For Greek Junkies: BDAG and the Apostolic Fathers

For you fellow Greek junkies out there, though I may be preaching to the choir, don’t forget to use BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature) to find word parallels between the NT and the early church fathers.  Below is an example from a brief word study on 1 Corinthians 15.14c.

In 15.14c Paul says that if there were no resurrection, our faith in Christ would be kenos.  Greek lexicons say this means empty, void, vain, etc.  To see how kenos was used by the early church fathers (or if they used it), go ask BDAG.  In this example, BDAG says that kenos was used (among many other places) in Dg 8:2.  The index of abbreviations in BDAG (p. lxiii in the front) says this is the Epistle to Diognetus.   If you have Michael Holmes’ edited volume, The Apostolic Fathers, you can see Dg 8:2 for yourself in Greek and English on page 707.

So we go to that (Dg 8:2) and see there in the Greek the same term (kenos) to describe the statements of the “specious philosophers” (axiopiston philosophon) who say that God was fire, or water, or any other element he created.  (Side note: there is humor here in Dg 8.2 – the author says that ironically those who think God is the element of fire are headed for that very thing: fire!)  These specious philosophers speak empty (kenos) and silly (lerodes) statements.

In Dg 8.2 we also get a parallel to kenos, the word Paul used in 1 Cor 15.14c: lerodes.  All this helps us get a little closer to the meaning of “vain faith,” a “resurrectionless” faith.  Paul says faith without the resurrection is empty; Dg 8:2 says the philosophers’ statements that God is fire is empty and silly.

Of course, these are just the basics of a word study – and remember word studies need to be handled and used with care!  The high-speed Bibleworks user could no doubt do this as well, perhaps with more depth.  The point I want to make, I suppose, is this: BDAG put the references to the early church fathers in there for a reason! Use it!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 Replies to “For Greek Junkies: BDAG and the Apostolic Fathers”

  1. Let me just also add that it is wise, if possible, to look up the grammar references in BDAG. They can be most enlightening. I learned that the hard way this semester, and proceeded to Amazon to purchase some other-than-Wallace grammars. More and more I have become frustrated with the inadequacy of Wallace. It was fine early on, but I need more depth now.


    1. The companion to BDAG is “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature” by F. Blass, A. Debrunner and Robert W. Funk (BDF for short), which is also published by Chicago. However THE standard for Greek from Homeric through Classical to Koine is “Greek Grammar” by Herbert Weir Smyth, published by Harvard. Unlike most grammars, Smyth translates nearly all of his examples. C. F. D. Moule’s “An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek” is not so much a reference grammar as it is a readable treatment of major syntactical issues. I believe that Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi’s “A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax” is the Hebrew, less chatty and newer version of Moule’s book. Both are published by Cambridge and approximately the same length.

      Properly speaking, Wallace in not a Grammar and should not be used as such in academic or eclisiastical papers. Wallace is trying to impart his exegetical categories and brand of hermeneutics by presenting them with a grammatical flair. This might be helpful if you share his theological commitments, but his idiocyncratic categorizes and his interpretation of texts place his work out side the realm of a true grammar.


  2. Nice – thanks Rich! I was just paging through Smyth yesterday at the UCLA bookstore . . . I’ve got to pick up a copy!

    That’s a solid critique of Wallace as well. It’s a good reminder that while exegesis is supposed to pay attention to grammar, exegesis is not grammar and grammar is not exegesis!

    BTW – let me know when you get out here. We’ve got to hit up both O’Sulls and Stone Bistro!


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