Keeping Up Your Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek In college, we used Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek.  In seminary, we used Baugh’s First John Reader and his PrimerI enjoyed these grammars, learned much from them, and still value them (although somehow, somewhere, I lost Mounce; I need to get another copy!).

In order to keep up my Greek I recently purchased David Alan Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek.  It is a bit different from the other grammars I’ve used, but so far it’s been good to go through.  The Greek font is very readable, Black’s explanations are clear, and I like how he gives vocab helps by showing English words that correspond to Greek words (i.e. swma – body – somatic; kardia – heart – cardiac, etc.).  I also like the exercises at the end of each chapter – so far they fit the chapter well.  If you’re looking to learn Greek, this one would be good for that, but there is a lot of discourse – it gets wordy sometimes.  I don’t mind it now, but it could have been too much for me when I was starting to learn Greek.  FYI: I read through a chapter a week (give or take), which is a good pace so far.

Anyway, if you’re looking to keep your Greek up, I recommend getting another Greek grammar that you can work through and review the concepts and vocab.  So far, Black’s grammar has been helpful!  Feel free to suggest others if you have favorites.

shane lems

Hebrew Grammar and Homiletics

You mean that my Hebrew grammar/syntax classes in seminary and assigned readings in it make a difference in my preaching? Of course! In the studies of biblical languages, the theoretical serves the practical, as with theology. Here’s one example.

In 2 Chronicles 21.11, when the story teller describes Jehoram’s wicked reign over Judah, he uses the hiphil twice (zanah – which means to commit harlotry – and nadach which means turn aside from). The phrase with these verbs in it translates like this, loosely: “[Jehoram] made high places in the hills of Judah and caused those who lived in Jerusalem to commit harlotry and he caused Judah to turn aside [from Yahweh].”

Since these two verbs – commit harlotry and turn aside from – are in the hiphil, they have a causative meaning (“A” caused “B” to “C”). But, as Walkte and O’Conner point out in An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), the “Hiphil represents the subject as causing and object to participate indirectly as a second subject in the notion expressed by the verbal root” (435). In other words, the object of the above sentence (2 Chr 21.11) is Judah, those who dwell in Judah. The object of the sentence – Judah’s residents – are active participants in the action of the verbs (commit harlotry and turn aside from God). The hiphil helps get this idea across, along with context and other passages that clearly show Judah’s residents committing idolatry and turning from Yahweh.

In homiletics, then, this translates into an illustration/analogy: Jehoram led Judah into harlotry, as if he were holding their hands. Yet they didn’t resist; they participated, like those who follow the leader, like an older brother who coaches his younger brother to go write on the wall with permanent marker. Both are guilty, but especially the leader. So in Judah: both the king and his subjects are guilty for abandoning the Mosaic covenant/constitution, but especially the leader, king Jehoram.

shane lems

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Grammar and the Bondage of the Will


Here’s an instance where a small and sometimes difficult point of grammar can show the source of some doctrinal truths we (Reformed Christians) confess.  In this case, it is the bondage of the will prior to conversion/regeneration as shown from Titus 3.3 (see Canons of Dort III/IV.3).

In this verse, Paul uses an imperfect “being” verb (ESV “were”) plus four present participles (ESV “led astray,” “slaves to/serving,” “passing our days,” and “hating”).  In the Greek, an imperfect “being” verb plus a present participle equals the imperfect tense (technical jargon: a periphrastic participle).  That is, even though the participles are present, the imperfect being verb in this case renders the participles as imperfect.  In summary, the above four participles must be treated as imperfects (See Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 647-8).

So what?  The imperfect tense in Greek is usually past time and displays the past as “a motion picture, portraying the action as it unfolds” (Ibid., 541).  The imperfect can be translated as “he began doing ____” (inceptive), or “from time to time he did ____” (iterative), or “he habitually did ____” (customary) or a few other ways.  I would submit that in Titus 3.3 Paul used the imperfect being verb plus the present participles to describe something that customarily, contiunally, or habitually happened. 

In other words, in Titus 3.3 Paul says, “You were habitually…wondering astray…slaves to various lusts and pleasures…living life in evil and envy… and hating one another.

Wallace agrees, though discussing a different verse; for Rom. 6.17 Wallace translates the imperfect being verb as, “you were continually slaves of sin” (Ibid., 548).


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Hebrew Grammar, Linguistics, and Justification

An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax

What do Hebrew grammar, linguistics, and justification have to do with one another? Quite a bit, if you ask me (us).

In An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Bruce Waltke and M. O’ Conner give us some implicit clues. In their discussion of a certain verb (the Piel stem, to be precise), they note a category for a “psychological/linguistic factitive” (p. 402). In the Hebrew grammarian E. Jenni’s terms, this is a “declarative-estimative” (Ibid.). Or in D. Hillers’ terms (which he prefers over Jenni’s), it is a “delocutive verb” (cf. Hillers’ 1967 JBL article, Delocutive Verbs in Biblical Hebrew).  [At this point, our in-house OT guru, Andrew, is thinking semitic thoughts with a Hebrew grin on his face.]

Now, in easier terms: Jenni says that these types of verbs are verbs by which the “state described is attained by a declaration” (Waltke & O’Conner, An Introduction, 402). Hillers describes these same verbs as locutionary rather than adjectival or verbal. Translate: these verbs state something (locution) rather than describe (adjective) or make (verbal).

Ok, here’s where it hits the road. The OT verbs in mind are those such as justify, bless, pronounce clean. Sometimes, in the right context and verbal use, these (and other similar) verbs declare/state something rather than describe or make something to be what it is.

Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks

For a related discussion, see also what other linguists/philosophers/theologians call “speech-act” (i. e. Alston, Searle, Austin, Vanhoozer, Wolterstorff, Horton, etc.).  Also note that Waltke and O’Conner use the term “speech-act” in the above context (p. 402-3).


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