Back to school (Learning a little Greek part 16)

I had a great time recently when I joined a leadership theology class. I had heard they were going to have two days on NT Greek so I went along to help in my quest to learn the language of the NT.

It was such a privilege to be there with a teacher who knew Greek so well. Although we didn’t get onto much I hadn’t already looked at it was great to reinforce things in my mind. I thought I already knew the alphabet as it turned out I didn’t. It was good therefore to go over it again plus learn the capital letters which were new to me.

no. Greek Capital key name example comments
1 α Α a alpha father
2 β Β b beta ball
3 γ Γ g gamma gift
4 δ Δ d delta den
5 ε Ε e epsilon bet
6 ζ Ζ z zeta zoo
7 η Η h eta they, ate
8 θ Τ q theta thing
9 ι Ι i iota bit ee-ota or eye-ota
10 κ Κ k kappa kitchen
11 λ Λ l lambda lamb
12 μ Μ m mu mother
13 ν Ν n nu nice
14 ξ Ξ x xi taxi
15 ο Ο o omicron omelet
16 π Π p pi pen pie or “pea”.
17 ρ Ρ r rho rock slight role to the r
18 ς σ Σ s j sigma send ς at the end of a word
19 τ Τ t tau tennis
20 υ Υ u upsilon put, foot
21 π Φ f phi phone
22 χ Χ c Chi (he) bach
23 ψ Ψ y psi lips
24 ω Ω w omega bone

The teacher pronounced Greek with a Greek accent as he had been taught by a Greek lady so it was a little tricky converting to that form the Erasmaian pronunciation that I have begun learning.

Here are some of my notes from the two days:

1) The development of the language:

Ancient Greek : Mycenaean Greek 14th – 12th Century BC, Archaic (Clasical) Greek 8th – 4th BC

Hellenistic Greek or Koine (= common) Greek : 4th Century BC to 4th century AD. Became prominent due Alexander the Great’s empire of. It absorbed local dialects and became the common standard language of the times. The Septuagint was written in Koine Greek.

Byzantine Greek : 5th-15th  Century AD. Official language of the Byzantine empire.

Modern (Demotic Greek). Two versions of Greek were in use up until 1976. The Katharevousa version was used in the army, law, medicine, schools, newspapers etc was dropped in favour of Demotic Greek; the langue used for creative literature and everyday speech.

2) Characters

Uncials = capital letters

Miniscules or cursive script = lower case letters. These began to be used in 10th Century AD. They were easier to write and left more space for the accents and other bits and bobs  that where beginning to be used.

3) Punctuation

A comma and full stop in Greek mean the same as they do in English. A colon in Greek is a raised full stop and a semi colon in Greek means a question mark.

4) Quote

To his amazement [Jude] learnt for the first time there was no law of transmutation, as in his innocence he had supposed, but that every word of the Latin and Greek was to be individually committed to memory at the cost of years of plodding. Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure – Macmillan 1974 p50

I hope that Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek speeds up the plodding as he claims to have discovered some short cuts.

5) Tense

Here is a very helpful table for remembering tenses. Notice that the present tense, though mainly meaning present, can also mean an undefined time. Future tense could be anything by the look of it. Note also that the Aorist tense does not necessarily refer to an event that took place at a particular point in time. It could be ongoing. Wenham would say it is a point in time ie punctilliar but it is not. Luke 9:23 “take up your cross daily” is aorist, as is “Rev 20:4 “they reigned with Christ”.

aspect Past Present Future
Continuous imperfect present Future
Undefined / simple Aorist present Future
Complete with implications pluperfect Perfect Future

6) Textual families

The Alexandrian (Neutral or Egyptian) Text ie Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus : Originated in Egypt. Some of the oldest existing manuscripts are from this family and are  dated to 4th Century AD. They are also the most reliable copies as the scribes didn’t tend to change much.

The Western Text ie Codex Bezae : These originated in the East and are the least trustworthy due to copying changes (to be honest it was a bit slap dash!). They tended to put more emphasis on the Latin copies and the famous Latin Vulgate comes from these texts. They were used a lot in Roman world.

The Byzantine Text ie Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Ephraemi of 5th Century AD. These were used throughout the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire. As they spoke Greek there were a large number of Greek copies made and used epically after miniscule script was invented in the 9th Century. A few errors crept in over time. It became the standard texts for church of the middle ages and the basis for Erasmus’ version. The majority text is based on a lot of late Byzantine texts. (The ending of the Lord prayer was added in in one of these versions I think).

The received Text or the Textus Receptus

“In 1502 work on a bible called the Complutensian Polyglot was begun containing 4 columns; Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin. In an attempt to beat this bible to market, a Swiss printer called Froben approached the Dutch Scholar Desiderius Erasmus in 1515 who agreed to collate and produce a Greek NT” (from Adrian Birks’ 2010 notes).

This was printed and published earlier than the Complutensian Polyglot and cost less so it became much more widely used.  Erasmus did the best job he could but in places where he had no Greek text he translated back from Latin versions. In 1565 after a few revisions it formed the basis of the Textus Receptus. The translators of the KJV worked from this whose textual basis was

“essentially a handful of late and haphazardly collected miniscule manuscripts, and in a dozen passages its reading is supported by no known Greek witness” The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, by Bruce. M. Metzger

7) Books

He recommended Novum Testamentum Graece Nestle-Aland (NA) currently 27th Edition which has a more complicated textual aparatus and a better font.

He also gave details of The NIV English-Greek New Testament A Reverse Interlinear Zondervan by W D Mounce. (he’s the guy that wrote the books I am getting for Christmas). A reverse interlinear has the Greek in the order of the English words. I guess that gives more meaning to the English words as their order determines their meaning while in the Greek word order means much less. I hope I am getting an ESV reverse interlinear for Christmas by John Schwandt.

He mentions “Greek for the rest of us” by W. Mounce. says it’s a “revolutionary crash-course on ‘baby Greek'”. I think it’s more geared towards those who want to use Greek tools and resources rather than those of us with the bottle to learn the language.

Teach yourself NT Greek by Ian McNair is used in most collages now. Originally it was Nun, then Wenham updated that work and now McNair is used

The new Analytical Greek Lexicon Wesley J Perschbacher is good but I think my computer tools give me the same information.

Good web site

8) Other notes:

8.1) Pronunciation

αι = “eh” (elephant) in Greek pronunciation rather than “eye” in the Erasmian or academic pronunciation.

ε = short e (same as αι in Greek pronunciation?)

η = long e (as in “eal”.  In the Erasmian pronunciation its more ay as in “ate”).

ο = short o

ω = long o

μ = mu or “mee”

π = “pie” or “pea”, in fact you can pronounce other letters ending in “i” like that ie “phi” as “phee”, “psi” as “psee” etc.

τ= “tow” as in “cow”

β is more “v” in Greek pronunciation

αυ is more “av” in Greek pronunciation

8.2) White as snow

It was suggested that “though your sins are as scarlet they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18) was not necessarily referring to a good thing. White skin was not good thing a Mediterranean climate and white as snow could be like a leper.

Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. (ESV) 2 Kings 5:27

However it could be positive:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7

I think in the context it looks like a positive thing. v16 says “wash yourselves and make yourselves clean”.

8.3) Temples of the holy Spirit?

Another point that came up was whether we are individually thought of as temples of the Holy Spirit in the bible. We are corporately the temple ie:

1 Cor 3:16-17   Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in (plural)? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you (plural) are that temple. (ESV)

BGT 1 Corinthians 3:16 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; 17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός· ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

All the “yous” (I could only see two in the Greek) are plural.

2 Cor 6:16   …For we are the temple of the living God…

(se also 1 Peter 2:5, Eph 2:21-22)

But are we individually a temple of the holy Spirit? Are there millions of little temples walking around or just one big unified one?

1 Cor 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (ESV)

Is your plural or singular? They are all plural. Does that mean he is talking about a cooperate body? Mmmm not sure. What would the Greek be if he was talking to several people about their individual bodies? Would it be your plural or singular? Actually if the English is anything to go by it would be “glorify God in your (plural) bodies (plural)” but in the Greek body is singular. I’ll get a commentary…”The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament” says its talking individually but does not engage with the Greek or prove it in any way. I have no other more detailed commentaries. I need more commentaries!

I found this on the internet:

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit..?” (1 Cor. 6:19)

but in the Greek “body” is singular. So why does everyone say it’s each individual body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? I am sure they are right and my little knowledge of Greek is already causing me to make dangerous mistakes. Anyone know?

5th Jan 2010 – Yes, someone did.  Look at Matthew 6:21 “Where your (plural) treasure is, there your (plural) heart (singular) will be also.” You can say “you” plural in the Greek with a singular object X and mean each individual’s X. ie “heart” can be singular but it’s talking about each persons heart not one communal heart. In the context on 1 Cor 6:19 is “body” singular ie “”he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18) ie his individual body. It would seem strange then to move to body meaning “body of all of you”.

8.4 Some early English translations

John Wycliffe was the first to translate the bible into English. Then William Tyndale had a go. His bible has the quaint translation “The Lord was with Joseph and he was a lucky fellow.” of Genesis 39:2. Next Miles Coverdal (1488-1569) wrote a version and then Thomas Mathews, (a pseudonym for John Rogers who was a friend of Tyndale) made the terrible error of translating 1 Peter 3:7 as He that dwelleth with his wife according to knowledge, taketh her as a necessary helper, and not as a bond servant or a bond slave. And if she be not obedient and helpful to him, endeavoreth to beat the fear of God into her head, that thereby she may be compelled to learn her duty and do it”. His version is sometimes called the wife beaters bible because of this. I have no idea how he came up with this as it’s almost the direct opposite of what the bible actually says:

NIV 1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Note τιμὴν  ie the honour, reverence and respect, the equality “heirs with you“, and the negative consequences of not treating your wife well.

The least said about the KJV’s translation of 1 Sam 25:22 as “pisseth against the wall” the better. Language moves on and so will I!

8.5 Baptism

The teacher stressed that the Greek word for baptism does not necessarily mean immerse. It has a wider range of meanings.

8.6 Punctuation

There was no punctuation in the original manuscripts but the Greek has grammatical markers in the language to tell you when a new sentence starts.

8.7 James

The Greek name for the Book of James is Ιακωβου so the question is where did the English “James” come from? The French call it the book of “Jack”. Tindayle’s version predates King James so it is not in honour of him.

8.8 John 1:1

Be careful of making too much of a grammatical point but Paul does make much of a word ending “seed” Gal 3:16.

Colwell’s rule that “definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article” opens up the possibility for “and the word was the God” but it could still be translated “and the word as a God”. The context must be taken into account in deciding between them. We still need to decide if “God” is “definite” ie requiring the definite article “the” before it. All the rule seems to say is it could be “the God” as well as “a god”.

8.9 Participles

Participles share characteristics with both verbs and nouns. ie “Sitting quietly he dozed off”.

All in all time well spent and inspiring to be around someone who knew and loved the language.

PS. I was inspired after the two days to spend more time memorising the verb endings (conjugations?) for λυος and the declensions for λογς. If I can remember that “the” is “τ” and that apart frοm the singular nominative it’s endings are the same as for λογος then great.

PPS I am really looking forward to getting my Greek book’s for Christmas. Just found this site by their author and watched to a sample lesson. Looks really good. That may have to be my next buy.


Revisiting the first chapter of Genesis (argument part 2)

John Cleese asked Michael Palin in their highly amusing argument sketch “Is this just the five minute argument or the full half hour?” Lucky for us when Mick, Adrian and Andrew modeled healthy critical discourse at the Brighton leadership seminar, we were treated to an hour and a half of stimulating discussion. After looking at passive and active judgment they moved onto consider Tim Keller’s take on the first chapter of Genesis. Exciting stuff!

Keller’s experience is that people don’t believe Christians on the resurrection because they seem unintelligent and uninformed when it comes to generally recognized and accepted scientific findings. I think this is true.

Charles Darwin

Andrew pointed out that sound biblical inerrantists B. B. Warfield and J I Packer are both open to evolution or at least don’t dismiss it, and think it’s more likely than the alternative. (In fact J I Packer says “the young earth view is naive“). These aren’t the kind of guys to sell out.  The Catholic church’s official line is in line with evolution too but again, as no one, not even the pope, is infallible we need to engage with the subject matter.

Andrew’s view is that Genesis is Poetic narrative, semi-poetic or Hymnic  although not Hebrew poetry.

Andrew agrees with Keller that if Genesis 1 isn’t a journalistic record to be read chronologically  then it doesn’t conflict with evolution. Keller does however go for a literal garden and a literal fall.

Andrew gave 6 points on why he used to think that evolution was barmy for those who believe the bible. He has changed his mind on most of them.

1) Its incompatible with Gen 1. He no longer holds this view because of the poetic nature of Gen 1.

2) It is driven by randomness. Again, he no longer holds this view because God works through apparently random stuff, i.e. valleys, cliff erosion, casting of lot, “the lot is cast into the lap but every decision comes from the Lord” Prov 16:33, and 1 Kings 22:28, 34 where someone prophesies that the King of Israel is going to be killed, …and someone draws his bow “at random” and kills him.

3) The problem of the final step in which hominids become humans. He still thinks this is problematic. Genesis 2 is not Poetic in style. Man was made from the dust of the earth, and the woman from the rib of man. It was not two farmers that God choose and made in his image. Keller agrees but Andrew asks where and how is the line drawn? I have this problem too.

I recall Stott argues that Genesis 2 and 3 do in fact have very symbolic truths in them. It’s increasingly easy to rub out more and more of the bible because of apparent challenges with scientific opinion but the answer is not to shut our eyes and hold onto our own particular interpretation. As Keller notes, this does not help in the presentation of the gospel. Of course a third error would be to become wishy washy, open to anything and lacking conviction and faith. Being aware, to a degree based on your time and ability, of the various interpretations and scientific evidence is a good start and shows you are not blinkered in your approach even if you have arrived at strong conviction on the subject. (For clarity that last paragraph was my thoughts).

4) Evolution is only ever held by unbiblical fluffy people. He now realizes this isn’t true.

5) There are Scientific objections to evolution as a whole. Adrian points to Jon Lenox’ book. I have a few but I’m not sure which one.

6) Death and wastefulness before the fall. Andrew points out that if you believe in an old earth you tend to go for the death of animals. So this argument needs to go with a young earth.

Andrew reminds us that many Christians historically believed in evolution. Darwin’s theory was in fact promoted by many of the clergy at the time. He also says something can be poetic and literal.

Adrian says he is for a literal 6 day creation. Andrew says Kellar says its poetry and then goes with the possible interpretation that is in line with science.

Interestingly enough, apparently Augustine and Origin said it was literal but didn’t go with a 6 day account.

Adrian points out that we need to look at the rest of the bible. Ex 20 argues the Sabbath from Genesis 1 based on a literal interpretation of Genesis. Andrew counters that Moses was the same author of Genesis 1 and Ex 20 and had Ex odus in mind when we wrote Genesis. I didn’t really follow the argument though but agree with him that for Moses it may not have been the length of the days that was the issue but the 6 and 1 structure.

Andrew says that there is a change of style in Chapter 2 when it says “These are the generation of the heavens and the earth” and gives geographical locations so it seems the style changes to historical narrative.


(I will paraphrase what was said as best I can and interject myself when I feel like it!)

Q : Talk a bit more about death. Is it still a valid argument against evolution?

Andrew : Romans 5 says death came into the world through sin. Death for plants, animals and humans means three different things. Grass doesn’t die in the same sense that animals die. The grass continues to grow. Same with trees and fruit. An animal’s just go into the ground while a human has a soul that lives on after death. In Romans 5 surely Paul is talking about the death of humans. But do we want to say God created a world in which animals didn’t die? Ie where immortal. The young earth view would seem to say yes they were eternal.

Q : We must not undermine the first chapters of the bible or we loose everything.

Andrew : Yes. Undermine anything God says and you loose everything. Including Genesis 1. I am saying there is a chapter in the bible that has possibly been misinterpreted, not that there is a chapter in the bible that is wrong.  People used to think that the earth went round the sun because of a metaphorical statement in the bible. We  later came to the conclusion that the bible didn’t mean what we thought it meant due mainly to overwhelming scientific evidence.

Me : The issue is about interpretation not inerrancy.

Me. Keller and Andrew do not think that God put his image in a creature coming out of evolution. I can’t see why that is such a big issue. Did he fashion literal dust in a few moments or did he use dust that had been fashioned over millions of years into a humanoid? Eve could still have been taken from Adam in some way.

Me : The questions all seemed hostile to evolution. Interestingly someone said in a question that there was “no evidence for evolution”. They seemed really certain of that. But surly that is not true is it? Everything I have read seems to support the very opposite. Someone makes the point that we must distinguish between macro and micro evolution but perhaps a more relevant distinction should be highlighted between the so called “fact of evolution” and the process of evolution. Scientists believe they have a massive, overwhelming amount of evidence for all living organisms having a common ancestor. The discussion and theorizing tends to come more in the actually process of how evolution, speciation, adaption etc took place.

Mick finished by repeating Keller’s point that in our discussions and debate we should get to a stage of being able to state the other persons argument in a way that the other person agrees with it. Then we will be able to engage fruitfully with them.

"Hello, I’d like an argument please." (argument part 1)

One of my favorite Monty Python sketches is the one where Michael Palin pays to have a five minute argument with John Cleese:

Monty Python argument sketch

man1 “Hello, I’d like an argument please.”

man2 “I’ve told you once”

man1 “No you haven’t”

man2 “Yes I Have”

man1 “No you haven’t”

man2 “I’m sorry is this the five minute argument or the full half hour?”

man1 “Oh, I see. No, it’s just the five minutes”

man2 “Ah, Ok. Well I definitely told you”

man1 “no you didn’t”


It’s a classic! Probably funnier when they do it than when you read the script though! It’s just an argument for an argument’s sake. Often though, arguments can be very much more fruitful and in fact crucial in helping us arrive at a clearer idea of the truth. Recently at the Brighton Leadership Conference Mick Taylor had the idea of modeling constructive argument about theological issues in one of the seminars. I’ve just listened to the recording and it was great.

It was helpful not just because it gave an example of friendly debate, but because of the topics discussed. The first was on hell but they spent most of the time on the second which was the whole creation/evolution issue. I have been thinking about that a lot recently and have already blogged some of my thoughts in my other blog I am blogging through the bible and have obviously had to address this issue right at the start.

Mick Taylor, Adrian Birks and Andrew Wilson engage with these issues using Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God”. While they whole heartedly recommend the book some of them disagree with some of what Tim writes on these two subjects. That is good because it allows them to demonstrate healthy critical thinking and discussion. No writer, not the Pope nor even Tim Keller, is infallible so we must weigh what we read.

First they tackle Tim Keller’s apologetic approach to hell and judgment. Keller seems to shy away from the idea that God throws people into hell and emphasizes that people choose to go there of their own free will. ie “there is no lock on the door”. This is more palatable apologetically but is it a fair representation of the truth?

Andrew argues that the bible seems to say someone’s entrance into hell is not totally voluntary.  People don’t want hell. Keller says the rich man didn’t seem like he wanted to get out. He just wanted relief where he was. But Andrew points out that the rich man didn’t want others to come there and wanted them to be warned which I think weakens Keller’s argument quite a bit. As Piper puts it, people may want sin but they do not want hell. It’s like wanting chocolate but not weight gain.

Adrian points out that arguments against penal substitution seem compatible with a “passive wrath” view (which is not a good thing!). He quoted David Stroud saying in one of the main sessions “The essence of Justice is God lifting his hand” and points out that God’s wrath goes much further than that. Keller’s idea of hell is therefore inadequate. God doesn’t just withdraw from people like Pol Pot and Hitler. He is active in punishing them.

Mick agreed that although he didn’t like the idea that much, God is certainly more active in punishment than Keller seems to be saying.

Andrew gives examples of God’s “star wars” like commands (I always think of star wars too when I read Deut 20:16-18, and the Emperor’s deep voice saying “wipe them out, all of them”) to wipe out all the Amorites because of their sin. It does not read as though he is leaving them to the natural consequences of their evil actions. It’s not just “have it your way I’m leaving you to your own devices”. He sends his people to execute his judgment.

Adrian makes the helpful point that Romans 1 is not talking about hell. It’s talking about the revealing of judgment now.  It’s not wrong though to extend the principles to hell but given the nature of the other passages that do talk explicitly about hell it’s not a strong case for the passive view of God’s judgment in hell (Rev 20:14).

There is an argument that says if God is going to see justice done then we don’t have to take it into our own hands now and life can be more peaceful. One problem with that is that knowing your victims will leave any retribution to a God you don’t think exists might make you more vicious and unrestrained in your attack. Adrian points out that if the vengeance of God is withdrawal then evil doers won’t be that afraid of the consequences of their actions because they don’t want God anyway.

Mick says that in our minds it’s either passive or active judgment but maybe both are valid. Maybe then it’s ok to pick one and major on it. He also points out that we don’t want to paint a picture of a God who is enjoying punishing people and highlights the challenge of not doing so. He says we want to avoid on the one hand the danger of a God who delights in punishing people, and on the other a punishment that isn’t really that bad.

I must say I’ve always felt a little uneasy about sweeping the active side of God’s judgment under the carpet. Andrew made the point at the start that a lot of our problems with hell could be cultural. People in countries where there is massive injustice would have more of a problem with God’s forgiveness than his judgment. For God not to judge the evil they see all around them would be unthinkable. That said, it’s not wrong to start by emphasizing one aspect of the truth that makes more sense to a particular culture as long as at some stage you teach the whole truth.

There was time for Q and A at the end but actually none of the questions were about judgment, they were about the hotter topic of evolution. I’ll give my notes on their discussion on that and some of the Q&A in the next blog entry.