Friday, December 24, 2010

Scholars Are Not Always Right (No.3)

                                          Greek Lexicons

     Greek lexicons are indispensable resources for accurate New Testament
interpretation, but they are not infallible. Lexicons are not the final court of
appeal. Sometimes they contain misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate
information. How do lexicographers determine the meanings of words? They
trace words through the various stages of their history, and they seek to ascertain
word meaning by investigating word usage. They work from original sources and
they do comparative research with other lexicons of one or more languages.
Lexicographers also study ancient and modern advanced grammars, technical
commentaries, monographs, and ancient versions in preparation for their work.

     A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature, by Walter Bauer, translated and adapted by William
F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and Frederick Danker is the most up to date and
scholarly lexicon currently available for New Testament research. But it is not
without fault. In the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition, page 899,
the following statement is made about  psallo, "In our lit., in accordance w.
O.T. usage, sing (to the accompaniment of a harp)..." In the subsequent 1979
edition the parenthetical statement was removed after protests from several
scholars. No evidence has come to light that proves psallo means to play
on a man-made instrument (such as the harp) in the New Testament. The
third edition of this lexicon takes a middle of the road position regarding
psallo. (page 1096)

     Alexander Souter, in his Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament,
page 286 makes the same mistake regarding psallo. He says it means "I play
on  the harp (or other stringed instrument)." His lexicon purports to be for the
New Testament, yet he assigns the meaning for the classical period of the Greek
language. Joseph Henry Thayer's translation, revision, and enlargement of
Grimm's Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti (Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament) gets a high mark for his discussion of psallo. He displays
sensitivity for the word's N.T. usage. He says, "in the N.T. to sing a hymn, to
celebrate the praises of God in song..." (page 675)

     Nevertheless, Thayer's lexicon contains some entries that reflect his
Unitarian philosophy. (cf. his discussions of such key terms as theos,  page 287,
and prototokos, page 555.) Thayer was the secretary of the New Testament
committee that produced the American Standard Version, and his influence is
especially pronounced in the marginal notes. For instance, Jesus heals the man
who was born blind (John 9) Verse 38 says the man who was born blind "...
said, Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him." Jesus accepts his worship. A
marginal note says, "The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether
paid to a creature (as here) or to the Creator..." Was Christ a creature? No.
He is the one through whom God created all things. (Heb. 1:2-3) A person
must not blindly and unqualifiedly accept every statement in any lexicon,
grammar, or commentary. To some extent they are all influenced by the authors
religious presuppositions.


     What are some safeguards that will help us avoid "theological entrapment"
by the scholars?
     Comparative study. Always use more than one reference source in your
study of the text. Some authors are agenda oriented. See what other writers
have to say and weigh the evidence.
     Always interpret contextually. The single most important factor in research
is to give close attention to the immediate context of a writing. Generally, words
do not stand alone as separate units. They work with other words in a phrase,
clause, sentence, or paragraph. This working together constitutes a context. If
a scholar promotes an idea that ignores contextual usage, his conclusion is
conjectural at best.
     Beware of contradictions within a writer's work. If a scholar draws a
conclusion that contradicts a known truth it must be rejected. God's word is
truth (John 17:17), and truth is not self-contradictory in any of its parts.
(Psa. 119:160; 1 Cor. 14:33)
     Understand that no grammarian, lexicographer, or commentator is
a depository of all the facts on every technical point. Even they rely on
others who are specialists in their respective disciplines. The human mind has

Copyright 2010 

Scholars Are Not Always Right (No.2)

     Another misconception found in some Greek grammars, and taught by some
professors of New Testament Greek, is the widely held view that the Greek
aorist "tense" is inherently "one time," or "point," action of short duration. A.T.
Robertson stated, "probably nothing connected with syntax is so imperfectly
understood by the average student as tense." (Robertson's Grammar, page 821)
He also wrote, "Aktionsart ('kind of action') must be clearly understood." (op.cit.
page 823) One grammar states, "The aorist is the prevalent and most important
of the Greek tenses..." (Greek Grammar, page 144, Curtis Vaughn and Virtus

     Even the highly acclaimed Greek Grammar of the New Testament and
Other Early Christian Literature, by Freidrich Blass and Albert Debrunner,
and translated by Robert W. Funk, speaks of "punctiliar" (momentary) in the
aorist stem..." (page 166) The word aorist is derived from aoristos which means
"without limit." So-called one time, instantaneous, or momentary action is not
inherent in the aorist tense (aspect or concept). "It is the indefinite tense...It has no
essential temporal significance...The aorist...simply presents the action as attained."
(A  Manual Grammar of The Greek New Testament, H. E. Dana and Julius R.
Mantey, page 193) The use of aorist summarizes the action of the verb, or
presents it to the hearer or reader as "entirety," "accomplished," or "totality." The
aorist can be used to refer to a single momentary action, but that is determined by
the context, not the by inherent meaning of the aorist stem. "...The aorist can also be
used of an act which is not point." (Grammar, Robertson, page 832) "No matter how
long the action, it must be represented by the aorist when it is summed up." (Syntax 
of Classical Greek, B. L. Gildersleeve, page 105) James H. Moulton says the aorist
"describes the action as a single whole without regarding the time taken in its
accomplishment." (Grammar of New Testament Greek, pages 128,186.  
Introduction To The Study of New Testament Greek, page 190) "The aorist,
which denotes completion...need not by any means have been a momentary action,
but may have actually extended over any length of time, provided it is the completion
and the conclusion of it which is emphasized, this being the true force of the aorist."
(Grammar Of The Greek New Testament, Freidrich Blass, page 193)

     How can we determine that these grammarians are correct when they state that
the aorist does not necessarily denote "instantaneous," "momentary," action but that
it is used to summarize or to indicate the completion of the action? By an examination
of the New Testament writings.

     The following are some of the many texts that conclusively demonstrate that the
aorist "tense" often includes action of extended duration. "He dwelt (eskenosen)
among us and we saw (etheasametha) his glory. (John 1:14) Neither the fact that
he "dwelt" or that we "saw" was momentary. The aorists simply summarize the
historical fact. "Nevertheless death reigned (ebasileusen) from Adam to Moses..."
(Rom. 5:14) Death's reign was obviously not momentary or instantaneous if it was
"from Adam to Moses."  "...If she has brought up (eteknotrophesen) children; if
she has shown (exenodochesen)  hospitality; if she has washed (enipsen) the holy
peoples' feet; if she has helped (eperkesen) those who suffer; if she has devoted
herself (epekolouthesen) to doing good in every way..." (1 Tim. 5:10) Paul uses
a series of aorists in order to summarize the kind of life the widow has lived. Surely
no one believes she did these things on a "one time" or "momentary" basis. "Preach
(keruxon) the word; be alert (epistethi) ; convince (elegchon); rebuke (epitimeson);
encourage (parakaleson)..." (2 Tim. 4:2) Did Paul issue this series of aorists
so that they could be discharged on a "one time" or "momentary" basis? Hardly.
"Be sober" (nepsate) , be watchful (gregoresate)." (1 Peter 5:8) Are these
imperatives to be obeyed on a "one time momentary" basis? No, but during the
entirety of one's life. The aorist is used to describe summary aspect.

     Greek grammars are compiled by human beings. They are subject to the biases
weaknesses, and errors that often characterize the literary productions of people.
Their usefulness is sometimes diminished by the theological presuppositions of the
grammarians. Even the linguistic experts approach the study of the ancient writings
with a certain degree of prejudice. Such is virtually unavoidable because a person
is not only conditioned by his environment, but also by what he has been taught.

     We must be cautious in our use of Greek grammars. Always use more than
one grammar when doing research. No single grammarian can possibly know all
the technical details of Greek grammar. Especially beware of grammarians who
hold eccentric perspectives without supporting data.

Copyright 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scholars Are Not Always Right (No.1)

     We should not blindly accept the definitions that lexicographers assign to Greek
and Hebrew words, or unqualifiedly accept the opinions of commentators, or
assume that the linguistic rules of interpretation and syntax assigned by grammarians
are correct. We should only accept the conclusions that are warranted by the
evidence. This often involves thoroughly investigating the sources that are cited by
the technical reference works. Voluminous quotes from the "authorities" is not what
proves a proposition to be true or false. Scholars are sometimes wrong in their
assessment of  the facts. Consider the following information.

                                        Greek Grammars    

     It is not the purpose of a grammar to invent the rules of language, but to
investigate how a language is used by those who speak it, and to express its
concepts in systematic terms. Prior to the discovery of the papyri and the
accompanying research chiefly done by Adolph Deissmann, it was customarily
assumed by grammarians, lexicographers, and biblical commentators that the
language of the New Testament was "Judaic" or "Biblical" Greek. Or, as one
lexicographer explained, "the language of the Holy Ghost" is found in the sacred
writings and never profaned by common use. (Grammar of New Testament 
Greek, James Hope Moulton, volume 1, page 3, quoting Hermann Cremer in his  
Biblio-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, page vi.) Through the
research of Deissmann, George Milligan and many other scholars it was proven that
the Greek of the New Testament was vernacular Greek, Koine, the common
language of the people in the first century world. They also demonstrated that the
writers of the New Testament, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were
characterized by a reasonable degree of fluidity in their use of koine Greek.  
Since this is true, one must be aware that the scholarly resources written before
the discovery of the papryi  are often dated, inaccurate, and highly unreliable on
a number of technical points. The older reference works should not be used
without consulting modern scholarly sources.

     A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek, by G.B. Winer,
second edition, 1877, translated and enlarged by William F. Moulton, is a
masterpiece of learning. It was Winer's intent to scientifically investigate the Greek
Testament (Tischendorf's second edition, 1849) in "two distinct aspects...the
province of  lexicography ... and grammar." (Grammar, p.1) Yet, even he labors
under the notion of  a "Hebrew Aramaic New Testament diction." (pages 2-41).
No informed scholar would turn to Winer's grammar as his first choice for New
Testament research. We must use extreme caution when we cite the older (pre
twentieth century grammars, lexicons, and commentaries in order to sustain a
technical point involving syntax and word meaning.

     A. T. Robertson, late professor of interpretation of New Testament at the
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky is a prime example
of a man whose overall knowledge of Greek was immense. He undoubtedly read
Greek literature extensively and was intimately acquainted with Koine Greek
as his 1454 page Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of
Historical Research, containing 23 pages of "Works most often referred to"
evidences. But, even the learned A.T. Robertson had blind spots due to theological
bias. When we study his literature, we would do well to remember that he was a
Baptist, and sometimes his scholarship was clouded by his denominational theology.

      On pages 553-648 of his grammar, Robertson has some excellent technical
material regarding the origin, history, and uses of Greek prepositions. On page 591
he begins a discussion of eis , and on pages 594-595 Robertson states, "Sometimes
indeed eis appears in an atmosphere where aim or purpose is manifestly the resultant
idea." He cites several examples to illustrate the point and then he says, "One may not
doubt also that this is the idea in Matthew 26:28...But it by no means follows the same
idea is expressed by eis aphesin  in Mk. 1:4 and Acts 2:38 (cf. Mt. 10:41), though
that may in the abstract be true. It remains for the interpreter to decide." (Word
Pictures In The New Testament, volume 3, pages 35-36) Professor Robertson's
comments are neither correct nor scholarly. His assessment of the facts is wrong in
this instance. The Greek phrase eis aphesin hamartion is identical in Mat. 26:28
and Mark 1:4. The same is true with respect to Acts 2:38 except for the addition
of the definite article ton and the plural pronoun humon. Eis expresses aim or
purpose in Acts 2:38. The context is decisive. (cf the ASV, NRSV, the 1973
edition of the NIV, and A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature, Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker, Second
Edition, 1979, page 229)

Copyright 2010