb 1:2). In sum, since syntactically the meaning that “we have confirmed the prophetic word by our experience” is improbable, and since contextually the meaning that “we have something that is a more reliable authority than experience, namely, the Bible” is unlikely, we are left with the meaning “we have a very reliable authority, the Old Testament, as a witness to Christ’s return.” No comparison is thus explicitly made. This fits both the context and normal syntax quite well. The introductory καί    suggests that the author is adding to his argument. He makes the statement that Christ will return, and backs it up with two points: (1) Peter himself (as well as the other apostles) was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, which is a precursor to the Parousia; and (2) the Gentile believers, who were not on the Mount of Transfiguration, nevertheless have the Old Testament, a wholly reliable authority that also promises the return of Christ.

I see a couple of things in play here worth noting: 1) is the actual syntax of the verse. What is actually possible in the construction. 2) contextual–what makes the most sense of the overall context of the letter. 3) theological–understanding the relationship between revelation as events and revelation of a text. I could be wrong here.

There are many things I pretend to be, but a Greek scholar is not one of them. I’m interested to see what others have to say. How would you translate καὶ ἔχομεν βεβαιότερον τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον? Why?